Friday, June 27, 2008

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

I liked Lady Audley's Secret in spite of myself! When I began listening to it via Librivox, I had very little idea of the storyline. I only knew it was a Victorian novel and that I’d heard the title bandied around somewhere before. But I was captivated from the very first chapter with the descriptive writing: [The house] was very old and irregular and rambling. The windows were uneven, some small, some large… great piles of chimneys rose up here and there behind the pointed gables and seemed as if they were so broken down by age and long service that they must have fallen but for the straggling ivy which crawling up the walls and trailing over the roof wound itself about them and supported them.

It was only when I’d reached chapter 7 that I learned (from another source) that this was a classic example of the “sensation” novel that was so popular during the Victorian period (1860-1880). According to the Wikipedia definition “The sensation novel typically focused on shocking subject matter such as adultery, theft, kidnapping, insanity, bigamy, forgery, seduction and murder”. Not my idea of a “good read” by a long shot! You may remember from an earlier post that I’m a huge fan of Anthony Trollope who purposely wrote against the sensational grain of popular fiction of his time. But I have to take my hat off to the Victorians for writing about such subjects without making them tawdry. This particular book (as well as another example of the genre, Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White) manages to touch on these taboo subjects without dragging the reader through the mud.

The first half of the book is very calm and well-written with not a cliff-hanger chapter in sight. I began to think that “sensational” in 19th Century England must have had a very different definition from the word today. But the book starts to live up to its reputation at around chapter 30 with its many surprising turns of events. Nothing prepared me for the biggest surprise of all in the penultimate chapter. I was delighted with the final outcome of the book and with all due respect to Trollope I have to give a humble nod of approval to Braddon for an intriguing and well-crafted story. Apparently this was her first of EIGHTY novels. If you like excellent, old-fashioned writing you’ll enjoy this book.


Karen G. said...

I listened to the Librivox version of this book not long ago (it's reviewed on my blog), and the reader is excellent. I was impressed with the moral quality of the book, in spite of its "sensational" subject matter.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like the writer had some other purpose than titillation in tackling these subjects. I think books that refuse to acknowledge the seamier side of life are in denial, but writing about them honestly does take talent. Thanks for this review; it makes me curious about this book.

DebD said...

I have not heard of this book nor its author. Thanks for the intriguing review, I think I may want to look around for it.

Anonymous said...

Dear Krakovianka, I actually listened to the book because of your recommendation. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

I followed you here from semicolon. I think this book was one of many Victorian novels mentioned in Diane Setterfield's Thirteenth Tale. Because I enjoyed that book, I read some of the ones mentioned in it, like Woman in White and Turn of the Screw, and I've really enjoyed them.