Book Review: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Lady Audley's SecretTitle: Lady Audley’s Secret
Author: Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Date: 2019 (1862)
Genre: Sensation novel / Mystery
Summary: In this outlandish, outrageous triumph of Scandal fiction, a new Lady Audley arrives at the manor: young, beautiful – and very mysterious. Why does she behave so strangely? What, exactly, is the dark secret this seductive outsider carries with her?

I read Lady Audley’s Secret for the latest Classics Club Spin and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve read Braddon’s ghost stories before and I knew this wouldn’t be the same but I didn’t realise how much of the Gothic genre would shine through in this novel. It’s a wonderfully written novel and I enjoyed so much about it so I suppose I should get on with this review…

The opening chapter was magical. Captivating. Beautiful. Stunning. And any other words that you can think of. It was a brilliant opening chapter, describing Audley, the place, in a way that made me want to step into the pages. Even in the opening chapter, I saw the tendrils of Gothic ideas reaching towards me because, despite Lady Audley’s Secret not being a Gothic novel, it has a very Gothic setting. Or, at least, the way the setting was described was Gothic-esque. It was the perfect opening for this book and I knew from the first page that I was going to fall in love with this story and Braddon’s storytelling.

The plot is about Robert Audley attempting to solve the mysterious disappearance, and possible murder, of his friend. It was a mystery concerned with the hows and the whys rather than who had committed the awful crimes and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s just a really great nineteenth-century mystery novel that inverts popular Gothic tropes and the various twists and turns that the plot takes are wonderful. It’s very entertaining, even now, and still rather shocking in some places.

I loved the characters. Some of them were terrible, terrible people and I loved it. I really enjoy how older literature, including Lady Audley’s Secret, portrays villainous characters because I just love to hate them. Even the main protagonist was as awful as he was wonderful in this book. I both admired and disliked him and the same can be said for most of the characters. They feel like real people and Braddon really captured the complexity of human nature.

I also really liked Braddon’s writing style and storytelling. Her descriptions of the locations were truly stunning and very atmospheric. You really get a sense of the different places that the novel visits and they feel very distinct from one another. Braddon’s character descriptions are equally interesting and they’re part of the reason the characters feel so life-like. It’s just so well written.

It’s also a very fun book to read, which a sensation novel should be, and it’s a book that explores serious topics. Victorian gender roles, social mobility, and anxieties surrounding the domestic sphere are the main themes and Braddon explores these themes in a very energetic, engaging way. It’s everything I want in a Victorian novel and more and I really do think it deserves to be called a classic.

Would I recommend it? Yes, I would recommend this book wholeheartedly. I had so much fun reading it but it also made me think about other topics on a deeper level. It was great!

The StoryGraph | Wordery

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