Matt's Reviews > Lady Audley's Secret

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
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's review
Jul 13, 2011

really liked it
Read in July, 2011

I'm not sure where I got the impression that this would somehow be unreadable, but I was totally mistaken-- this is a brisk little thriller, one where there's equal windows into the working out of the plot of the novel and the ways complicated issues are contested in Victorian culture-- in other words, it's got a good bit of readerly enjoyment to offer as well as grounds for some heavy duty academic analysis-- the last section, about mental illness, for example, is ripe for some sort of Foucauldian approach, and the novel as a whole offers many opportunities for perhaps misguided Freudian readings.

It's a really rich book in lots of ways, and though there are moments of creaky plot mechanics, where one too many obstacles may appear to slow down a coming revelation, it's not nearly as bad as you might fear, and is probably less flawed in this way than some books by Hardy. Instead, if this book has a flaw, it might be its grasping for big issues-- there are digressions here, in the voice of the author, that tackle subjects that wouldn't be unexpected in Dostoyevsky, but here, they lack D's frantic mania that makes those digressions so compelling. It feels, then, that Braddon is trying too hard; it's hard to characterize exactly, whether these incursions after inflated value are Braddon puffing her own skirts, or something she puts in to make her readers feel better about what they are reading. But she lacks that restraint that somehow or other we've decided is the hallmark of fine Literature. It's not hard to see that as a gendered objection, and it's not one I'd stand behind in absolute terms-- but I do think it goes some way toward explaining why this novel is seen as a second tier novel instead of one on a par with a Cranford, for example.

The character of Rob Audley is a fun one, especially in his early flaneur stage-- part of me wished he'd been able to remain to emotionally aloof throughout, but that wouldn't much suit the passions of the novel. Too bad, because that's when I liked him best.

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