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Julie Fredericksen

I had never read a "sensational" novel before, at least not one that I knew was placed in that category. I did not expect to like it so much. Yes, it is at times "florid and overwritten", but in the end I would have to say "well written". It certainly propelled me along at a much faster pace than I had expected.

When you first introduced this book, something in the way you described it made me think of the "heroine" of "The Crimson Petal and the White". But I was so wrong. The "lady" in the aforementioned book was a victim of her circumstances and time, while Lady Audley left many victims scattered about the landscape. She was merely a nasty little sociopath, whose story could have been set in the 21st Century just as well as the 19th Century.

I am very glad that the book is much more about Robert Audley. I seem to remember something back in the mists of time when I was studying literature (early 1970s) that a protagonist must grow and change in a successful novel. I give you Robert Audley, a much better detective, in my mind, than Sherlock Holmes!

Would I read another book by the same author? I doubt it, but I am glad I purchased and read this one.


Funny... it was almost the opposite for me. The earlier chapters, especially when Lady Audley is so skillfully dodging and twisting, were so elegantly plotted that they had me hooked. It was the second part, when we know the secrets (both of them) and Robert is still investigating, that the book slowed down under all that prosiness. But all in all, it was a lot of fun to read.


This was the first novel I read on the Christmas Sony E Reader. For the total e reading experience I downloaded Lady Audley from Gutenberg. I was very content to swipe the pages and enjoy the ride!! So handy to have the dictionary feature available.

It was a surprisingly enjoyable read, keeping me involved to the end. I did enjoy all the Victorian detail and the many Australian references made me smile!

LAS was available on shelf at our local library as well and evidently still in demand. Now I can see why. A great choice to begin the year.


For once we agree -- this is a great novel and has stood the test of time really well. For anyone who wants to read another of her's, I strongly recommend Aurora Floyd -- another cracker!

Dark Puss

I am going to be slightly less enthusiastic about this book than you are Cornflower. A slow start indeed, I think 50 pages could have been cut with only a positive effect on the novel. I didn't like the last few chapters at all but the middle (like the curate's egg?) was good. I'm not a fan of "my lady" as the narrator rather irritatingly referred to her throughout, and I think Julie's description of her as a sociopath is probably fair, however I was chilled more than anything else in the entire book by the way she was incarcerated in some kind of asylum in Belgium with nothin other than a few powerful people signing some documents. I liked much of the characterisation although I did feel that Robert Audley's transformation from idle novel reader into super-sleuth implausible to say the least. The "patness" of some parts really did diminish the book in my eyes, although overall I enjoyed reading it.

I'm not inclined to read more by the author (although I have easy access to several) unless of course it turns up on CBG again.

Back to The Magic Mountain tonight!


I was a little under-whelmed by the story. I didn’t mind the slow start, but there weren’t many surprises after the initial chapters. I wonder if the author was actually sympathetic at all to the heroine/villainess or was that just my modern sensibilities creeping in? She was materialist and vain, yes, and maybe a sociopath, ok. But wasn’t she wronged in the first place by George Tallboys? I did like the transformation of Robert from idle, dissolute young man to proto-detective and man with an sense of direction in life. Much of the description of what train he took and their schedules reminded me of more modern detective fiction. I think I am more inclined to read more Wilkie Collins than Braddon...although Harriet’s description of Aurora Floyd as a “another cracker” has me tempted!


The style reminded me of Wilkie Collins (I see Ruthiella has mentioned hom too), whose novels I have enjoyed. I find it hard to descibe - I agree with 'chummy' because you do get the impression you are being told a story by a friend.

I enjoyed the book a lot. As Harriet Devine has said, it has stood the test of time which I think is because the story is told well, which overcomes any weakness of plausibility in the plot.

Like Ruthiella, I wondered if the author had some sympathy for the villainess, and thought that this may have been suppressed in the writing due to the sensibilities of the readership at the time.

Thank you Cornflower for the choice - a book I would never have found otherwise.

B R Wombat

I echo Sandy in thanking you for the choice as I'm glad to have read it but I doubt very much that I'd read any more, not when there are still books by Wilkie Collins that I've not read.

Simon (Savidge Reads)

Now, I have to admit I didn't re-read this for the book group (am I awful?) however it is one of my favourite books and so I felt it would be ok (as I have read it three or four times) to join in.

