Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2018, The Classic Club

Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Classic
4*s

I added Lady Audlley’s Secret to my TBR back in 2015 after hearing that it contained echoes of the real crime committed by Constance Kent, a case picked up and written about in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale along with the knowledge that the author set the book at Ingatestone Hall in Essex following a visit there. Back in 1860s my ancestors lived in Ingatestone, not at the Hall I hasten to add, although one or two of them may well have scrubbed the scullery in their time, but this of course meant it was a sure fire in to be added to as part of my Classics Club challenge.

The Gatehouse of Ingatestone Hall

Although I wasn’t at all disappointed that it won The Classics Club Spin #17 I was a tad concerned that a Victorian sensation novel might feel a bit dated given my contemporary tastes of recent years. I needn’t have worried, reading this book confirmed that a story told well, makes for great entertainment no matter when it was written. The language was straightforward and easy to read although it did feel longer than many contemporary novels that is probably because it was originally written in instalments for her lover’s magazine in 1861 and even when it was published in 1862, it was split into three parts.

The book starts by taking us to the courtship of the beautiful and childlike blonde Lucy Graham by the somewhat older widower Sir Michael Audley who falls deeply in love with her and hopes she feels the same. She wisely promises nothing but agrees to become his wife which is a major step-up in society since she is currently the governess for a local doctor.

She had been the chief attraction of the race-course, and was wearied out by the exertion of fascinating half the county.

For you see Miss Lucy Graham was blessed with that magic power of fascination by which a woman can charm with a word or intoxicate with a smile.

Soon afterwards we meet up with Sir Audley’s nephew Richard who is meeting his friend George Talboys, who has returned from Australia having made his fortune in the gold rush. Despite his absence of three years he is keen to see his young wife who he left with a mere note following a bit of a row. George and Heleen Talboys had a baby but he doesn’t seem to have the same pull on dear old George’s vision of a happy homecoming. Anyway Richard and George meet up but a notice in the newspaper puts a spanner in the works and they soon have to make a trip to the Isle of Wight on the trail of the missing Helen.

This story is above everything else, fun. I could spend an age explaining that it became popular, if not revered in the way the ‘serious’ novelists of the time were, because it played on the Victorian’s fear that the home wasn’t always the safe haven that they liked to pretend it was. It is here that the parallels with Constance Kent were drawn. A respectable family, a step-mother and murder all play their own part in Mary Elizabeth Bradon’s dramatic tale. But I won’t do that, nor will I add more than a sentence about the breakdown of the old order by pretty young women seducing foolish old men thereby usurping the old order of things.

The characters are all seen through our omnipresent narrator’s eyes and ears, and yes, there is a certain amount of stereotyping some of them. Fortunately, I’m not a snob about such things, after all stereotypes are created for a reason and there is enough drama and subversion of the ‘old order’ to quibble that the rough husband of Lady Audley’s maid, Phoebe Marks is a bit of brute with no redeeming characteristics when at the heart of the novel is a woman whose beauty doesn’t translate to the ideals of the day.

The omnipresent narrator is there from beginning to end but once Richard Audley’s story begins we are also treated to less remote view of the scenes that unfold.

“You seem to have quite a taste for discussing these horrible subjects,” she said, rather scornfully; “you ought to have been a detective police officer.”
“I sometimes think I should have been a good one.”
“Why?”
“Because I am patient.”

But if you are expecting the fair Lady Audley to give you some insight into her secret, you will be disappointed, that is a matter of deduction for the reader and even if you reach the truth before our amateur detective Richard Audley, you will need to continue to find out how it all ends, surely the purpose of a good book. However if you’d like you might like to reflect on the pronouncement made in this sensationalist novel, take note that this was written over one hundred and fifty years ago – what would Mary Elizabeth Braddon make of the modern woman’s opportunities?

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 of 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.

Once again I’m delighted with my Classic Club read, I meanly knocked a star off because it was a bit long-winded in places and so far I’ve given all my classic reads the full five stars, but in all honesty this has ignited an intent to read more books by this author and more books in this genre.

Lady Audley’s Secret is number 2 on The Classics Club list and the fourth of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed.

 

First Published UK: 1862
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 512
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Weekly Posts

This Week in Books (April 18)

This Week In Books
Hosted by Lipsy Lost & Found my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I am reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words

I have started my fourth read from The Classics Club chosen by the spin which chose Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon so I’m going back to the Victorian times to meet this far from insipid lady.

