By Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Published in 1862 after appearing in a serial form in several publications – both partially and in whole – Lady Audley’s Secret falls squarely into the category of "the sensation novel”.
As Braddon’s most successful and well-known work – it was wildly popular, even though it took most of the comfortable and accepted Victorian standards and tipped them on their proverbial ears. Morals, ethics, criminal behavior, encroaching urbanization and its effects on good society, class divisions and roles – Braddon wrote about them all and had possibly written much of it from some questionable experiences of her own. There were several real-life cases of the time that have been conjectured to have set some of the plot lines of Lady Audley’s Secret into action, having fermented in this author’s head. Were the themes inspired by real-life Constance Kent and her case, which captured the English public’s avid attention during the summer of 1860?
During the Victorian age, there were some things that were just not discussed. There were morals and standards and ideals that were held sacred whether they originated in Scripture or were just products of the time. Class structure, the view of women and how they were to deport themselves, marriage, home as a “safe haven”, gender roles…. With the British society in the midst of an industrial age upheaval, life as a comfortable known quantity was becoming a thing of the past. Did these insecurities find their way into the exploits and misadventures of Lucy and meet with a level of recognition as the book passed from one avid reader to the next?
And a Victorian novel with the theme – “accidental bigamy”? ...Really?