Sir Michael Audley of Audley Court falls in love with a young, penniless, beautiful woman with a secret past, and marries her. Meanwhile, George Talboys heads home from Australia after over three years abroad trying to find a fortune in gold for his young wife and son, only to find that his wife has died. Heartbroken, George listlessly follows his friend Robert Audley, nephew of Sir Michael, up to Audley Court – where he mysteriously disappears.
Oh how I love Victorian sensation novels! Well, not all of them, but some are just so well done, and this one was fantastic. It rivaled Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, and was full of mystery, murder, and madness! I was hooked from the very beginning. I loved that I could see exactly where the book was going from the first two chapters, and yet it kept surprising me, and I loved it all the way up to its completely unbelievable, ridiculous, and absolutely perfect end. I even teared up a little in one part. (Yes, I’m a complete sap.)
I’m so glad I read this book. I hadn’t heard of it until CB James mentioned it, earlier this year, in the comments of my review of Gaskell’s North and South. He suggested I might like Lady Audley’s Secret, and the book has stayed in the back of my mind since then. With the RIP season approaching, it seemed appropriate to get myself into the mood for mysteries and a gothic, creepy atmosphere, and Lady Audley’s Secret definitely delivered!
But it didn’t just deliver fun and a good gothic air. This was a sensation novel, but like with Wilkie Collins’ books, it was not purely sensational. It said things. It wasn’t, of course, the deepest book published in the mid-1800s, but it still said things. I was particularly interested in the mild subtext on women’s choices. While Lady Audley is the sort of person who I would normally despise in a novel, I sympathized with her in places (and won’t say anything more than that for spoiler’s sake). I also was very interested in the psychology of the time, and what could be considered madness. To be diagnosed “mad” based on intelligence, cleverness, cunning, and determination seems, to me, a free license to imprison anyone who gets in the way of someone more wealthy or powerful.
There were a lot of little intriguing bits like that, which helped to make this book more than just a fun read for me. It made the book memorable. I really enjoyed it.