Lady Audley's Secret. The Novel Analysis Example
Lady Audley’s Secret is a novel based upon the notion of the gaze and more explicitly gazing through a male’s lens. This book had been published in the Victorian era, so it was very uncommon for a female to be given agency, which made Lucy an anomaly of the time. The reader is invited to experience the fictional world through the detective’s eyes.
Braddock first invites us to look at Lady Audley on page 11 “she had no higher aspiration in life……intoxicate with a smile..to tell of her pretty looks”. She is described as beauty so strong that children go to their mothers with tales of admiration. The detail used to describe her helps showcase physical attributes which were preferred in the Victorian period. She is described as “…with the magic fascination a woman can charm…intoxicate...”, implying that only a woman can possess such a trait. Typically, the world intoxicate is associated with being affected by alcohol or other poisonous substances. The fact that a word with such negative connotation is used to describe her shows the status of women in Victorian society. By stating that her smile compels anyone to fall under her influence, the author implies that any negative actions that occur concerning her are by her wrongdoing. Another example of this can be found on page 168 when Robert says that women are the root of all problems “……” (168). The narrator also describes what Michael hopes to find in Lady Audley, which is “it pained..her life…been of toil and dependence” (12). This further illustrates that the ideal Victorian woman is someone who is content with her place in society as being unable to act independently of a man. She is looked at as an object of Michaels pleasure. Furthermore, when it is discovered that Lucy acted out of her own will, they assumed that her subsequent actions were out of madness(…..). This completely disregards the fact that women can act out of their own will.
George’s disappearance sets Robert on a journey to find the murderer, which in turn unravels the mystique surrounding Lucy. The incident that led George to realize Lucy’s true identity and his eventual disappearance is of note. On page 64 “Yes.. the painter….Gone to sleep”, even though Lucy is not home, per the request of George and Robert, Alicia shows them her quarters where they find a portrait of her. This exemplifies the penetrative power of the male gaze. The language used to elucidate the portrait is interesting as it shows that her features are freely scrutinized in seamless detail as if the picture could serve no other purpose then to please the male gaze. Furthermore, she is shown to have a certain duality between great beauty and a sinister aura. This duality is noted by Alicia on the page (66) when she says “I have a …..look so” and when Alicia casts doubt on Lucy’s perfect frame Robert immediately rejects this idea. Also in this scene, it is readily apparent to the reader that George has recognized her to be his wife. Moreover, following George’s disappearance when Robert visits Audley court, he mentions to Lady Audley that he is well along finding the culprit behind the crime. In response to this, her face changes color as described on page 107 from “faint….gray.” This invitation to look at her once again gives the readers an insight into the mystery, something which the detective might not have picked up.
The contrast in the information that the reader knows and what the detective has deduced so far creates mystique on how the crime will be solved. This interaction makes the reader pay more attention to her, and her interactions with other characters. The difference between Victorian readers and twenty-first-century readers is how we interpret the situations depending on our eras own social norms. The ideal Victorian women would be viewed as a nuisance as a significant other in today’s society. The reader is given insight into the societal norms of that time while deriving pleasure from the turbulence and conflict Robert’s journey encounters.
Agatha Cristie does a masterful job of incorporating actual detective fiction qualities while adding her unique elements.