Why do I love this book so much? Possibly because it was the second sensation novel that I ever read and therefore it stuck with me but mainly because I like the fact the book is such a case of two halves. You have the cat and mouse nature of the first half and the delightfully deviant Lady who is always one step ahead. Following this you have the unravelling and unmasking and, to me at least, this duality to the novel really worked.

I love sensation fiction and the fact this has such a dastardly woman at the helm was rare at the time. If you fancy another one in an astounding sensational novel then I would try Armadale by Wilkie Collins, Lydia Gwilt makes Lady Audley look rather saint like.

I am so thrilled you have put other people in the direction of this book. I haven't read The Doctors Wife yet, maybe I should?

Susan in TX

I really enjoyed this one. Yes, it was predictable and prosy in places, but it was the way she wrote her predictable suspense that kept me turning the pages. I suppose this was partly due to the fact that is was originally serialized? I also loved her nod to Wilkie Collins and Alexandre Dumas when Robert is surprised at his own sleuthing and ruminates that he has perhaps read too much of these two. I don't know what I was expecting in this one, but I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would. Would I read more by Braddon? Yes, I think I will. I've already recommended this one on to a few people. Thanks for bringing this one our way, Cornflower!

Janet D

I did enjoy the book although I admit to reminding myself at regular intervals about when it was written.I think we forget that peoples' experiences and indeed expectations of a novel were far different than those of the present day.


I assumed Hilary Mantel's tarts were maids-of-honour and very appropriate.

I am enjoying Lady Audley's Secret"in snatches. It is my kitchen book--stirring soup, waiting for the over timer to ring and having to fill time. It is going to take a while to get through but is nice reading and just right for this purpose. I don't think I'll continue with another book of hers though. (My last kitchen book was Ouida's "Under Two Flags" and Mrs. Braddon is vastly preferable.

Susie Vereker

A gripping story. Thank you for suggesting it, Cornflower. I much enjoyed the melodramatic plot, the characters and the insights into Victorian attitudes.
Various random minor points struck me: there’s a lot of ‘telling’ and long description in a Victorian novel; plot points were heavily foreshadowed; the trains worked amazingly well in those days – the hero fair zipped about; early in the book Lady Audley was clearly marked as a baddy as she didn’t like dogs though tolerated those of her guest; the hero in contrast was a goody because he did like stray mongrels though it wasn’t clear who looked after them when he was busy; the child was unceremoniously dumped in a boarding school without protest at the age of 5. I thought perhaps Mary Elizabeth Braddon didn’t know much about children but I see she had 6 and wrote about 80 novels!
(Almost forgot to post but Twitter reminded me!)


I did not think I would enjoy this book by the first description ,so was in no rush to buy it. However i saw it on a shelf on the local library and borrowed it. I am so glad I did,becoming drawn in to the plot by the skill of the writer. I have recommended this book to others. A good old fashioned read. Started me back to John Buchan books!


Re. your point on period, Julie, I was thinking as I read the book that a film version set in the present day would be very interesting.


No need to have re-read, Simon, and yes, that duality is key, isn't it.


You're welcome, Susan.
Serialisation does seem to be a device for great drama - most of Britain was left on tenterhooks last Sunday when the final episode in the television series "Sherlock" was shown, and we'll have some months to wait to find out what happens next.


Indeed. I think it has worn well, though.


I love the idea of a kitchen book, Erika.


Yes, wasn't the railway system wonderful!
I, too, wondered who had Robert's dogs when they weren't with him, and as to the child being dumped at the school, given his adult taste for veal cutlets and Bass's pale ale, no doubt he took it all in his stride.

Julie Fredericksen

In reply to/and a question for all of you above who mentioned Wilkie Collins. Though I have long know about "The Moonstone" I have always avoided reading it because I have formed an opinion in my mind of it being heavily melodramatic and "Victorian" in a negative sense. Now I am reconsidering it. Is it as good/better than "Lady Audley's Secret?" Should I instead read another WC book?


I really enjoyed this, and I liked the fact that Lady Audley overturned the conventions of her day and tried to control her own life. She may have been a 'baddie' but let's not forget she was abandoned by George, who went off to Australia to seek his fortune and didn't even tell her - he left her a note, and didn't seem bothered about how she would cope. She had a baby son and an alcoholic father to care for, and got by the best way should could, first as a governess, then by marrying a rich man when the opportunity arose. I thought the novel highlighted interesting questions about class, and the way mental illness was treated, and the way society viewed men and women. I've blogged about it, but don't know if it's the right etiquette to put a link!


