Lady Audley (known also as Helen Talboys, Helen Maldon, Lucy Graham, and Madame Taylor)
Lady Audley is born Helen Maldon; after she marries for the first time, she is known as Helen Talboys. She assumes a new identity as Lucy Graham and then marries again, becoming Lucy Audley. Her final identity shift happens when she is placed in the madhouse in Belgium under the pseudonym Madame Taylor. She is very beautiful, and gives an impression of fragility and childlike innocence in her appearance. She has brilliant gold hair, bright blue eyes, and a delicate, petite figure. She is generally very playful and vivacious, and she charms most people. Although she comes from humble origins, she has received a good education and is a particularly skilled piano player with a keen appreciation of music. Lady Audley has always been haunted by the anxiety that she will one day go mad, like her mother did. She has also always been ashamed of having grown up in poverty, and dreams of a better life for herself. Because of her gender, this goal is only achievable through marriage, and she twice marries men in hopes of them providing her with a luxurious life. She is very attached to luxury items like elegant furniture, jewels, and clothes. Lady Audley is skilled at deceiving and manipulating people, and she also has a very cunning and crafty intellect, which allows her to plot and scheme. At the same time, she can be violent and impulsive. Perhaps most damning is that she is unrepentant and never shows remorse for any of the actions she commits. While she is generally portrayed in a negative light, and is punished at the end of the novel, the frustrations she expresses about her lack of control over her own life and the fact that she is dependent on men allow Braddon to use the figure of Lady Audley as a critique of the extremes to which women can be driven by rigid gender roles.
George Talboys is the first husband of Helen Talboys/Lucy Audley; he is the brother of Clara Talboys, and a close friend of Robert Audley. George is born to a wealthy family and has a career as a soldier. After he marries Helen, however, his father disinherits him, and the two do not reconcile until the end of the novel. George has good intentions, and wants to give his wife and son a good life, but makes the rash decision to abruptly go to Australia. George is always fearful that something bad will happen while he is away, and once he learns that Helen has apparently died, he sinks into a deep depression. He is quite sensitive and moody, and his habit of concealing his plans and not communicating with others often results in misunderstanding. By the end of the novel, George is finally starting to recover from the emotional trauma of his wife's betrayal, but it is implied that this process will take a long time.
Robert Audley is the nephew of Sir Michael Audley, and cousin to Alicia. He knew George Talboys when the two went to school together, and they rekindle a close friendship. Robert has been trained as a barrister (a type of lawyer), but at the beginning of the novel he is not very motivated and lives a lazy, self-indulgent lifestyle. He primarily lives in London, at Fig Tree Court, but in order to solve the case of George's disappearance he spends a lot of time traveling to various locations. Robert becomes obsessed with the mystery of George's disappearance, and his efforts to solve the case make him more focused, disciplined, and motivated. It is possible that Robert's strong feelings for George, as well as his attraction to Clara because of the resemblance she bears to her brother, may have homoerotic undertones.
Sir Michael Audley
Sir Michael Audley is the wealthy owner of Audley Court. He was married and had one child, Alicia. After his first wife died, he lived as a widower for seventeen years, before falling in love with Lucy Graham and marrying her. Sir Michael is a good man who is highly respected by everyone around him. His deep love for Lucy, however, makes him blind to her faults, and he always trusts her and takes her side. Sir Michael is deeply shaken by the discovery of Lucy's deception and crimes.
Alicia is the only child of Sir Michael Audley and his first wife, making her the stepdaughter of Lucy Audley and the cousin of Robert. She has romantic feelings for Robert and is often frustrated by the fact that he seems unaware of these feelings. She also resents her stepmother because Lucy now makes most of the decisions at Audley Court, whereas Alicia used to do this. Alicia is very athletic and energetic, and sometimes displays her emotions in outbursts when she becomes frustrated. At the end of the novel, she has become engaged to marry Sir Harry Towers, who she initially rejected.
Clara Talboys is the sister of George Talboys. She lives with her father in Dorsetshire, but also goes to visit a friend in Essex, bringing her in contact with the Audley family. Clara gives off the impression of being very cold and reserved, but she can also be very passionate and strong-willed, as is revealed when she tells Robert that if he does not find her brother's murderer, she will do so herself. She is also intelligent and quick-witted, able to put together details about the mystery even though Robert withholds most of the information from her. At the end of the novel, she is married to Robert Audley and they have a child together.