Blurb

‘Lady Audley uttered a long, low, wailing cry, and threw up her arms above her head with a wild gesture of despair’

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? A huge success in the nineteenth century, the book’s anti-heroine – with her good looks and hidden past – embodied perfectly the concerns of the Victorian age with morality and madness. Amazon

The last book I finished also featured a far from insipid female, this time  WPC Florence Lovelady who takes us back to 1969 in Sharon Bolton’s brilliantly creepy The Craftsman – my review for this book will follow soon.

Blurb

Devoted father or merciless killer?
His secrets are buried with him.

Florence Lovelady’s career was made when she convicted coffin-maker Larry Glassbrook of a series of child murders 30 years ago. Like something from our worst nightmares the victims were buried…ALIVE.

Larry confessed to the crimes; it was an open and shut case. But now he’s dead, and events from the past start to repeat themselves.

Did she get it wrong all those years ago?
Or is there something much darker at play?

Next on my list is The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet which will be published on 3 May 2018 – not sure if the female protagonist in this book is insipid but I sincerely hope she isn’t!

Blurb

‘No one lives this way unless they want to hide something.’

When Caroline and Francis receive an offer to house swap, they jump at the chance for a week away from home. After the difficulties of the past few years, they’ve worked hard to rebuild their marriage for their son’s sake; now they want to reconnect as a couple.

On arrival, they find a house that is stark and sinister in its emptiness – it’s hard to imagine what kind of person lives here. Then, gradually, Caroline begins to uncover some signs of life – signs of her life. The flowers in the bathroom or the music in the CD player might seem innocent to her husband but to her they are anything but. It seems the person they have swapped with is someone she used to know; someone she’s desperate to leave in her past.

But that person is now in her home – and they want to make sure she’ll never forget . . . Amazon

So what do you think? Have you read any of these? Would you like to?

Posted in The Classic Club

The Class Club Spin #17 – The Result!

The Classics Club has held its 17th Spin, and this was my  first time of playing the book roulette.

The idea is to list 20 of the books on your Classics Club list before Friday 9 March when the wheel will turn and reveal the winning number. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by 30 April 2018.

The rules suggested we pick five books from each of the following categories:

5 books you are dreading/hesitant to read
5 books you can’t WAIT to read
5 books you are neutral about
5 books which are free choice

Now I’m one of those people who tend to follow the rules and although I didn’t have any books I was dreading I duly put my five books that I was more hesitant about in the first five on my list, and then the classic club number came up as number 3!

This means that I need to read Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon before 30 April 2018. Fortunately I already have a copy of this book so no purchasing required.

Blurb

‘Lady Audley uttered a long, low, wailing cry, and threw up her arms above her head with a wild gesture of despair’

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?

A huge success in the nineteenth century, the book’s anti-heroine – with her good looks and hidden past – embodied perfectly the concerns of the Victorian age with morality and madness. Amazon

I’ve never read this book, obviously it didn’t appeal when I did the majority of my classic reading in my late teens and twenties but I do like a bit of scandal!

Lady Audley’s Secret was first published back in 1862 and it was originally added to my bookshelf as elements of Mary Elizabeth Braddon story mirrored the real-life story of the day, that of the Road Hill Murder, in the storyline. I read about this crime in the fabulous The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale.

Lady Audley’s Secret centres on the key concerns of the day, the enemy within the domestic sphere… not so very different to our current diet of domestic noir – it’s funny to think that Victorian women in the early 1860s reading this novel, which was first serialised over three months in 1861 in a magazine before it was published in three volumes. I’m guessing that the readers were in a state of high anticipation for the next of these bite-size chunks. I wonder if they sat all prim and proper in their drawing rooms, gasping over the events in the way more modern women read on their e-Readers about friends, sisters and husbands terrorising lives in a world which seems far away from over hundred years in the past.

The story promises it all; a wicked stepmother, a country-house murder, a dollop of madness and a detective.

So although I put this in my I’m hesitant to read this novel pile, based on the overly dramatic book cover and the time period it was written, as anything else – now I’ve reminded myself why I wanted to read Lady Audley’s Secret, I’m actually very keen to read it indeed.

What did you get fellow Classic Club Spinners?

Looking forward to everyone’s views on whether I should be celebrating my success or perhaps this book missed the mark where you’re concerned?