Yes, please do give the link - it's often so much easier to put down your thoughts at greater length in a post rather than in the more confined space of a comment, and it's always good when the 'conversation' continues on other blogs.


Oh, thank you. I've enjoyed reading the other comments, but those of us who think Lady Audley was a wronged woman seem to be in a minority! The link to my blog post is

Barbara MacLeod

[1] I had never heard of this writer and am delighted to have had the chance to read LAS. It took me ages to get through it but I found it a delightful book of smiles and chuckles. I loved all her ironic passages e.g. her description of Castle Inn where the "wise architect who superintended the building ... had taken especial care that nothing but the ... frailest material ... be used" ... being "the hand of genius ... in all the rickety construction."

[2] It was full of references to French novels either with her authorial voice or through the characters. Also there were many French phrases peppered through the book, again, enjoyable, though I had to look up a lot of them. It made me wonder about (a) the influence of French novelists on English, i.e. English-speaking, writers, and secondly (b) while we use a lot of French phrases today (ambience, entrepreneur etc) have a lot of these been lost in the last 150 years? I now know about a "bonne bouche". I wondered if it might turn up on your Cake Connection!

[3] To me she sounds Irish. By that I mean she uses words like a lot of Irish people do when the write or speak. For example, instead talking about "china" or "porcelain" she says (when we are angry and want to through the crockery) "the utmost we can do for the relief of our passion is...smash a few shillings'-worth of Mr Copeland's manufacture."

[4] Lastly, the word EGO. I thought that Freud was the person who introduced that word into our language. Wrong. Here she uses it in 1860 "the painfull uncertainty of an Ego or a non-Ego in metaphysics." [Oxford World Classics, 1987, p. 208).

B R Wombat

I've read perhaps 5 or 6 by Wilkie Collins and found them much better than Lady Audley. I'd not suggest you start with The Moonstone, though. I'd go for either The Woman in White, or, as Simon suggests, the wonderful Armadale.

Dark Puss

Dear ChrisCross53, I perhaps didn't make my views very clearly, but I certainly am not averse to the opinion that Lady Audley is not well treated in this novel. As I said in my earlier comment I found her final treatment quite chilling.

Mr Cornflower

Yes, I can see that there is a certain 'lettre de cachet' element in the way she is whisked off to Belgium; but objectively, she could have been tried for two capital offences (the attempted murder of George Tallboys and arson at the Inn resulting in the death of Luke Marks). I think a modern writer might well have explored the ambiguities and extenuating circumstances in greater detail - and not just a modern writer, Thackeray's Becky Sharp is quite as amoral as Lady Audley but a good deal more nuanced. But on its own terms I thought the book was very well crafted.


It may have taken you ages, Barbara, but you've certainly read it very closely!

Mr Cornflower

An English version of Madame Bovary? I cannot help thinking of a comment by I think it was George Mikes: "Foreigners have sex lives, the English have hot water bottles."


Julie, I have only read "The Woman In White" and "The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins. Both are great, highly recommended by me, but I like "The Woman in White" best. As opposed to the cat and mouse play in "Lady Audley's Secret", "The Woman in White" is a proper mystery, superbly plotted. I encourage you to give it a try.

Julie Fredericksen

Yes, Lady Audley was a wronged woman, but not all wronged women murder the man (or so she thought) by pushing him down a well and then commit arson (with the great likelihood of other deaths) in order to kill him "again". That's called depraved indifference to human life and goes beyond getting by the best way she could.

PS - a great Victorian novel about a woman getting by the best way she could is "The Crimson Petal and the White" which I mentioned in my first post. I ended up having a great deal of sympathy for that protagonist, but I had none for Lady Audley.

Julie Fredericksen

BR and Ruthiella,

"The Woman in White" it is. I'm off to order it on used books.


Thank you Cornflower for an excellent choice. I had never read anything by ME Braddon and I didn't expect to enjoy it but I did. I agree it was a bit wordy in places and slow to start.

It was rather convenient that Lady Audley should be packed off to an institution in Belguim but the family had money and isn't that how the wealthy, in Victorian times handled these difficult situations.