Some commonalities can be observed in all detective fiction literature. The first common characteristic I have observed in most of the texts we have read is that the detective is financially well off to the point he only pursues cases that interest him and usually has an external influence that compels him to the case. For Instance, on page 33 the description of Robert “He…….overwork” this indicates that he inherits a sizeable amount of income. To pass his time he pretends to be a lawyer while in actuality all he does is smoke and read books. Another instance of this is when he tips the waiter a considerable amount of money, which further indicates his disregard for money. Agatha Cristie’s main character, Hercule Poirot shows a similar disdain for money which can be seen when he rejects Mr.Ratchett’s case and informs him that he has made enough money in his life that he now only pursues cases that intrigue him (30). In the case of Robert Audley, he initially starts the quest after his friend’s disappearance (74) but is on the verge of stopping altogether after Mr. Tallboy shows no interest in his son’s whereabouts. However, he is once again persuaded to resume investigation after Clara Tallboy's plea (171-173). A similar sequence of events propels Hercule to begin his investigations. It was not until Mr.Rachett was found stabbed and his friend Mr. Bouc personally asked him to take the case that he did (46). Another similarity is that the wrong individual is initially suspected of the crime. For the case of Sherlock Holmes, detective Gregson wrongfully suspects Arthur of being the criminal (100), who is later proven not to be the culprit whom Holmes later apprehends (110). Similarly, in Orient Express Mr.Bouc is dead set on the big Italian being the perpetrator, which by the end of the story is proven to be not wholly accurate (109).
Orient Express diverged from typical detective fiction elements, making it an exciting read. There were several relevant characters in this novel. All the characters in the story served a useful purpose in connection to the murder (252-258), whereas in Lady Audley’s secret only three characters moved the story along—Lucy, Robert, and Michael. The same held for stories about Sherlock Holmes, where mostly only Watson and Sherlock played pivotal roles. Another variance from the typical tropes is that Poirot’s physical description was not on par with Robert and Holmes. Robert had been described as a very handsome man (33), as well as Holmes (59). In sharp contrast, Poirot was “a…..serious” (6). The most intriguing aspect, in my opinion, was the dilemma in determining whether apprehending the criminal was the just thing to do. Robert never struggled with turning Lucy in but was more worried about the ramifications his family would face if she were convicted (205). On the other hand for Poirot, the paradox was impersonal and was whether justice was truly being done if he were to turn in the murderers (257-258) since the victim himself had committed such an egregious crime. He decided to leave the decision up to Mr. Bouc and had no quarrels that the “criminals” were never to be apprehended. One last distinctive feature is that females are given agency in this story. The mother of baby Armstrong is allowed vengeance without repercussions since Poirot lets everyone go (261). In contrast, in Lady Audley’s secret, a doctor is called to check if Lucy is deranged, and since she broke the mold of the passive female (243), consequently by the end of the story she is dead, and the balance of male patriarchy regarding agency has been restored.
Christie’s literary works are easily accessible which contributes to her mass appeal. The reading level required to comprehend her is minimal, and her lack of use of legal procedures also makes the story easy to follow. She does not bore the reader with long descriptive paragraphs explaining how the information was obtained but fulfills that purpose with a few phrases. Some examples of this include Poirot deducing Mrs. Hubbard role on page 261 without including every little incriminating detail that led to his conclusion. While in contrast, Doyle goes into detail about how the information was found as illustrated by page 80. She also provides just enough information for the reader’s imagination to take over. Her play on morality separates her stories from the pack, which make her relevant to both contemporary and Victorian society.
I would argue that its social function has evolved over the years. In the nineteenth century, it was the most prevalent form of literature. This was at a time where there was a lack of free-flowing information. In that period, it served as a means of education for people. One example of this would be talking about the method for finding blood in Sherlock Holmes “Why…. Years” (55). Another instance of this would be when Robert used a sponge to remove an earlier label to determine the identity of Helen (203). In a time where information spread like molasses, which could have been the first time many individuals were exposed to these forensic techniques and the scientific method. This method includes making a note of all the facts that one has observed. This is a process used by Watson to asses Holmes (61-62.), and Robert to asses his current findings and timeline (90). Furthermore, this could have also been the first time the masses were exposed to other cultures. For example, in The Orient Express helps readers understand the nuances of American culture.
