"A glorious old place–a place that visitors fell into raptures with; finding a yearning wish to have done with life and stay there for ever, staring into the cool fish-ponds, and counting the bubbles as the roach and carp rose to the surface of the water–a spot in which Peace seemed to have taken up her abode, setting her soothing hand on every tree and flower; on the still ponds and quiet alleys."
This quotation establishes the setting of the novel by providing a description of Audley Court. Typically in other literary genres, the setting where sinister events will take place will be ominous or threatening. Much of the power of sensation literature comes from its ability to set crimes and misdeeds in seemingly peaceful places. By establishing Audley Court as a place that is apparently beautiful, welcoming, and peaceful, even though it will later become the site of attempted murder, this quotation fulfills these expectations. It also introduces the theme of appearances being deceptive: the house, like Lady Audley herself, has an enchanting exterior, but the capacity to hide secrets underneath.
"Yes, the painter must have been a pre-Raphaelite. ... No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have so exaggerated every attribute of that delicate face as to give a lurid lightness to the blonde complexion, and a strange sinister light to the deep blue eyes. No one but a pre-Raphaelite could have given to that pretty pouting mouth the hard and almost wicked look it had in the portrait."
This quotation suggests that underneath Lady Audley's beauty, a darker nature might be lurking. More so than something secret, it suggests that there is something sinister about her, foreshadowing later events. The quotation suggests that deception and artifice will never be truly successful at concealing someone's inner self: under certain circumstances, those traits will become visible. The idea that Lady Audley's true nature is best captured in a portrait also suggests that art, such as painting and fiction, can serve to offer certain psychological insights that might otherwise not be apparent.
"Circumstantial evidence... that wonderful fabric which is built out of straws collected at every point of the compass, and which is yet strong enough to hang a man. Upon what infinitesimal trifles may sometimes hang the whole secret of some wicked mystery, inexplicable heretofore to the wisest upon the earth! A scrap of paper; a shred of some torn garment; the button off a coat; a word dropped incautiously from the over-cautious lips of guilt; the fragment of a letter; the shutting or opening of a door ... a thousand circumstances so slight as to be forgotten by the criminal, but links of steel in the wonderful chain forged by the science of the detective officer."
This quotation reveals Robert's philosophy of how he approaches solving the mystery of George's disappearance. Seemingly small and insignificant details, when they are put together and viewed in combination, can turn out to have significance and help one to understand a situation more accurately. This approach requires patience, and an organized, methodical approach. It is actually therefore an approach to which Robert is well suited: he is unhurried, and able to keep track of many pieces of information. His slow, observant approach means that he will gradually be able to uncover the truth by noticing clues that others might miss.
"Why do I go on with this, " he said, "when I know that it is leading me, step by step, day by day, hour by hour, nearer to that conclusion which of all others I should avoid? ... Should I be justified in letting the chain which I have slowly put together, link by link, drop at this point or must I go on adding fresh links to that fatal chain until the last rivet drops into its place and the circle is complete? I think and believe that I shall never see my friend's face again; and that no exertion of mine can ever be of benefit to him. In plainer, crueller words, I believe him to be dead. Am I bound to discover how and where he died?"
This quotation reveals the stress and emotional strain that the investigation causes Robert. He is often unsure of whether his efforts will ever amount to anything, and he knows that some of his evidence may not be convincing. By showing how distressed Robert sometimes is by his investigation, the quotation also reveals how much he cares about George: he does not give up, even when he feels overwhelmed and is losing hope.
"If I could let the matter rest; if–if I could leave England for ever, and purposefully fly from the possibility of ever coming across another clue to the secret, I would do it–I would gladly, thankfully do it–but I cannot! A hand which is stronger than my own beckons me on. ... If there is any warning you would give to anyone, give it. ... If they slight your warning–if they try to hold their present position in defiance of what it will be in your power to tell them–let them beware of me, for when the hour comes, I swear that I will not spare them."
This quotation shows how compelled Robert is to continue investigating George's disappearance. Even he does not fully understand why, he cannot let the matter rest. It is possible that Robert is so obsessed because this is the first thing in his life to which he has ever felt committed. It is also possible that because he does not fully understand the intense and possibly homoerotic attachment he felt to George, he cannot grasp why he feels compelled to resolve the mystery. Robert also makes it clear that he will not show any mercy to anyone who has been involved in the mystery and hidden information. Considering that he gives this speech to Captain Maldon, it could be perceived as a veiled warning to Lady Audley.
"Then I will do it myself!" she exclaimed, looking at him with her bright brown eyes. "I myself will follow up the clue to this mystery; I will find this woman–yes, though you refuse to tell me in what part of England my brother disappeared. I will travel from one end of the world to the other to find the secret of his fate, if you refuse to find it for me. I am of age; my own mistress; rich, for I have money left me by one of my aunts; I shall be able to employ those who will help me in my search."
This quotation reveals Clara Talboys as a strong-willed and independent woman. If Robert will not fulfill the task of finding out her brother's fate, she will do it herself. This agency is a departure from expectations and norms around feminine behavior in this time period, but it is in service of a moral purpose, and Robert finds it appealing. Clara also makes it clear that she is able to display this independence because she is wealthy and does not need to depend on a man for financial support. This quotation therefore makes it clear that a woman's agency is tied to her income.
