Lady Audley's Secret - Mary Elizabeth Braddon whatever could be Lady Audley's secret? could it be... murder? miscegenation? malfeasance? misdirected malevolence ending in tears, tragedy, and general tawdriness? an assumed identity? flatulence? that not-so-fresh feeling? bigamy? bigotry? child abuse? child abandonment? une affaire de coeur? une affaire de blanchiment d'argent? well, all or some of those things may or may not be a part of this novel - but they are not the secret in question. Lady Audley's terrible, terrible secret is...
ha! did you actually think i was going to tell you? think again, sucker!

this ripping victorian yarn is a tale of deceit and possible death, of class barriers breached, a man gone missing, long-held love and quick infatuation, uptight upper class twits mercilessly skewered and drunken lower class buffoons broadly lampooned. it has brilliant and ambitious Lady Audley and her equally ambitious but rather less brilliant servant. it has one of the more charming protagonists i've come across - the lazy, well-meaning, animal-loving young barrister Robert Audley, whose favored activities are smoking his pipe and napping. it has mystery, intrigue, vengeance, and dark rainy nights where evil deeds are afoot. and hey, guess what, it subverts paradigms! sorta.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon was a popular writer of what appears to be a million potboilers during everyone's favorite english time period, The Victorian Era. nowadays she is practically unknown. that's rather sad because she deserves much better. the novel is stylish and very easy going down. it is the opposite of a tortuous experience - it is delightful! and beautifully written as well: a winding but briskly paced narrative with fascinating and often amusing characters, fun twists and turns, overstuffed with lavish description and poetic imagery, and - best of all - an ironically formal and sneakily caustic authorial voice. the wonderful wit in this novel is delicious. delicious! i just used that word to describe a novel! i feel like Oscar Wilde. or Dame Edna.

if you've read this one, then you know the real selling point: LADY AUDLEY ROCKS! the english class system is no barrier to her dreams. i'd hesitate to call her a feminist icon, but she knows how to make things happen and how to take care of business. such a great villainess. and i barely consider her to be villainous.

some spoilers follow... but i'm still not giving away Lady Audley's secret. mainly because i think it is a rather tedious secret and one of the weaker elements of the novel.

i am confident that Braddon knew exactly what she was doing when she crafted the character of Lady Audley. this wondrous psychopath utterly rejects her so-called 'place in life' as some drudge in a small town. she uses the weapons she has at her disposal to get ahead: her doll-like beauty, her sweet and cheery smile that lights up a room and makes you feel like you are the most important person in that room, her perfect poise and her perfect manners, her truly phenomenal talent at lying, and her quick-thinking ability to promptly push an annoyingly threatening fellow right down a well. throughout the novel, i was 100% on Lady Audley's team. i love seeing class systems scorned by the underclass and i love seeing them mercilessly dismantled - even if it is a brief and inevitably foiled uprising. Spartacus!

so yeah, Lady Audley: i love her. her pride, her machinations, her capacity for violence, her elegant skill at avoiding public confrontations with annoying nobodies like resentful stepdaughters, clingy first husbands, and nosy young barristers. oh, Lady Audley, you are the dreamiest of mercenaries!

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