Lady Audley’s Secret is a Victorian sensation novel, and, like other literary pieces of this genre, it is known for a “scandalous” portrayal of women, description of shocking crimes, and female insanity. As a sensational novel, it also combines the features of romance and realism, which helps not only to entertain readers but also to criticize existing social issues. In Lady Audley’s Secret, Mary Elizabeth Braddon exposed such problems as female identity and power relationships of genders.
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It is valid to say that, to do so, she deliberately created an image of the main female character as a femme fatale – a woman who is dangerous and deadly to men and who uses them to pursue personal goals – because such a representation contradicts the traditional Victorian view on females as unintelligent, dependent, and lacking self-sufficiency.
Like a typical femme fatale, Lady Audley, known as Lucy Graham before her marriage to Sir Michael Audley, had a mystery about her, and others did not know where she came from. As noted by Miss Tonks, one of her acquaintances: “Miss Graham told me nothing [about her past]; she was too clever for that. She knows how to keep her own secrets, in spite of her innocent ways and her curly hair” (Braddon).
The fact that she hid her true identity also indicates that Lady Audley was manipulative and highly strategic in plotting her crimes. Moreover, her change of identity points at abilities that exceed the supposed skills and talents of a Victorian woman. To become another person, she had to research and use information that was far beyond the domestic sphere. Thus, although the character looked like a typical Victorian woman and seemed timid and submissive, she merely used this image to influence men and attain her goals. It is valid to say that Braddon represented Lady Audley this way to highlight the subordinate role of a woman in the 19th century and also challenge it.
Braddon, Mary Elizabeth. Lady Audley’s Secret. Project Gutenberg, 2017. Project Gutenberg. Web.