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4.3 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 25 January 2006
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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VINE VOICEon 9 November 2006
There is a reason why Thackeray and Dickens were big fans of Mary Elizabeth Braddon. This novel is a Victorian gem!

Lucy Graham is a governess until she strikes it lucky and manages to charm Sir Michael Audley into marrying her. Apart from a tempestuous realtioship with her new step-daughter, Alicia, all is quiet at Audley Court until a visit from Sir Michael's neice and his friend George Tallboys.

George suddenly disappears, but there is more to the disappearance than meets the eye, and what is Lady Audley keeping to herself?

Blackmail, possible murder, arson and one of the greatest villanesses I've ever come across, this book has it all.

Suspend all disbelief and enjoy. Highly recommended.
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on 11 October 2009
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 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!
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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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on 9 November 2000
The best thriller of the Victorian age, this is still a real page-turner today. It's well worth reading - you won't be able to put it down!
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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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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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VINE VOICEon 22 September 2009
'My lady', as she is known, must surely be one of the earliest villainesses in crime writing as well as one of the nastiest. This harsh attitude to women of 'a certain type' is quite prevalent in the book but perhaps this emphasises the slightly feckless male characters.

In fact, a lot of this book centres on Robert Audley and his progress from a 'lympathic','flaneur' to a 'rising man'. There are also some interesting questions about the exact nature of his relationship with his Eton buddy but maybe this is just from the eye of the world weary modern reader?

I am turning into a sucker for this type of Victorian 'sensationalist' novel. This is great fun, at times ironic and intelligent without the pomposity of some Victorian stuff. The only slight niggle is that people dont talk to each other, instead they deliver speeches at each other!

Do not be put off by a rather insipid cover that suggests a Mills & Boon effort for ladies of 'a certain age'. Loved it to bits.
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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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VINE VOICEon 4 October 2010
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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