Lady Audley's crimes were such that they couldn't be ignored and she was lucky that she was placed in a 'safe' place and looked after in a kindly fashion.

It is a good that has stood the test of time quite well. Would I read another of her novels? Maybe

Dark Puss

As usual you are correct! Another possibly approriate one from Mikes is:

On the Continent people have good food; in England people have good table manners.

B R Wombat

Good-o. Hope you enjoy it.


I thank-you for introducing me to this writer. It was interesting to look at a world in less hectic times. I kept telling myself that her readers would be delighted with and savor each enstallment! No need for her to rush through her characterizations and plot.
I am sure they anticipated each installment much as we here in the United States are currently anticipating each new episode of the BBC's "Downton Abbey".


I loved it! I just wrote a little bit at my blog.

I was quite bold in my estimation of Braddon's writing. :<)


I cannot say anything new to the comments but just wanted to say that I loved the book. Had sympathy for Lady Audley to a certain extent. Sir Michael not so much.


Sorry to be late in replying, but yes I agree that the Woman in White is better than the Moonstone but both are very fine. The Victorian values and mores lend it an 'other worldly' air for me and add to the enjoyment, rather than distract from it. I hope you like them both as much as I do.


I fear that without the benefit of the Mental Welfare Commision, I believe that it was possible for powerful men to arrange for the long term incarceration of relatives/parients in institutions, although many did not have what we would now think of as mental health problems. So although we find this 'chilling' nowadays, at the time the book was written, I do not think that the readers would have been affected in exactly the same way as we were.

Conversely, now people with mental health problems can find themselves in jail, instead of having appropriate support. This to my mind is equally chilling.


I couldn't help thinking that Wilkie Collins would have written it much better.


Cornflower, thank you so much for choosing this book - I echo so many on these pages to say that I would not have come across it had it not been for your recommendation. I found the beginning a bit 'clunky' -i.e. I didn't get around to counting how many references but it got a bit 'the well, the deep well, the disused well' (spoooooooooky!) - I was kicking myself that I didn't spot the 'the last man on-board at Liverpool had an arm in a sling'. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and found the ending really thrilling even with my comments above, so much so that I had to read the book open on a desk with several bookmarks and business cards hiding most of the text so that I could only read it sentence by sentence, fearful my eye would stray on to text further on that would give anything more away. I bought a copy for my mother and my daughter is reading my copy. Wonderful.


I am surprised at the great enthusiasm aroused by lady A. I will be pleased to have read it because it is mentioned so often but that is about it.

Kitchen books are my way of tackling "Probably should read but don't particularly want to ..." I did enjoy "East Lynne" but found "John Halifax, Gentleman" very sticky going. Next will be "Barlasch of the Guard" because it was my grandmother-in-law's favorite book.


Big thanks to those who have reminded me of George Mikes. As foreigners living in England my mother, my sister and myself passed it back and forward, choking with laughter. (For others in the same situation I should mention Margaret Halsey's "With Malice Towards Some")

Mr Cornflower

Thank you for the tip about Margaret Halsey - having been 'an Englishman abroad' in France and Germany (and now in Scotland!), I rather enjoy those books in which perceptive foreigners give their side of the story.


Great to see that this book has enthused quite a few of us to the point where we are passing on our copies!


There is so much to say about this book it's hard to narrow it down.
Lady Audley is doomed from the start. She's an assertive, ambitious woman seeking prosperity in a male dominated world. She is ultimately removed from society for her crimes and secreted away to be locked in an asylum overseas, despite there being 'no evidence of madness.
Unjust justice where legal channels are by-passed by men who have the law on their side.
Braddon could not let her heroine prosper through crime, nor did she want her executed, so Braddon had her incarcerated - as women were.
Braddon highlights the suppression and oppression of women striving for more in a victorian patriarchal society.

Julie Fredericken

I agree with you that too many totally sane women in the Victorian age and even much later into the 20th Century were once incarcerated to conveniently get them out of the way.

And yes, there was "No evidence of madness" in Lady Audley. But certainly there was evidence of a sociopathic personality.

Unjust justice? No way. I'm going to have to side with Anji: "Lady Audley's crimes were such that they couldn't be ignored and she was lucky that she was placed in a 'safe' place and looked after in a kindly fashion."


Twice I've tried to post a comment but they have disappeeared. Ironically, this one will probably post.

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