The UK exam board, Edexcel, is about to launch the new A-Level specification in September. The section on novels is taught as a comparative unit, one option for which is ‘Crime and Detection’. Under this option you can compare Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret and The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. In the final exam, the students will have an hour to write one essay from a choice of two titles and they can have a blank text with them.
As an A-Lever teacher I think this is a brilliant option for my students and I will be teaching it as of September. I want to start with Braddon’s novel and then draw The Moonstone in once the context has been established. So far, I’ve been annotating and working on the novel using the 4 titles suggested by the board. These are:
- Compare the ways in which your two texts present suspicious behaviour.
- Compare the way your two texts present the methods of investigating crime.
- Compare the ways your two texts use dialogue.
- Compare the way texts present motive, or lack of it, for committing a crime.
The three big areas of focus will be writers’ methods, links between the texts and contextual factors. I think the context will be really interesting and I would be really grateful if MEBA members could suggest avenues (or lime walks – sorry, couldn’t resist!) I could follow up. I think that there is a lot of material to do with railway time, Victorian science and technology, as well as gender. I also wondered about chance and coincidence too and I’d particularly like to think about using art as a way into issues like the marriage market. Based on my pondering the specific questions I have in mind are:
- Why is there so much railway travel in Lady Audley’s Secret? Having read the MEBA blog post on the ICVWW conference which had an overview of Andrew Humphries’s presentation, I do not understand the whole idea of why railway travel is equated with a feminised body – so any help there would be fab. I read somewhere that contemporary reviews said Lady Audley as a character is full of movement and is defeated when she is made immobile – does anyone have any thoughts on this?
- How can I link commodity culture and femininity to the novel? What are best sections to use?
- What art works would serve as a good way in and frame the novel? I am going to use Edward Longsden Long’s Babylonian Marriage Market but I know this is 1870 and I’d like something contemporaneous with the novel. What good angel of the house images can I use? I want to use the Augustus Egg triptych to support section three when Lady Audley confesses.
- How does Lady Audley fit into the sweep of detective fiction? What good titles can I access from Newgate Fiction to support our study? Are there any contemporary reviews that deal specifically with the novel as Detective Fiction rather than Sensation Fiction?
We are incredibly lucky and have access to JSTOR so if anyone has any fabulous articles or books to help us we’d be appreciative! Any and all suggestions would be welcome. Thanks in advance for all your help and time – I think studying these texts at A Level is very important and that my students are going to love them! It’s going to be slightly niche and there are no study notes to help them along which is going to make the whole experience really invigorating!
Guildford High School