Phoebe is a young working-class woman, who is very pale and fair-haired, and often described as "colour-less." She also bears a slight resemblance to Lady Audley. Phoebe is first working as a maid at Mr. Dawson's house and gets to know Lucy there; when Lucy marries and becomes Lady Audley, she takes Phoebe with her to Audley Court to work as her personal maid. After her marriage to her cousin Luke, Phoebe helps him run the Castle Inn. Phoebe becomes aware of a number of Lucy Audley's secrets and she and Luke use this information to blackmail Lady Audley for money. Phoebe, however, is afraid of Luke and does not enjoy being married to him. She also seems to genuinely care about Lady Audley at times. Phoebe is with Lady Audley the night of the fire in the inn, and becomes suspicious of the possibility that Lucy might have deliberately caused it; however, she does not want to believe that such a horrible thing could be true.
Luke Marks is a young working class man, the cousin of Phoebe and then later her husband. He is initially a farmer, and then with Phoebe's help gets a job as a footman at Audley Court. His ambition is to own an inn and pub, and he blackmails Lady Audley into giving him money to buy the Castle Inn. He continues to resent Lady Audley because she does not give him as much money as he wanted. Throughout the novel, Luke keeps the secret that George Talboys survived after falling into the well. After being hurt in the fire and then developing a fever due to shock and his alcoholism, Luke tells Robert Audley the truth. He dies peacefully a short time later. Luke is a complex character in that while he is often coarse, aggressive, and greedy, he is also the one who helped George and who finally allows the mystery to be solved.
The wife of a surgeon, who lives in the town of Audley. She hires Lucy Graham to work for her as a governess, and it is while Lucy is employed by her that she meets Sir Michael and becomes Lady Audley.
The town surgeon in Audley. He is the former employer of Lucy and provides Robert Audley with the information he has about her past prior to coming to work for him.
A governess who sails on the Argus from Australia to England, returning to meet her fiancée after a long absence. She meets and talks to George, and it is through this conversation that readers learn about the story of his marriage.
The father of Helen Maldon Talboys (later revealed to be Lucy Audley's original identity). He is a former sea captain but has never had much income and suffers from a drinking problem. His drinking and excessive spending make matters more difficult for Helen and George during their marriage. He takes care of George and Helen's son, both after Helen runs away to assume a new identity and when George decides that he cannot be responsible for the boy. He participates in faking Helen's death and covering up her identity. However, he is horrified to believe that his daughter committed murder, because he did not think she would go that far.
Little George (Georgey)
The son of George and Helen Talboys. He is only a few weeks old when his father abandons the family and grows up without knowing either of his parents, since Helen disappears shortly afterwards. He is raised by his grandfather, Captain Maldon, who allows him to acquire very adult habits. Little George is eventually taken away from Captain Maldon and placed in a boarding school by Robert Audley.
A schoolmistress in the neighbourhood of Brompton in London. Lucy Graham arrives at her school looking to work, with very little information about her past, and is hired. Mrs. Vincent is very fond of Lucy and does not ask many questions; she is also quite forgetful and dependent on her maid, Tonks.
The maid to Mrs. Vincent. She has a very precise memory and is also quite perceptive; she never trusted Lucy Graham when Lucy was employed at the school by Mrs. Vincent.
Sir Harry Towers
A wealthy baronet who lives on a property close to Audley Court. He is in love with Alicia, but the first time he proposes, she rejects him because she is in love with her cousin Robert. They later reconcile, and are planning to be married at the end of the novel.
Mrs Maloney is the housekeeper of the building where Robert Audley lives in London. She is very fond of him, but is also absent-minded and unsuspicious.
Mr. Hartcourt Talboys
The father of George and Clara Talboys. He is wealthy, but also very proud and stubborn. He is angry when George marries Helen, who comes from a poor family, and cuts off contact. However, he is finally relieved to learn that George is not dead, and reconciles with his son.
Mrs. Plowson is employed by Captain Maldon to look after little George. She is the mother of Matilda, the dying woman who is presented as Helen Talboys in order to fake news of the real Helen Talboy's death.
The impoverished daughter of Mrs. Plowson. When she is dying of consumption, her mother is bribed into letting her be presented as Helen Talboys. Because of this identity switch, when Matilda dies, the death of Helen Talboys is legally recorded and reported.
The wife of the vicar of Mount Stanning, and a friend of Clara Talboys.
The schoolmaster at the school where little George is enrolled.
She is the landlady of the house at Wildernsea where Helen and George lived with Captain Maldon, before George left for Australia. She is able to provide Robert with information about Helen's disappearance, including the precise date when she left.
Dr. Alwyn Mosgrave
Physician specializing in madness who comes to attend Lady Audley after her confession. He tells Robert that he does not think that she is mad, but does believe that she is dangerous, and recommends placing her in an institution where she cannot harm anyone.
The man in charge of the asylum in Belgium where Robert places Lady Audley.
Lady Audley’s Secret Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Lady Audley’s Secret is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.