It looked so like and yet so unlike; it was as if you had burned strange-coloured fires before my lady's face, and by their influence brought out new lines and new expressions never seen in it before. The perfection of feature, the brilliancy of colouring, were there; but I suppose the painter had copied quaint mediaeval monstrosities until his brain had grown bewildered, for my lady, in his portrait of her, had something of the aspect of a beautiful fiend (107, Vol. I Ch. VIII; emphasis added).
This passage, where Robert stares at the unusual portrait, combines a multitude of themes: the uncanny, doubling, passion, and monstrocity. Her image is uncanny, for it is "so like and yet so unlike," so familiar and yet somehow unknown. Here the aesthetic functions as a symbolic image, revealing internal meaning hidden by an external "paint" or mask. The reference to mediaeval monstrosities, which the pre-Raphaelites were known for painting in order to comment on contemporary social problems, turns Lady Audley into a monster, an "other." By being referenced to the middle ages and monstrocity she is also compared to the monstrous races or the Jews and Saracens often depicted as bestial, cannabalistic, and sexual in medieval illustrations. Her "taint" derives, therefore, from her bestiality, violence, and "excessive" sexuality. The oxymoron "beautiful fiend" nicely summarizes Lady Audley's split personality and the novel's preoccupation with doubling. Here beauty and monstrocity are conflated. The "angel in the house" trope is complicated, and the "ideal" form of beauty is tained with the grotesque. The novel dares to ask how our eyes might deceive us, and how "ideal" beauty may not coincide with female virtue or morality.
Her crimson dress, exaggerated like all the rest in the strange picture, hung about her in folds that looked like flames, her fair head peeping our of the lurid mass of colour, as if out of a raging furnace. Indeed, the crimson dress, the sunshine on her face, the red gold gleaming in the yellow hair, the ripe scarlet of the pouting lips, the glowing colours of each accessory of the minutely-painted background, all combined to render the first effect of the painting by no means an agreeable one (107, Vol. I Ch. VIII; emphasis added).
The next section of this "portrait scene" describes Audley in flame imagery, dressed and illuminated in reds and golds. The folds of her dress look like flames; she is adorned in fire, connoting passion. And it is this excessive passion, this complete adornment in fire, that marks her as fallen and dangerous; for the painting is "by no means an agreeable one." With this flame imagery she is (as aforementioned in Topics for Discussion) compared to Bertha in Jane Eyre. Both women are condemned for their deviation from feminine virtue, their excessive emotions. According to Lynda Nead, "Female adultery is...represented as a consequence of abnormal and excessive sexual feelings; desires which are defined as commonplace in man are treated as a form of madness in woman" (50). The words "raging furnace" to describe her face is a powerful image, connoting violence ("raging"), fire, passion, and instability. A "raging furnace" implies wild, burning fire. Thus Audley is portrayed as uncontained, willful, unpredictable, and untrustworthy. The "lurid mass of colour" partially hiding her face likewise fits this interpretation; it is a "mass," loose and wild.
Nead, Lynda. Myths of Sexuality: Representations of Women in Victorian Britain. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988.
