Lady Audley’s Secret Response by Samantha S

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.

3 thoughts on “Lady Audley’s Secret Response by Samantha S

  1. Having recently reviewed the notes I took during Dr. Joshua Toth’s “Literary Theory” course a couple summers ago, I consider Lady Audley’s perfect blonde curls, rosy complexion and extravagant clothes sooner in Lacanian terms than according to Baudrillard’s notion of seduction as discussed in class. Dr. Toth described Lacan’s symbolic order as makeup and the Real as a blemish. By extent, one could argue that the blemishes Lady Audley strives to conceal represent the Real, while the methods she uses to conceal these blemishes are simply devices part of the symbolic order. When this school of thought becomes most interesting when considered in the context of the novel is when Lady Audley experiences a breakdown and is eventually institutionalized. One could argue that her breakdown represents a breakdown in the symbolic order, a rupture in symbolic coherence which allows the Real to break through but which must be contained by having Lady Audley institutionalized. This way of thinking suggests then that Lady Audley, representative of the Real, not only challenges but threatens Victorian norms, giving merit to the argument that “Lady Audley’s Secret” is sooner a revolutionary novel than a conventional work which subscribes to Victorian norms.

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  2. The breakdown of the Real in “Lady Audley’s Secret” brings to mind a section from Arnold’s “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse,” one line in particular Dr. Martin has mentioned in class a few times:
    “Before some fallen Runic stone—
    For both were faiths, and both are gone.
    Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
    The other powerless to be born”
    The destruction of Lady Audley’s symbolic order by Robert Audley reminds me of the destruction of the pagan, nature-and-goddess-centred world of old Europe by Christianity with its insistence on Truth, the revelation of which leads to repentance (which means to “to turn away”). However, I feel our class discussions have problematized Lady Audley’s “repentance” — is she really a mad woman with an understandably tragic background as she claims? Or has she just exchanged one unreality for another? The madhouse, terrible as it would be, is much better death. Lady Audley escapes complete annihilation just as paganism did, by submitting to the new paradigm or truth. Her submission, however, just like the incorporation of paganism into Christianity, ultimately subverts the new paradigm as the old world blends with the new. Put here we are today, just like Arnold and the Victorians, witnessing the slow gloomy demise of both world orders.
    One other quick note: I bring up Arnold to add this idea of “power” and “powerlessness” to the Foucault-inspired discussion about subversion vs. containment. I have somewhat obliquely expressed my view that subversion and containment are one and the same, but what about this Reality that is being subverted or doing the containing? Simply put, I consider Reality to be a power struggle between competing ideologies and perspectives. Whichever is the most seductive becomes the most dominant, becomes Real. As seductive as a strongly preached declaration of truth with autographical evidence is, cannot a whimpering capitulation be even more so?

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  3. I agree and is fascinated by the idea that was mentioned in class of her beauty as a tool of concealment and her fascination with it as well because it is in fact true of her. Throughout the novel she is shown to be living a lie and not being suspected of it due to her beauty, people are incapable of believing her true nature is as foul as it actually is due to this. That being said, I want to note that this is not her only mechanism for concealment within the novel. She uses her wealth that she obtained through her marriage to bribe people when her beauty fails to do the job. One such case is that of Luke who witnessed her pushing her husband down the well, she opts to pay him to keep his mouth shut on the incident. Her beauty was of no importance to him then and as such she used what, arguably is appealing to all, money. She quickly issues money to anyone who finds out about her crime. She has what it appears to be a sort of obsession with concealment and uses it every chance she gets to do so. Her beauty works but she is not a fool to think that only that will help her.

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