"Madhouses are large and only too numerous; yet surely it is strange they are not larger, when we think of how many helpless wretches must beat their brains against this hopeless persistency of the orderly outward world, as compared with the storm and tempest, the riot and confusion within:– when we remember how many minds must tremble upon the narrow boundary between reason and unreason, mad to-day and sane to-morrow, mad yesterday and sane to-day."
This passage highlights the central theme of madness in the novel, but presents an interesting perspective, suggesting that almost anyone can display tendencies towards madness and that the border between insanity and sanity is very vulnerable. It suggests that definitions of madness are subjective and that mental states are ambiguous and shifting. In the broader context of the novel, this quotation asks readers to reflect on their understanding of Lady Audley and her actions. Is she a truly evil and insane person, or does she do things that many people would be capable of doing under similar circumstances?
"I hate women," he thought, savagely. "They're bold, brazen, abominable creatures, invented for the annoyance and destruction of their superiors. Look at this business of poor George's! It's all woman's work from one end to the other. He marries a woman, and his father casts him off penniless and professionless. He hears of the woman's death and he breaks his heart–his good, honest, manly heart, worth a million of the treacherous lumps of self-interest and mercenary calculations which beat in women's breasts. He goes to a woman's house and is never seen alive again. And now I find myself driven into a corner by another woman, of whose existence I had never thought until this day."
This speech reveals Robert's misogynist tendencies. While Lady Audley's beauty and delicate manners charm him at the beginning of the novel, as he begins to see that this is a performance, he becomes suspicious of other women as well. He thinks that woman are responsible for creating problems and that they trick and manipulate men, forcing them into difficult situations. His speech about women, while negative, assigns them a great deal of power and agency: Robert does not think that women are frail, helpless, or unintelligent. This quotation reveals the resentment and anxiety that can be experienced as gender roles slowly began to change.
"Surely a pretty woman never looks prettier than when making tea. The most feminine and most domestic of all occupations imparts a magic harmony to her every movement, a witchery to her every glance. ... Better the pretty influence of the teacups and saucers gracefully wielded in a woman's hand than all the inappropriate power snatched at the point of the pen from the unwilling sterner sex. Imagine all the women of England elevated to the high level of masculine intellectuality... above taking the pains to be pretty; above making themselves agreeable; above tea-tables."
This quotation reveals expectations about appropriate feminine behavior, as well as anxieties about how those expectations may be starting to shift. Making tea is presented as a symbol of domesticity and devotion to caring for one's family, as well as doing both of those things in an aesthetically pleasing and graceful way. There is also an expression of ironic horror about what it would mean if women wanted to take a more active role in public life and therefore abandoned their domestic duties. The whole quotation is very ironic because the supposedly faultless woman performing the tea-making ceremony, Lady Audley, is of course a duplicitous liar and attempted murderer. What is perceived as innate truth is actually a carefully orchestrated performance meant to trick those who watch it.
"Poor little creature; poor unhappy little golden-haired sinner; the battle between us seems terrible unfair. Why doesn't she run away while there is still time? I have given her fair warning, I have shown her my cards, and worked openly enough in this business, heaven knows. Why doesn't she run away?"
This quotation shows Robert displaying pity and sympathy for Lady Audley. Even though at this point he is convinced she has murdered George, he still does not seem to want her to suffer. He would prefer if she quietly gave up so that he does not have to embarrass her, hurt Sir Michael, and cause a public scandal. This quotation reveals that Robert still feels a sense of chivalry and gender-based obligation; he is somewhat embarrassed to be persecuting a woman. He also does not fully understand Lady Audley's character, because he does not see that she is stubborn and ruthless, and will never willingly admit her guilt and give up her position.
"She was no longer innocent, and the pleasure we take in art and loveliness being an innocent pleasure had passed out of her reach. Six or seven years before, she would have been happy in the possession of this little Aladdin's palace; but she had wandered out of the circle of careless pleasure-seeking creatures, she had strayed too far away into a desolate labyrinth of guilt and treachery, terror and crime, and all the treasures that had been collected for her could have given her no pleasure."
This quotation reveals some of Lady Audley's motivations for her crimes, and generates sympathy for her. Rather than being presented as plotting, sinister, and villainous, she is presented as vulnerable to the temptation of beautiful things and a wealthy lifestyle. This temptation is less morally abhorrent, and easier to relate to. There is also the sense that Lady Audley never meant for her actions to escalate to the extent that they did, and that she regrets the choices she has made. However, she is now trapped in the web of her own lies, and does not find any comfort in the luxuries that surround her.
"When you say I killed George Talboys, you say the truth. When you say that I murdered him treacherously and foully, you lie. I killed him because I AM MAD! because my intellect is a little way upon the wrong side of that narrow boundary line between sanity and insanity; because when George Talboys goaded me as you have goaded me; and reproached me, and threatened me; my mind, never properly balanced, utterly lost its balance; and I was mad!"
This passage represents the climax of the novel, when Lady Audley realizes she can no longer attempt to conceal her secrets from Robert, and admits to her role in George's death. Even at this moment, however, she does not take full responsibility for her actions: she claims to be a victim of madness, and also suggests that she lashed out because she was being persecuted by George. This quotation invites readers to consider their own opinions of Lady Audley's guilt and responsibility. It also echoes the idea that sanity and insanity are shifting constructs.
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.