In addition to this, the purpose of dramatic literature is not to merely educate the masses but also to critique society. Lady Audley’s secret is a perfect example of this, where “…Miss Tonks…. deprivation”(205) Lucy’s motivations are revealed. This indirectly shows in this period the only way for a woman to advance in social standing is through marriage. As a contemporary reader, we can empathize with her plight and recognize the marginalized role in society that women in that particular time had. Braddock is using her platform to shed light on the different social constructs of her time. This is further exemplified when Robert is going on a tangent essentially blaming women for all the bad in his life (To……superiors)(205-206) which is again obvious satire to us. In the Victorian era, this might have also been viewed as a joke, but not as satire to the makeup of their society. Another example of this would be showing that members of a different class can co-exist in harmony. In Doyle’s book, Sherlock is known to accept “all walks of life.” (…). Furthermore, the passengers aboard the orient express consisted of people from various spheres of society, ranging from a princess to a servant. They all worked in unison, once again regardless of class. Lucy was leaving George solely because of financial reasons (227-228), and his father restricting his financial flow because he married a lower class individual is likely included by the authors to showcase the conservative society of the time and the dangers presented by it.
In contemporary society, free-flowing information is very accessible Now as time has passed, free-flowing information is very prevalent in today’s society. Most people have access to the internet regardless of social class and financial status. Nowadays, dramatic literature role in society is primarily that of escapism. Reading literary pieces that are not contemporary gives one an understanding of the societal norms of that particular era, but that same information can be accessed through more convenient mediums like the internet.
Knowledge of human psychology is as essential to detective fiction as the ability to observe physical details. Learning insight into the perpetrator’s psyche could very well give clues into the investigation, and knowing someone’s motivations behind their actions could also give an insight into the character.
The first writer to “invent” this idea would be Edgar Allan Poe; this would set a precedent for later detective stories such as the Tales of Sherlock Holmes and The Orient Express. Edgar’s story The murders in the rue morgue is often considered the first piece of detective fiction, Dupin was the first protagonist that collected evidence, then used his knowledge of human nature to deduce who the criminal was. This was the protagonist’s tool to solve crimes which propelled the story forward. This methodology was adopted by almost all detective fiction stories onward. A prime example of Dupin observing physical details entwined with his knowledge of the human psyche can be observed when he says “coincidences……altogether” he essentially deduces that the gold coin found was of no consequence since only a stupid criminal would leave that there if the original motivation was to steal, to begin with. He used a combination of details he observed, and his knowledge of the human psyche to come to this conclusion. Another sterling example of this thought process would be when Sherlock Holmes says “Come along doctor…..Poison”(78) and “There’s…Puzzles you”. Sherlock explains how every observation he found led to an insight about the character, like how he deduced the villain’s height by the length of his stride which he previously measured. His skills of deduction effectively gave them a description of the perpetrator.
Without accounting for psychology, all the detective would have a list of facts, but the glue that holds everything together is their knowledge of human behavior. This is best exemplified when Robert sends an ad out to Australia looking for George, with him knowing that if he is well and alive, he will surely respond. With no response, he can conclude that he is missing and not in Australia (123). Similarity, Poirot used his knowledge of psychology to determine if the members of the orient express are actual killers. One specific instance that comes to mind is on page 261 “Then…snow”, how he elicited a specific reaction by mentioning the charm of a foreign girl which would prove his theory that he was in love with Mrs. Armstrong correct. This is an overt use of human psyche to help demystify the case he was working. After breaking enough of the story, he eventually got some of the complicit to confirm his theory (261-263).
For detectives to be successful, not only can they possess a keen sense of observation, but must also have an acute awareness of the human psyche to deduce who the criminal was correct. Poe wrote the first detective fiction book, and Dupin used both these skills as his tools to solve mysteries, which established both skills as a central feature of detective fiction. Most detective fiction literature proceeding Poe also used this thought process as a quintessential component of their books. To further rectify this point there are two instances in The Complete tales of Sherlock Holmes which feature a throwback to Poe. The first one is at the beginning of the book when Watson compares Holmes to Dupin (23), and the second being on page 29 when he breaks into his companions thought process just as Dupin would with his companion. On the same page, there is a clear comparison of Dupin’s heavy smoking and Holmes’s. With these multiple callbacks, it would not be an egregious leap to assume that Poe influenced Doyle.
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