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4.3 out of 5 stars
Lady Audley's Secret (Penguin Classics)
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102 of 104 people found the following review helpful
Mary Elizabeth Braddon wrote some eighty novels of which only a tiny handful remain in print today; and yet, given the terrific quality of Lady Audley's Secret, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a few more of Braddon's books creep back onto the list of acknowledged Victorian classics over the next few years. With stage shows and TV adaptations of sensational Victorian literature doing big business Mary Elizabeth Braddon is ripe for rediscovery. She could certainly write and her female characters in particular are beautifully vivid and well-realised.
Without wishing to give away the admittedly slightly convoluted and twisted plot (but twisted in the best possible fashion!) Lady Audley's Secret concerns the shady and vague past of one Lucy Graham who becomes, on marriage to an elderly baronet, the Lady Audley of the title. Beautiful, intelligent, manipulative and cunning she completely dominates the novel, easily out-shining the various po-faced and rather priggish males who try to uncover her distinctly iffy past and bring her to some sort of justice. Braddon possibly over-cooked the character of Lady Audley, making her so endlessly fascinating that she continually captures the reader's sympathy in spite of behaving in a downright devious, sinister and occasionally murderous fashion. She dominates every scene in which she appears to the extent one actually hopes she gets away with her nefarious activities and that her Nemesis, the rather dreary and humourless Robert Audley - the sort of single issue bore you really wouldn't want to be stuck with at a party - finds himself abandoned and ignored by all concerned.
The novel contains some exquisite set pieces, in particular a scene in which a Pre-Raphelite painting of Lady Audley is discussed in a fashion that actually touches on an idea developed years later by Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray. It seems the artist, in portraying the exquisite beauty of Lady Audley slightly marred by a sinister curl to the lip, has caught the essence, rather than the physical actuality, of his model. Something unconsciously felt, rather than seen, has been given a literal representation.
The plotting is quite leisurely, but even the passages which could be regarded as padding are not without interest and some fine descriptive writing, and the female characters in the book are all considerably more interesting than the males which can on occasion give things a slightly lopsided feel, but taken as a whole it's a wonderful novel which thoroughly deserved the considerable success it achived on its first publication. The critics in the Victorian press were sniffy, but Henry James - who knew a thing or two about fine writing - was a fan. Give it a go. If you like your literature as fragrant as a rose garden in high summer you won't be disappointed.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 7 December 2009
Enjoyed reading this, wasn't quite sure what to expect. I got onto this book through reading about the PreRaphaelite painters (Desperate Romantics). The Victorian language, standards and customs take a little getting used to but it was a page turner for me. The Preface is thought provoking but should indeed be read after the story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 23 October 2008
This is a tremendous page-turning whodunnit with a fabulous cast of characters set against a richly detailed and authentic 1850's Home Counties backdrop.

Braddon is especially good at contrasting the hero, Robert Audley, against his newly acquired young aunt, Lady Audley. Robert starts the book as a foppish wastrel whilst Lady Audley is a girlish accessory for Lord Audley. Robert's search for the missing George Talboy causes both Robert and Lady Audley to show steel and determination as they lock horns in a mortal conflict. Even though the reader pretty much knows who-dun-what from the start, it's still gripping as Robert strips away the layers of the secret. The action flows thick and fast - the book was written as a weekly serial - with plenty of cliffhangers and false trails.

The supporting cast includes a great smorgasbord of characters, showing all sides of humanity, and in many cases spinning their fate out of their own selfish and unselfish actions. It's not quite Hardy but it's a lot more fun.

The greatest strength of the book is that the characters are fully formed and sympathetic, even when foul deeds are being done they are not incomprehensible in ordinary human terms.

I loved it and I wish someone would write a whole series of Robert Audley books.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A wonderful Victorian melodrama. Full of intrigue, suspense and heaving bodices! If you can suspend your disbelief and throw yourself into the plot with abandon you will really enjoy this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 31 October 2008
The epitome of high Victorian three volume wonderfulness.

If you're a fan, you can't do better than read this. Lady Audley has more than one secret, really, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon seems to have added to the list after she thought of the title, but who cares?

There's a touch of Ann Radcliffe and the Brontes mixed with Mrs Gaskell and Anthony Trollope. It's about time it was serialised on the BBC.

Robert Audley is not a shirt-rippling hero, but it's very easy to sympathise with his predicament. There is also a feeling that Ms Braddon changed her mind over who he should marry halfway through writing. In fact, the construction of the novel is fairly transparent as an ongoing piece of writing.

There are some recognisable human frailties here, and a great deal of artifice; no problem with that - it's what entertainment is all about.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Robert Audley is a dissolute lawyer living in Fig Tree Court. An old friend of his, George Talboys, has just returned from Australia having made his fortune, and is spending some days in town before travelling on to meet the wife and child he left in England six years ago. It is while he is in London that George reads a notice in the Times announcing the death of his wife in Ventnor - and after a trip to visit his wife's grave, Robert invotes his friend to his uncle's house in Essex to distract him from his grief.

Sir Michael has married recently, and married the most gorgeous woman in the county - Lucy Graham, a former governess with the local Doctor's family. While his uncle and aunt are in London, Robert and George enter Lady Audley's apartments through a secret passage to view the portraits hanging in the octagonal entrance chamber, including a pre-Raphaelite image of Lady Audley herself. Both men are affected by the beauty of the sitter. The men spend the time until the return of the master of the house with fly fishing. On the day they are due to dine with the family returned to Audley Court, George suddenly disappears, and much of the rest of the novel is concerned with Robert's detective work to discover what happened to him...