...[W]omen are never lazy. They don't know what it is to be quiet...If they can't agitate the universe and play at ball with the hemispheres, they'll make mountains of warfare and vexation out of domestic molehills; and social storms in household teacups. Forbid them to hold forth upon the freedom of nations and the wrongs of mankind, and they'll quarrel with Mrs. Jones about the shape of a mantle or the character of a small maid-servant. To call them the weaker sex is to utter a hideous mockery. They are the stronger sex, the noisier, the more persevering, the most self-assertive sex. They want freedom of opinion, variety or occupation, do they? Let them have it. Let them be lawyers, doctors, preachers, teachers, soldiers, legislators-anything they like-but let them be quiet-if they can (229, Vol. II Ch. VI; Robert Audley's thoughts)
Here the novel reiterates arguments spoken by Victorian feminists of the 1860s; these feminists asserted their right to work in masculine fields. While the novel is conflicted with its representation of femininity, this passage argues for a more radical view of a woman's work. Women are portrayed as strong-"they are the stronger sex"-independent, assertive, and opinionated. While the content of the passage may appear radical, its tone is muted by Robert, who only seems to speak these things because he is irritated by womens' incessant chatter. The novel attempts to mediate between maintaining its readership (not wanting to offend middle class readers by radically opposing the norm) and arguing for social reform. To do this, this passage equates social turmoil with domestic turmoil-prevent women from fighting for "the freedom of nations and the wrongs of mankind" and they will quarrel in the home. By equating the two spheres, noting the instability women can cause if not allowed to perform public service, the novel speaks with a feminist, though not offensive, voice. As marriages were thought to be microcosms of the nation and stable marriages were thought to lead to prosperity and happiness, here women are posited as determinants of stability and strength. Happy women make happy homes; and happy (i.e., stable) homes make for a strong nation. Slyly, the novel connects domestic happiness to women's employment, arguing for women to enter the professional field if only to keep quiet. By noting the annoyances of women suppressed at home, the novel argues for women to venture into the public sphere and take up professions (if only to spare a man's ear from female complaints). By trivializing such a radical argument-e.g., "social storms in household teacups," an effective rhetorical strategy, combining humor with serious subject matter-more readers are susceptible to it.
Lucy Audley, with her disordered hair in a pale haze of yellow gold about her thoughtful face, the flowing lines of her soft muslin dressing-gown falling in straight folds to her feet, and clasped at the waist by a narrow circlet of agate links, might have served as a model for a mediaeval saint, in one of the tiny chapels hidden away in the nooks and corners of a grey old cathedral, unchanged by Reformation or Cromwell; and what saintly martyr of the Middle Ages could have borne a holier aspect than the man whose grey beard lay upon the dark silken coverlet of the stately bed? (237, Vol. II Ch. VII).
Here the novel shows again how angel-like and fragile Lady Audley is with her yellow hair and soft muslin dress, but this time it changes the tone of her slightly in that her hair is disordered and she is distressed, and also that her dress is falling in straight folds rather than curvy, flowing ones, indicating the sharpness and straight-edged character she has taken on at this particular moment. Because she is compared with a saint also indicates her sorrow at this time, as Sir Michael is sick in bed. The color grey is used to describe the cathedral she would be associated with, a color that's very drab, dark, dreary, and really without color at all. Sir Michael's beard is also shown as being grey, because he is sick and is therefore dreary and cheerless.
I do not say that Robert Audley was a coward, but I will admit that shiver of horror, something akin to fear, chilled him to the heart, as he remembered the horrible things that have been done by women, since that day upon which Eve was created to be Adam's companion and help-meet in the garden of Eden. What if this woman's hellish power of dissimulation should be stronger than the truth, and crush him? (289, Vol. II Ch. XI).
This passage evokes the anxiety of woman's origin. Here Robert is clearly frightened by the possibility of female betrayal, dating back to Eve-she who lead Adam astray. Like Lady Audley's mental illness which is thought to be generational (a common belief by most Victorians), woman's loyalty is questioned because of her connection to Eve. In comparing Adam and Eve to Robert and Lady Audley, Robert surfaces fundamental questions about a woman's origins, her sanity, and her health. While the novel perpetually questions whether madness is inherited or the result of excessive feeling, this passage awakens anxieties about clinical madness and biology. If all women are descended from Eve, then is it possible for the entire female sex to have some hidden taints of madness? The very word "dissimulation" connotes secrecy and disguise (relating to the theme of Freud's uncanny, as well). And Robert, in remembering "the horrible things that have been done by women" since man and woman's creation, implies that women have the potential, the power, to manipulate, to lie, to betray. Clinical madness is described with religious terminology; Robert attempts to explain madness through religion, seeing it as an unnatural possession that may generationally affect the female sex. Describing it as a "hellish power," Robert posits Lady Audley's agency as evil and destructive, and the word "hellish" arises interesting connotations for Lady Audley-e.g., fire, passion, bestiality (what is forbidden, taboo). The word "crush" in reference to Lady Audley also refers to physical violence, brutality, and immense strength-unnatural qualities for a "domestic angel." These unnatural qualities make Lady Audley all the more fearful; for what appears to be familiar is, in actuality, monstrous and, therefore, terrifying. There is also a fear of deception triumphing over law-that Lady Audley's "dissimulation should be stronger than the truth."
