On Monday, March 23, Dr. Martin’s lecture explored the role seduction plays in Braddon’s sensation novel Lady Audley’s Secret. His lecture began with an explanation of the Latin root seducere, which means “to turn aside or lead away”, which proposes that seduction is more than merely sexual allure; rather, Lady Audley turns aside speculation about her past by virtue of her superficial appeal. Lady Audley’s “secret” may be more than her hidden crimes – what is her “secret” for ensnaring the hearts of those around her and clouding their perceptions of her? By focusing the attention on her beauty and her cherubic façade, Lady Audley conceals her wicked transgressions. As a basis for the discussion, Dr. Martin explained a few major concepts outlined in Baudrillard’s On Seduction in order to give the class further insight into the implications of seduction. In On Seduction, Baudrillard suggests that seduction functions on appearances and impairs visibility. Seduction takes a turn away from production, as production seeks to make all things tangible under the Western expectation. Baudrillard argues that seduction may be dangerous due to its associations with appearance, symbolism, and the superficial. Dr. Martin then discussed the pop culture TV sensation “The Bachelor” and drew comparisons to Lady Audley’s Secret. Dr. Martin used two female contestants as his examples for the male tendency to prefer the superficially appealing but deceitful woman (Brit in “The Bachelor”) over the “girl-next-door” figure (Kaitlyn in “The Bachelor”). An intriguing discussion was facilitated by this example; students added in comments about “mean girl” mentalities and mused about how some women seem to have more power over men simply because of their looks. In Lady Audley’s Secret, Lady Audley departs from the “girl-next-door” archetype as she possesses seductive allure that is in part nature’s bestowal as well as her constructed facade.
A connection between Lady Audley’s Secret and modern Western aesthetics surfaced in my mind as we discussed Lady Audley’s advice to Phoebe Marks. Lady Audley suggests that “a bottle of hair dye” and “a pot of rouge” could give Phoebe the same dazzling appearance as herself. In today’s popular culture, aesthetic beauty is emphasized as key to a woman’s success and can be augmented by the beauty industry. Granted, Lucy Audley may not have precisely the same desired traits as a modern Western woman, but by Victorian standards she was the epitome of “perfection”. She has perfect blonde curls, a rosy complexion and wears extravagant clothes that emphasize her petite figure. Lucy played upon her physical attributes in order to obtain a lavish lifestyle she felt she deserved without contention. The slogan of Maybelline, a widely popular beauty label, states: “Maybe she’s born with it; Maybe it’s Maybelline”. This line can have an interesting application to Lady Audley’s Secret, as it illustrates how feminine beauty has an air of mystery and illusion. Lady Audley’s belief that Phoebe Marks, who is “drab” with “white eyelashes” and “sallow skin,” could alter her appearance reiterates how central concealment is to Lady Audley. The Maybelline slogan has a surface message of superficiality, but in itself holds a secret – is a woman born with her beauty or is her warm, alluring visage constructed by the rouge upon her cheeks? In Lady Audley’s case, it is not her exterior faults that must be glossed over, but the interior atrocities. By diverting the attention onto her petite, ultra-feminine guise, Lady Audley can charm the minds of men and placate any queries. It is only in her portrait and the apt eye of the Pre-Raphaelite painter that Lady Audley’s sinister nature is captured.
Dr. Martin approached the mystical nature of Lucy’s seduction of the men around her by pointing the class to various textual passages. With a heavy focus on Lucy Graham’s physical appeal, the class delved into the glimmer of “magic” behind her allure. Lucy is “blessed with that magic power of fascination” (47) and has with a “fragile figure…as girlish as if she had but just left the nursery” (90). She is angelically infantile at times; in other times, such as when she is brewing tea, she is a powerful sorceress that is privy to a world outside of male knowledge. Dr. Martin turned us to a passage where Robert Audley scrutinizes the pale face of his aunt, and how he wants to go beyond her superficial facade in order to explore the demon, the criminal underneath. He suggested that men wish to know everything about Lady Audley and are keen to penetrate her privacy. However, Lucy holds mastery over her seductive powers and uses them to her full advantage throughout the novel in order to hide her secrets. Dr. Martin ended our lecture by contending that “what makes women so dangerous is their alignment with the domestic sphere … for women, grace is this magic, faerie-like power.” Indeed, Lady Audley expertly wields the weapon that is her seduction, dazzling those she encounters with her innocent-looking beauty in order to veil her past.