Lady Audley's Secret

The Role of Gender and Sexuality in Lady Audley's Secret

Romance and sexuality are not unfamiliar concepts to the typical Victorian sensational novel. Reversing and deconstructing these themes, however, marks a more sophisticated sensation novel and makes for a more enduring literary work. This technique is intriguing to a postmodern audience, but to a Victorian audience such an idea may have been seen as threatening and dangerous. In Lady Audley's Secret, Mary Elizbaeth Braddon deftly criticizes the conventional views of marriage, heterosexuality, and gender roles, all while veiling the contradictions in seemingly traditional views. These contradictions primarily serve to demonstrate the power of women; their roles are hidden, but they are nonetheless active under the guise of normative society and gender restrictions.

Braddon clearly sets up the predicament of women and their need to find alternative ways to exert control over their lives (and sometimes the lives of others). For example, Clara Talboys must listen to evidence about her brother's death, all the while staying composed and emotionless lest she be reprimanded by her father, as she once was simply for dropping a reel of cotton. As she listens to Robert Audley's story, she "never once lift[s] her face...

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