Fudge Book Club, Lady Audley’s Secret, Sunday 23rd November, 2014, 6-9pm.
Guest Talk: ‘Mary Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret: An Introduction’, by Dr Janine Hatter
What better way to spend an evening than with a friendly group who are passionate about reading, enjoy wine and delicious food and are discussing a book by Braddon? Fudge Book Club had all of this and more when Dr Janine Hatter very generously agreed to lead our discussion on Lady Audley’s Secret. Braddon was new to most of us and this book has certainly given us an appetite for more. Since reading this I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Aurora Floyd, have put others on my Christmas wish list and wonder where she’s been all my life!
Janine’s introduction included facts about Braddon’s extraordinary life and her links with East Yorkshire, the literary history of this novel and the popularity of sensation fiction as a genre. She also referred to two key figures who shaped attitudes to women in the 19th century: Coventry Patmore and John Ruskin. This led to a discussion about women’s legal rights and the Victorian ideology behind woman as either the angel in the house or the demon. Key questions were also raised about Lady Audley’s secret and what we thought about the ending of the novel. Here some of us had a moral dilemma because whilst we acknowledged her appalling crimes we also saw her as a victim of some pretty useless and feckless men. Despite this Lady Audley also comes across as an intelligent and resourceful woman who gives Robert Audley a run for his money and refuses to play mouse to his cat.
The question of whether or not she was actually insane also generated quite a discussion – was she mad, bad or just dangerous when cornered? Some members suggested that her behaviour could be linked to some form of long standing post-partum psychosis and others thought that the knowledge of her mother’s illness had planted doubts about her own sanity. Looking back at the period we know that it was the misogynist and patriarchal attitudes that were truly crazy and as someone once said, putting women on a pedestal was one way of getting them out of the way. It is impossible for any woman on a pedestal to indulge in two of Robert Audley’s pet hates: bouncing into a room and making a noise! Fortunately pedestals can be very unstable!
It was amazing how much information Janine managed to pack into such a short time and were it not for the arrival of the food the exchange of ideas could have gone on all night. Needless to say we’ve asked Janine if she’ll return in the future. I think all of Fudge’s members would also like to thank our regular guest, Dr Patsy Stoneman, for suggesting this book, pointing us in the direction of Janine and taking part in the discussion.