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


Before I read Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White I would probably never have picked up this book even though it was only a dollar at Book for America. Then again I would have never picked up The Woman in White either. Most times I have very strong feelings about the kind of books that I think I like. This usually works in my favor as I end up not wasting time on books that I really don’t enjoy. But occasionally I am persuaded that I really should give a particular book or author a chance. It has happened over the years with books like A Prayer for Owen Meany (Irving), The Andromeda Strain (Crichton), Deliverance (Dickey), and thanks to the evangelism of Simon at Savidge Reads, The Woman in White. In all of these cases, I managed to drop my tendency toward obstinacy just long enough to discover some really great reads.

Like The Woman in White, Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret is a sensation novel where the normal strictures of Victorian social mores are used to frame a plot full of scandalous, sensational, comings and goings. Imagine all the proper, detailed trappings of a Trollope, but replace a purloined cheque with a bigamous, murderous, lying, mad woman and you start to get the drift of Lady Audley.

Because there is so much detailed plot in  most sensation novels it is somewhat useless to try and convey the plot in a review. One could probably outline these plots very easily, filling up a page with a bulleted list of succinct plot points but that would remove all the fun of letters, messengers, and secret compartments; to-ing and fro-ing from town to town, train station to station; and of course interviewing all manner of characters who hold some little piece of a massive, mysterious, puzzle.

Lady Audley’s Secret is the kind of mystery where you know pretty early on the truth behind the mystery–at least at a broad level. But you read along wondering by what means it is all going to unravel and be revealed. And many little surprises pop up along the way that keep you on your toes.

My third Sensation novel, I would put Lady Audley’s Secret behind The Woman in White, but ahead of Collins’ The Dead Secret.

18 thoughts on “Book Review: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

  1. verity January 16, 2011 / 11:14 am

    Braddon was recommended me by a former colleague after I said that I had liked A woman in white. With your endorsement too, I shall have to seek this out at the library.


  2. Amanda January 16, 2011 / 11:15 am

    I haven't read Lady Audley's secret yet, but it is on my gigantic TBR pile. You must read Armadale by Wilkie Collins!


  3. Alison January 16, 2011 / 11:38 am

    I read this a while ago while on holiday and I was completely hooked. You're right – it's not so much that you have no idea what the 'secret' is, more that you can't wait to see how it is all going to be explained and revealed. I'm not sure anything can match up to The Woman in White and in a way this is quite a different book, but they are both well worth reading!


  4. C.B. James January 16, 2011 / 11:41 am

    I know that Woman in White is better art, but I prefer Lady Audley. She is much more fun and much more subversive.


  5. Desperate Reader January 16, 2011 / 6:13 pm

    I'm with C.B. James on this one, I think Lady Audley is very subversive and great fun. Sometimes a bit of sensation is just what's needed.


  6. Frances January 16, 2011 / 7:17 pm

    Picked this one up during Simon's tour of sensation novels but have yet to read it. So it fits right in for the TBR Dare right? Did love The Woman in White and am intrigued by C.B. James comment above about Lady Audley being much more fun and subversive. Subversive fun does work for me.


  7. Molly January 16, 2011 / 9:32 pm

    I had to read this book for a Victorian narrative class that I took three years ago and I LOVED it. I am hoping to find the time sometime soon to read more Braddon and other sensational novelists of the time.


  8. chasingbawa January 17, 2011 / 12:17 pm

    I've heard so much about this title but have never actually read it. However I loved The Woman in White, The Moonstone and Bleak House (which I'm assuming is similar) so I really think I should read this at some point.


  9. Steph January 17, 2011 / 1:12 pm

    So glad to hear you enjoyed this one! I downloaded it for free to my ereader but I have been avoiding it because it is so long. It does seem like fun though, so I know I should just get over my fear of big books already. Then again, I have yet to read any Collins, so perhaps that should be my priority!


  10. Dorothy W. January 17, 2011 / 8:43 pm

    I really liked this novel. I probably wouldn't have read sensational novels in my younger reads — too snobby for them — but I love them now!


  11. AnswerGirl January 18, 2011 / 8:49 am

    Read this several years ago on the recommendation of a friend at PBS, the year they did an adaptation of this for “Masterpiece Theater” (which I never saw). Good fun. If you're looking for more sensation novels, I highly recommend Louisa May Alcott's A LONG FATAL LOVE CHASE.


  12. olduvaireads January 18, 2011 / 11:58 am

    I keep hearing about this and have it tucked into my TBR list (as in it's been there for ages). I'm going to have to try to get to this sometime this year as it sounds like a great read.


  13. Kerry January 18, 2011 / 3:36 pm

    Sounds excellent! I want to check out Woman in White, too. Have you read The Moonstone? I just finished that and really enjoyed it. Some of this review reminded me of it, but that might just be because it's by Wilkie Collins.


  14. LifetimeReader January 18, 2011 / 6:01 pm

    I'm eager to read Braddon's The Doctor's Wife. Supposedly it is a retelling of Madame Bovary–and after Frances' read-along, I've become a little obsessed with Flaubert and all things Emma.


  15. Thomas at My Porch January 20, 2011 / 2:20 pm

    Verity: I don't think you will be disappointed if you like WIW.

    Amanda: I think I may own Armadale…or is it Moonstone…

    Alison: That is what I love about sensation novels, so easy to get hooked on.

    CB James: Certainly more scandalous.

    Hayley: It does provide a nice foil to other reading.

    Frances: The TBR dare has been good for me that is for sure.

    Molly: I would love to study this book in a classroom setting. So much to explore.

    Sakura: Sounds like you would like it.

    Steph: This one is short comared to The Woman in White or other Collins' doorstops. But they don't feel long at all.

    Dorothy: I'm not sure what I would have thought of them in my youth. Hard to say.

    Ellen: Would you believe I have never read anything by Alcott?

    Olduvai: Definitely worth pulling out.

    Kerry: Actually Braddon metions Wilkie Collins in the text of this novel.

    Lifetime: I have not read Madame Bovary. I had mixed feelings about the film.


  16. Ash January 23, 2011 / 1:50 pm

    I've read this twice and I enjoyed it so much both times. I read it once for a class about Victorian Women Writers and loved it so much I took a whole class about sensation novels where we read books by Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I have to say Wilkie Collins is probably a more skillful writer, but I enjoy Mary Elizabeth Braddon's books a lot more. Another good one by her is Aurora Floyd.


  17. savidgereads January 25, 2011 / 5:35 pm

    I love this book sooooo much, but then I do love sensation fiction as a genre soooo much too! If you want something that has another wonderful villaness in and the mystery, to a degree, of The Woman in White please, please, please get Wilkie's 'Armadale', its incredible and unfairly lesser known! I might re-read that this year!


  18. verity January 26, 2011 / 7:44 am

    And it is a Virago! I have it to read this week…


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