.. er work, Braddon aimed her novel for the market Collins had created. Although many people read and enjoyed the sensational style of writing, not everyone felt that way. As a sensation novelist, Braddon was often criticized by people who felt stories of crime were immoral and tainted. Critics also attacked her because they felt that “an authoress of originality and merit ought to aspire to higher things” (Peterson, 160). Murder mysteries, like melodramas, have specific characteristics that are necessary to keep them true to form.
These characteristics include coincidence, return, disguise, madness and buried information. Popular in most Victorian mysteries, Lady Audleys Secret, especially uses these techniques in unfolding its plot. One element that is used in Victorian mysteries is coincidence. Nineteenth century writers commonly introduced the most improbable coincidences into their narratives. This was especially popular in Victorian sensational novels. In Lady Audleys Secret, it is coincidental that George Talboys knew Robert Audley, and meets him immediately upon his return from a long overseas absence, and that it is to Audleys own uncle that Talboys missing wife is married (Reed, 130).
Then, Robert brings George to his uncles estate which creates the opportunity for George to meet his wife, Helen. The whole story, in short, is based on coincidence. It is also quite a coincidence that Luke, the innkeeper, happened to find George after he managed to climb out of the well. It was convenient that one of the main characters of the story had had the answers to the mystery all along. These coincidences begin the entire mystery that unfolds. Another technique found in mysteries that Braddon uses is the Return.
The device of the return was an excellent method for evoking reader sentiment, but equally important, it had sufficient energy to convey a moral. Invented as early back as the Odyssey, the return changed over time. During the Romantic period, the hero would retreat to nature in order to make sense of his life before returning to challenge civilized society once more (Reed, 216). Victorian writers often used the return as a traditional plot convenience. Something more is concerned in Braddons novel though.
The novel begins with George Talboys returning from a long journey in search of fortune. He is impatient to reunite with the wife he left many years ago. The expectation is clear: the husband returns, reunites with his wife, his joy should be great. Not so. Instead, he learns that his wife has recently died.
Hence, the readers emotions are wrung. This is an element that is important to both the mystery and the melodramatic aspects of Lady Audleys Secret. Another device used by Braddon is the disguise. Disguise involves the question of identity, a main theme in much of literature. One example of disguise used in Braddons novel is the change Helen Talboys made when she took on the identities of Lucy Graham and subsequently, Lady Audley. This disguise leads Robert on to unravel the mystery of his missing friend (Reed, 294). What do people generally do when they wish to begin a new existence – to start for a second time in the race of life, free from the encumbrances that had fettered their first journey.
They change their names, Lady Audley. (ch.29) When Robert and George come upon Sir Michael and Lady Audley in their carriage, Lady Audley turns away, never to face the two men. She fears recognition by George. While reflecting on her means of avoiding detection, Lady Audley is interrupted by the approach of another person. She quickly seizes a book to appear occupied (Reed, 294). The narrator then observes what an actress Lady Audley has become due to her fatal necessities for concealment.
In much of mid-Victorian literature, the subject of madness is used quite frequently, with little attention paid to its serious nature. A passage from Lady Audleys Secret indicates how glibly the subject of confinement for insanity could be tossed about. When Robert Audley openly challenges Lady Audley with deceiving her husband about her past, she responds by threatening to charge him with madness. The fact that such a threat could be seriously entertained shows how far fiction had gone to accept the contemporary social concern about the mismanagement of the laws dealing with the insane (Reed, 205). Another part of the book that deals with madness occurs towards the end. Before Robert Audley sends Helen Talboys to a mental hospital as a “punishment”, he has a psychiatrist take a look at her to determine her level of sanity.
The doctor replies that she is not insane, but he will put her away for convenience sake and in case she becomes mad in the near future. The fact that the concept of madness was tossed around with no consequence made for a good mystery novel, in that people feared that things like that could happen to them, since the laws governing mental hospitals were so weak at the time. A very vital part of the plot of Lady Audleys Secret is developed through a technique called “buried information”. The term “buried information” may be used to describe a device which has become standard in the classic detective story. A vital clue is”buried” in what appears to be the idle talk of an non-essential character (Peterson, 45).
This device was used through the character Luke. He was the person holding the missing piece of the puzzle. Although he was not a “main” character, per say, he was definitely an important one. Luke is the only person in the novel with the real truth to the mystery of George Talboys disappearance. A character with seemingly no real purpose in the novel turns out to be the key to unlocking the whole plot.
This technique was very popular in Victorian mystery. By using the elements of both melodrama and mystery fiction, Mary Elizabeth Braddon was able to create her most famous work of her long lasted career, Lady Audleys Secret. Her ability to construe a mystery and keep the reader involved in her work shows the talent she had for writing. Mary Braddon would not have been a popular Victorian novelist if she had not engaged in a certain amount of sentimentality (melodrama) in her fiction (Peterson, 165-166). Her choice of the mystery made her famous and revered by many of her colleagues.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote to her once that he wished his “days to be bound each to each by Miss Braddons novels”, and Tennyson declared that he was”simply steeped in Miss Braddon” (Peterson, 161). By exploring the elements of both melodrama and mystery, it becomes clear that Lady Audleys Secret fits into both. Using these genres, Braddon was able to create a successful novel of her time that incorporated both reader emotion and Victorian culture. Bibliography Bernstein, Susan David. (1997). Confessional Subjects: revelations of gender and power in Victorian literature and culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Horsman, Alan.
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