A Victorian Soap Opera

I had a difficult time identifying with the secretive Lady Audley, but I am a product of a society that is desensitized to violence and all too used to hearing bad news, so I wanted to find out how the Victorians reacted to this wicked woman’s story. After a bit of digging, I came across this 1863 review of a production of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s novel: http://search.proquest.com/docview/4361264?accountid=11091
The article, originally published in The London Review of Politics, Society, Literature, Art, and Science, is even less forgiving of the Lady Audley than I am. The author clearly has an angle, labeling the story as a “narrative of unredeemed depravity”, and unabashedly expressing disapproval on the grounds of morality and good taste, however, the author also asserts that a story is not always bound to supply some sort of moral edification. As in the cases of the other major pieces that we have read this semester, the author claims that sympathy is at the center of the quality of a story, and Lady Audley is simply unsympathetic.
I find myself in agreement with the author, but at the same time I understand the fascination with this story. Braddon tapped into human nature in a new way—she allowed us to be voyeurs, to watch something unfold that is fascinating when held at the proper distance, when we don’t have to make meaningful connections to it. Lady Audley’s asides should draw the audience closer to her, but they have the opposite affect; at all times she is kept safely within the pages of the novel. She blurts out her own secrets, but she does not tap into ours. Her complete lack of remorse has a distinctly dehumanizing effect, and the compounding of her atrocious acts serves to prevent her from any type of salvation. Her dramatic death is the “sensational” ending needed to conclude this “sensational” piece. She leaves this world as only an actor can, with her hands on her temples, and urging those around her not to come near, not to touch. She asks only for our pity and our silence, but she will not get either. As evidenced by the article, and many others like it, she caused a quite a stir in the Victorian world, and as for our pity, how can we give it to her if we never got near enough to understand her?

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