Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon

So now we are already onto the fifth of the sensation season (a page I really need to redo along with my favourite reads as Waterstones selfishly revamped their site and my pictures have all gone wrong) reads and this week it was Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon a book that I read five years ago and almost instantly became one of my very favourite books of all time. I don’t often re-read books and so there was the worry that five years on a very different me is reading the book, would I like it so much second time round or could this shatter my illusions of the book for good?

Lady Audley’s Secret caused a lot of controversy when it was first published amid the Sensation period in the Victorian times. Initially scorned by reviewers, critics and the press at the time the public disagreed and it became a huge success despite being labelled immoral. The book opens with the poverty stricken but incredibly beautiful governess of a small town doctor, Lucy Graham, marries the wealthy widower Sir Michael Audley.

All is well and happy until the arrival of Sir Audley’s nephew Robert and his friend George Talboys. The later who has not long come back from Australia where he has made his fortune hunting for gold though once back finds the wife he left behind has died. However the new Lady Audley refuses to see Robert and his friend and then suddenly George vanishes from the house leaving a mystery as to why.

Robert being the good and true friend that he is decides he must find out what has happened to his friend and becomes amateur detective discovering more about his friends past and that events and people at Audley Court may have some connection to the mystery. That’s all I shall say on the plot as to give any more away would ruin the book (makes giving book thoughts on sensational fiction so difficult).

I do think, and if you have read it or once you have you will also hopefully agree, that the plotting is just incredible. Ok so there are some moments when you have to suspend disbelief, could a letter actually travel slower than a person one year and faster the next to suit the tale its sensation fiction. I do think this book does have one of the most thrilling and gripping chase scenes as the villainess and the hero race to get to the same destination, brilliant. It thoroughly pleases me that the public opinion over rode the critics opinions of this absolutely wonderful book or it could easily have been lost forever and that simply wouldn’t do!

Did I love the book as much the second time round? Yes of course I did, I don’t see how anyone could fail to love what I think is one of the most sensational of sensationalist novels. I did notice I was much more critical second time around and for a while wasn’t sure the motives in the book were quite explained or made sense (without giving a huge part of the book away I cant comment on that further) and yet in some ways I was even more lost in the book than I was the first time round especially in the chase scenes which I wasn’t expecting and found very interesting.

I do wonder if as I get older I get more cynical? As everything being tied up just so and so delightfully, though a wonderful ending, left me wanting something a little darker but still for me one of my all time favourites. I wonder if the same will be said for The Woman in White when that gets a re-read in a few weeks time!


Filed under Books of 2009, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Penguin Classics, Review, Sensation Novels

21 responses to “Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon

  1. I am behind in my October reading plans; I had intended to read this for today and then became confused and thought it was for next year. I shall read it at some point now that it has been given such high praise. I’m in a little bit of a book slump just now and have so much to catch up on.
    Glad you loved it as much second time around.

    • Oh dear, how come for next year? Did I throw you with something I said at the moment the amount of gobbledygook I have been speaking it wouldnt surprise me.

      What sort of form is this slump taking? Can we help?

      • I’m the one that is speaking gobbledygook – I meant next WEEK!

        The slump has been since Byatt; it’s taking me longer than normal to read anything as I can’t seem to fully immerse myself in anything. Here’s hoping that Her Fearful Symmetry lifts me out of it.

      • Hahahaha I was wondering for a minute claire, I must admit!

  2. I have asked myself that same question. I recently compiled my list of top 10 books ever, but was nervous about including books I’d read ten years ago. I’m not sure I’m more cynical now (well, maybe I am) but for sure I’ve read higher quality literature. What I thought was brilliant then may not be my opinion now. Obviously I need to do some re-reads!

    Looking forward to The Woman in White. I’m going to get started on it within the next couple of weeks.

  3. I read this book for the first time two years ago for a class I was taking in the summer. I had never heard the term “sensational” literature before, but after reading this one book I was hooked! I do agree that it ties up rather “too” nicely in the end, but I just prefer to think that was indicative of the Victorian reader — and I can pretend that I have been transported to another time and another place 🙂

    • I was 100% transported to the era in fact I dont think any of the sensation reads that I have managed so far havent evoked that era 110% they have all taken me way back… I even came out wit a few Victorian sounding sentences the other day, maybe I have got too into the era.

  4. I think I have to wait another year or two before re-reading this one. If I wait long enough then I usually forget almost everything about a book. Of course it will be impossible to forget the climax of Lady Audley’s Secret but the rest will be like reading it for the first time again! I’m glad it mostly held up for you.

  5. I read this book this past year after randomly picking it off the ‘Classics’ shelf at my local library. I knew nothing about it, but was hooked almost instantly! You’re right, the plotting is incredible. I was flipping pages as fast as I could to see who would win the chase. And it’s so hard to talk about without giving everything away! Such a good book, and one that doesn’t allow you to forget it quickly.

    • It is real page turning stuff. Thats in part what has made my hunt for more of my already bought ‘modern sensation’ reading so difficult as you can see so many books in all genres have been inspired by these books in the smallest of ways.

  6. I may pick this one for my book club the next time it’s my turn. I read it back in my undergraduate days and loved it. Just like you I fell completly into the story and could not stop turning the pages.

    At the time, I loved the ending, too. I did read it for a Victorian literature class. They were famous for neat and tidy endings in those days. I kind of miss that in fiction, to be honest. A nice ending is good to have.

    I don’t mean “nice”. You know what I mean.

  7. S

    Thanks for this review! I came across this book a few days ago when I was compiling a list for a challenge that I’m creating. I was very curious about it. I think I am going to add this book to the challenge!

  8. This is an amazing book, I read it late last year, and am waiting just a little longer to read it again.
    I think the best thing for me is author clearly has such sympathy for the villian, and not so much sympathy for the hero as is usual. Poor lady Audley, she never really manages to do anything so very very terrible, and she really does get punished for it. I wish this book got the attention Jane Eyre did, or even Dorian Grey. It has so much going on, and so much to offer the reader that it seems crazy that it’s not on the list of books everybody knows.

    • I think more people know of it than we reckon. I have been amazed how many people have said ‘oh I really want to read that’ or ‘I have been meaning to read that for ages’ its definately a book thats gaining momentum again which it rightly deserves.

  9. I skimmed your review with my eyes half closed as I bought a copy to read but then went away on holiday so haven’t had a chance yet…as soon as I finish rereading Jane Eyre I am going to read Lady Audley…finally…have been meaning to read it for years…and I can’t wait! It sounds amazing and like a real page turner which is just what I need after wading my slow and frustrating way through The Children’s Book!

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