Did she remember the day in which that fairy dower of beauty had first taught her to be selfish and cruel, indifferent to the joys and sorrows of others, cold-hearted and capricious, greedy of admiration, exacting and tyrannical, with that pretty woman's tyranny which is the worst of despotisms? Did she trace every sin of her life back to its true source? and did she discover that poisoned fountain in her own exaggerated estimate of the value of a pretty face? Surely, if her thoughts wandered so far along the backward current of her life, she must have repented in bitterness and despair of that first day in which the master-passions of her life had become her rulers, and the three demons of Vanity, Selfishness, and Ambition had joined hands and said, "This woman is our slave; let us see what she will become under our guidance" (311, Vol. II Ch. XIII).
Once again the novel poses questions about the origins of madness. In this passage, like many others, the novel does not seem interested in finding a solution so much as it is interested in posing questions. Here Lady Audley ponders whether her madness derives from her demonic desires-those censured by Victorian society as deviating and unnatural-and whether she is the aggressor or victim of such demons. Furthermore, she refers to her sin's "true source." Such an ambiguous word can have multiple possibilities of meaning. For example, is her "true source" the first day she gave in oto her selfish, ambitious desires? Is this "true source" the day Eve acquired knowledge and led Adam astray? Is the "true source" the day she awakened and felt those taints of madness, generationally passed down, awaken, which in turn made her cruel and selfish? We are left wondering, like Lady Audley, what is madness and what are its origins. The reference to "master-passions" connects excessive feeling to deviancy, as Lynda Nead has argued. By allowing herself to be won over by passion and her pretty face, Lady Audley seems condemned to insanity. This passage also censures superficial beauty over inner character. The novel asks, "[D]id she discover that poisoned fountain in her own exaggerated estimateof a pretty face?" (311; emphasis added). Female beauty is valued too highly, and this personal love of beauty can lead to selfishness and narcissism. But while Lady Audley is often portrayed as a manipulative aggressor by Robert, she is placed here as a helpless victim, made a slave to her "three demons." Rather than blame her, we are meant to pity her. For what are seemingly familiar characteristics of womanhood-beauty, appearance, charm, and pretty manners-are now horrifying.
Madhouses are large and only too numerous; yet surely it is strange they are not larger, when we think of how many helpless wretches must beat their brains against this hopeless persistency of the orderly outward world, as compared with the storm and tempest, the riot and confusion within:--when we remember how many minds must tremble upon the narrow boundary between reason and unreason, mad to-day and sane to-morrow, mad yesterday and sane to-day (227, Vol. II Ch. VI).
It is this fascination with madness in the 18th century that really brings this topic to the front lines in this novel. It is interesting that almost every character at some point of the novel is also called out to be "mad" which can suggest that perhaps all of us are a little mad. There are all moments of "confusion within" and times where "minds must tremble upon the narrow boundary between reason and unreason". It is this speculation of why madhouses are not larger which brings this question into mind. Can Lady Audley, genuinely be classifed as a "madwoman" when in fact all people at one point or another are playing at a balancing act of reason and unreason?
She had flung the horrible burden of an almost unendurable secret off her shoulders, and her selfish sensuous nature resumed its mastery of her. She slept, peacefully nestled in her downy bed, under the soft mountain of silken coverlet, and in the somber shade of the green velvet curtains. She had ordered her maid to sleep on a low couch in the same room, and she had also ordered that a lamp should be kept burning all night (378, Vol. III Ch. V).
This passage shows how important the superficial world is to Lady Audley. She has revealed her deepest and darkest secret and instead of fearing what consequences lie ahead she is able to sleep peacefully. She is able to sleep peacefully because she is in a "downy bed" with a "silken coverlet" surrounded by "velvet curtains". Here settings are remarkably luscious, sensuous and glamorous for a woman who is a precived murderess and madwoman. This passage shows that this superficiality will always be associated with Lady Audley. This need for the finer things is what motivates her and it is only when she has them she is at peace. The words that Braddon chooses also has an effect on the reader. Braddon continually associates Lady Audley with words and characteristics that are considered positive, yet in continually applying them to a madwoman, the reader begins to see them as negative. So just as the charming blonde ringlets and childlike beauty go from being pleasing to sinister, Lady Audley's lush surroundings go from being comfortable to excessive.
