Lady Audley's Secret

Lady Audley's Secret Summary and Analysis of Volume 2, Chapters 1-5


Chapter 1

Back at his lodgings, Robert updates his notes, and then opens the trunk where George’s belongings are kept. He cannot find any letters from George’s wife Helen, which is odd since Robert had previously seen George taking out and putting away the letters from the trunk. He does find some books, and going through them, he finds a lock of golden hair. He notes that it is quite different from the lock of hair he had previously seen when he and George first learned of Helen’s death. In the front cover of the same book, he finds three inscriptions. The first noted that the book was the property of Miss Bince. The second inscription, in the same handwriting, marks the book as being given to Helen Maldon. Helen Maldon wrote the third inscription, gifting the book to George Talboys. Looking at this inscription, Robert is crushed: the handwriting is the same as that of Lady Audley. He resolves that the first thing he must do is take little Georgey away from his manipulative and deceitful grandfather.

Chapter 2

Robert decides to go to Dorsetshire and visit George’s father. He had previously contacted Mr. Harcourt Talboys to inform him of his son’s disappearance, but Mr. Talboys had insisted that he had ended his relationship with his son when George married and didn’t care what had happened to him now. First, however, he goes to Southampton to meet Mr. Maldon and little George. When Robert arrives, Mr. Maldon is not at home and a woman named Mrs. Plowson, who seems tense and anxious to see Robert, is supervising little George. Robert asks little George about the “pretty lady” he had previously spoken of. Little George explains that one night the pretty lady came into his bedroom and wept, leaving the gold watch behind her when she left. Mrs. Plowson keeps making efforts to prevent George from speaking, and Robert snaps at her. Little George explains that Mrs. Plowson is the mother of someone named Matilda, but before he can explain who Matilda is, Mr. Maldon arrives back at the house. He sends Mrs. Plowson and little George out of the room.

Chapter 3

Robert announces that he will be taking little George away. He also tells Mr. Maldon that he knows that George Talboys never came to Southampton the night of his disappearance and that the story Maldon made up about George sailing for Australia was based on the telegram he received. Robert says that he is sure that George is dead, and that he died on September 7th, the last day he was seen by anyone. Mr. Maldon reacts with horror to this news and is so distraught that Robert feels some pity for having surprised him with the news. Robert explains that he does not fully understand why he is so compelled to resolve the mystery of George’s death, but that he cannot let the matter rest. Mr. Maldon continues to insist that George cannot really be dead. Mrs. Plowson and little George return, and Robert tells them both about the death of George Talboys. Robert then departs with the child, with Mr. Maldon agreeing that this is for the best. Robert leaves little George at an inn and goes to a local school to arrange for him to become a student there. By the end of the day, little George has been made a pupil at the boarding school, and Robert sets off to see Harcourt Talboys.

Chapter 4

Robert arrives at the home of Harcourt Talboys, and meets him as well as George’s sister Clara. He informs them that he is certain that George is dead. Mr. Talboys says that this is impossible, and that George must be playing some sort of trick in order to gain sympathy and reconcile with his father. Robert explains that he believes George was murdered and asks to tell them all the information he has. At that point, if Mr. Talboys is not suspicious, Robert says he will stop investigating. Mr. Talboys agrees and Robert tells him everything he knows about George’s history and disappearance, but without giving the name of Sir Michael and Lady Audley. At the end, Mr. Talboys is not convinced. Robert says that he will not pursue the mystery any further.

Chapter 5

Robert leaves the house feeling saddened that George’s family seems to show so little emotion about him. As the carriage drives away, Clara Talboys runs up and signals for it to stop. Robert gets out to speak with her. Clara is very distressed, explaining that she loves her brother, but has always known that it would be useless to try and get her father to forgive him. She begs Robert to prove that George was murdered so that justice can be done, telling him that if he will not, she will seek out her brother’s murderer herself. Robert agrees to continue trying to solve the mystery. Clara agrees to send him two letters of George’s and also tells him that she will be shortly going away to visit some friends in Essex, the county where Audley Court is located.


When Robert inspects the inscriptions inside a book he finds in George's trunk, he finally arrives at what he considers tangible proof that Lucy Audley is actually Helen Talboys: the two have identical handwriting. Handwriting is a simple and straightforward practice, unlike more complicated and novel forms of communication such as telegrams. While Lady Audley may be able to use complicated schemes and tricks to try and cover up her identity, it is something simple that unmasks her to Robert. There is also a contrast created between writing and oral speech. Many characters in the novel lie when speaking; as these inscriptions reveal, when something is written down, the shape of that writing reveals a certain truth no matter what the content claims.

Robert's newfound certainty about Lady Audley's identity makes him increasingly convinced that she may have killed George in order to protect her secret. This belief prompts him to engage with two fathers: Captain Maldon, Helen's father, and Mr. Harcourt Talboys, George's father. The two can be contrasted with each other in these chapters. Captain Maldon is revealed to be weak-willed and easily manipulated. He does create some sympathy when it becomes clear that he does not think his daughter is capable of murder and that he is really horrified to learn that George might be dead. While he is greedy, he is not completely ruthless. He also shows some good character by allowing his grandson to be taken somewhere more suitable by Robert.

Mr. Talboys, on the other hand, is very proud, cold and stubborn. He is less concerned about the fate of his own child than Robert is, and he believes that George would be capable of lying and scheming in order to try and reconcile and get his inheritance back. His portrayal suggests that the novel may be critical of upper class characters and an ideology that places ideas of family honor and protecting wealth above family members loving and forgiving each other.

Robert is crushed by the lack of support he receives from the Talboys family. This is the closest he comes to giving up on his quest. If no one else seems to find the evidence convincing, then perhaps his suspicions are simply paranoia. This illustrates the problem with the circumstantial evidence that George works so hard to gather throughout the novel: it can be interpreted in different ways and can be more convincing to some people than to others.

Interestingly, it is Clara Talboys who is able to motivate Robert to continue. She is revealed as a complex character: not unlike Lady Audley, her exterior does not entirely match her interior. While she seems very cold and reserved at first, she reveals an intense and passionate aspect of her personality when she begs Robert to continue looking for her brother. She also furthers the novel's exploration of gender in that she is willing to take on a potentially masculine role. She tells Robert that if he abandons the task of solving George's disappearance, she will do it herself, and she believes that she can because she has the wealth and independence to do so. Clara's willingness to abandon feminine passivity presents an inversion of what Lady Audley does: she considers using her agency to serve a moral end (bringing whoever harmed George to justice) rather than to benefit herself, but her speech suggests that she also believes women are capable of more than is usually expected of them. In contrast to Lucy and Phoebe, whose lower-class backgrounds and lack of independent income mean that whatever agency they can achieve needs to come from schemes and plots, Clara's wealth allows her to be openly assertive.