The novel was written in 1862, so as a detective story it is somewhat naive - the secret, and what happened to Talboys, is easily guessable by the modern reader - but as a thriller it is first rate. Braddon may only have been 26 when she knocked this out, but she handles the cat and mouse interplay of the principals with dexterity, and makes a sensational tale quite believable.
I owned my cpy of this for years before finally opening it - I shouldn't have waited so long. Looking forward to 'Marchmont's Legacy'...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The book starts with the reader being introduced to the central male character, Robert Audley, a lawyer by training, but an idler by occupation, who has never taken a brief and has no intention of doing so. He spends his time smoking and reading novels in his rooms, and visiting friends in the country. He meets up with an old friend of his, George Talboys, who six years earlier had left his wife and young child in the care of her father and gone to Australia to seek his fortune (how Victorian is that!). He has not communicated with them during that period, but has just returned a rich man and hopes to be re-united with his family. However, he happens to see an announcement that his wife died just days before his ship docked. The news devastates George and to distract him Robert invites him to spend time at the Essex house of his 60-year-old uncle, Sir Michael Audley, and his wife. The latter is in her twenties and the couple has only been married for a year or so. The effusive description of her great beauty and childlike nature is remarkably similar to George's description of his dead wife. The reader is alerted that `something is not right'.

Lady Audley contrives to be away during the visit, but in her absence Robert and George enter her apartment and there see a portrait of her. It has a profound effect on both men, George in particular. While waiting for the return of Sir Michael and his wife, George disappears without leaving any explanation for Robert. Most of the rest of the novel is concerned with Robert's attempts to find his friend. Along the way he begins to unravel the true nature of Lady Audley's character and her relationship to George. It is not difficult for the reader to guess what `Lady Audley's secret' is, but it takes Robert a long time to put all the pieces together to make his case watertight enough to convince Sir Michael. The subsequent detective work involves several complicated subplots with various twists and turns, and many subsidiary characters. In the end, all is revealed and Lady Audley is punished (although rather harshly by modern standards) and conveniently dies a few years later. George reappears, having spent time in America, and is reunited with his family and Robert. The latter is a `new man', with good intentions to abandon his idle life; and the young people in the story, Robert, George's sister Clara, and Sir Audley's daughter Alicia, are either happily married, or well on their way to being so. Even George, with his dubious former behaviour, is settled.

Most of the many characters are well described, although the frequent many-layered descriptions of the dazzling beauty of Lady Audley are such that it is a wonder than anyone beholding her is not blinded by her appearance. The contrast with the rather dull character of Robert is striking. The descriptive passages of scenes are excellent and give a good feeling for the period. Even an impoverished music teacher has a maid; Robert sends `telegraphic communications' from Essex to London and beyond and receives replies within an hour or so; frequent trains run between obscure stations at all hours of the night and day and so he is able to make convenient trips all over the country in his quest to solve the puzzle. Of course there are many coincidences to ease the plot forward, and some stock characters, but no more than usual for a novel of the period.

This book is both one of the great Victorian `sensational novels' and a morality story. It made the author's reputation and fortune and has hardly ever been out of print since it was first published in 1862. It is easy to see why.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 April 2009
Since this is one of those books that to tell too much of the story would ruin it, I'm only giving you the bare bones. Baronet Sir Michael Audley takes himself a young, beautiful (but penniless) wife, but his eighteen year old daughter Alicia is not quite so enthralled with Lucy's charms. Sir Michael's nephew Robert Audley greets his old friend George Talboys on his return from the gold-fields of Australia, but George is anxious to reunite with the wife and child he left behind when he was unable to support them. An unexpected death notice in a local paper sets George's world upside down, although a trip with Robert to Audley Court opens up.......

Well I'm not telling more than that, I am not into spoilers. This was a highly entertaining and readable mystery - yes you'll guess some of what's going to happen but trust me the author has a red-herring or two and plenty of twists and turns ahead for the reader. Braddon's style was very light and readable, not as heavy handed as some 19C authors can be and I really enjoyed her descriptions of the settings, particularly the very very old Audley Court and its grounds. This book should appeal to mystery fans as well as those looking for something new in 19C lit and perfect for those days when you're looking for something light, albeit with some substance as well. 4/5 stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 6 April 2009
This book was really good fun. A 19th century who-dunnit complete with beautiful but cunning villainess, rambling old houses and an upper-class layabout-turned-detective. Fabulous!

This was one of the first "sensation" novels ever written, and while it doesn't have the sophisticated and multi-layered plots of today that keep us guessing until the very end and on the edge of our seets, it is nonetheless a great page turner and so much fun. This book was originally serialised in a paper back in 1862, and I can imagine eagerly awaiting the next installment as they would have done back then. The language is not complex either, which makes for an easy and much quicker read than some novels of this era.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lady Audley's Secret although I am ashamed to say that I had never even heard of the author until I picked this up. I will now be checking out her others.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 January 2012
Lady Audley's Secret is an entertaining Victorian `sensational'. Full of beautiful descriptive passages, well turned characters and a lively pace that makes it impossible to put down.

The story concerns the rise and fall of Lady Audley who, briefly, achieves the acme of wealth and social standing through her marriage to Sir Michael Audley, a much older widower who dotes on his new young wife. The story of Lady Audley is uncovered after the disappearance of a close friend of Sir Michael's nephew...

I only read the book as it featured in a review of `must read' books and I am only sorry that I hadn't come across Mary Elizabeth Braddon before. Her characters are great. Lady Audley is unforgettable, and the plot is first class, with only a few minor contrivances. The beauty of Victorian language is a pleasure to read.
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