My lady's yellow curls flashed hither and thither like wandering gleams of sunshine on these busy days of fare- well. Her great blue eyes had a pretty mournful look, in charming unison with the soft pressure of her little hand, and that friendly, though perhaps rather stereotyped speech, in which she told her visitors how she was so sorry to lose them, and how she didn't know what she should do till they came once more to enliven the Court by their charming society (153-154, Vol. I Ch. XVI).
This passage depict Lady Audley as almost everyone sees her. "Gleams of sunshine," something warm, bright, and wonderful on a spring day, describes her hair while her blue eyes are said to be pretty and mournful. This is a slight contradiction to her normally charismatic and bouncy character, but goes along with her playing forlorn pieces on the piano. These things show more of an inside picture of who Lady Audley really is, rather than the appearance she puts up for everyone. She is also shown saddened by not being able to see these specific visitors but once a year, and pressing the visitors' hands with hers. The word "charming" is used to describe this pressing, as well as to describe their company, and is significant because in Lady Audley's case it's a manipulation tactic. She uses the word as an adjective to their company to make them feel good about themselves, and because it's used to show the unification of her pressuring hand and her words we can see that the visitors agree and are glad for the sense of charm.
The sly old benchers laughed at the pleasing fiction; but they all agreed that Robert Audley was a good fellow; a generous-hearted fellow; rather a curious fellow too, with a fund of sly wit and quiet humour, under his listless, dawdling, indifferent, irresolute manner. A man who would never get on in the world; but who would not hurt a worm (71-72, Vol. I Ch. IV).
Robert Audley is a nice enough man but has no purpose and no drive. He does not live life, he just is an individual watching life pass. It his curiousity which finally brings him to grow as a character which is cleverly masked under his "listless, dawdling, indifference, irresolute manner", which he uses to decieve his family as to what he is really doing. This quote also serves as "before" picture. We are introduced to this lazy, indifferent, purposless character but by the end he becomes a clever, strong detective and this quote serves to help the reader realize how much he really grows throughout the novel.
She looked very pretty and innocent, seated behind the graceful group of delicate opal china and glittering silver. Surely a pretty woman never looks prettier than when making tea. The most feminine and most domestic of all occupations imparts a magic harmony to her every movement, a witchery to her every glance (242, Vol. II Ch. VII).
The making of tea, is truely only a feminine and extremely domestic act. It is in this "magic harmony" of the blending, steeping and pouring which a woman can control the situation. Women are trained at a very early age to pour and serve tea correctly, to be a good hostess and the act itself can draw the man's attention to the hands and wrists of the tea-pourer. This control over the situation makes Lady Audley witch like in this domestic ritual. Part of the interesting aspect of sensation fiction was that an individual was not even safe in the home. In this time, many men were being poisoned, and one easy way to conduct that act was to slip something in the tea, because men, did not partake in the ritual of making the tea.
"Why should he not be mad?" resumed my lady. "People are insane for years and years before thier insanity is found out. They know they are mad, but they know how to keep their secret; and, perhaps they may sometimes keep it till they die. Sometimes a paroxysm seizes them, and in an evil hour they betray themselves. They commit a crime, perhaps. The horrible temptation of opportunity assails them, the knife is in their hand, and the unconsciousness victim by thier side. They may conquer the restless demon and go away, and die inccocent of any violent deed; but they may yield to the horrible temptation - the frightful, passionate, hungry craving for violence and horror. They sometimes yield, and are lost" (301 Vol. II Ch. XII).
Lucy Audley clearly knows from experience the symptoms and signs of madness. Lucy speaks of madness as not only an internal battle of keeping the secret, but also an external battle of wills and fight as "they may conquer the restless demon" or "they may yield to the horrible temptation". In the Victorian era, to give in to passion was to be deemend emotionally mad and the "temptation of opportunity assails them". Women have to be opportunistic to survive the strictures that society has placed upon them. Those strictures, are enough for madness to be brought about.