LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET - Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Penguin Green Classics have provided an excellent opportunity to read, collect and revisit classic crime fiction titles. In the case of LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET, readers get an opportunity to return to a book from the Victorian era.
Shocking and an absolute sensation in its time - LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET is one of the original potboiler style novels. Considerably more wordy than current day stylings, with a plot that's very weak really, this is a novel about the journey, as opposed to the resolution. It's all about whether or not our hero, Richard, can solve the mysterious disappearance of his friend George, along the way resolving the enigma that is his uncle's new wife.
In a not altogether surprising format, the main character in this book isn't Lady Audley, but Richard. A typical upper-class man of his time, he's a barrister who seems to lead a life of extreme luxury. Lady Audley is, for the most part, the figure in the wings, waiting for her secret to be revealed. She only really steps onto stage towards the end of the book, as she is forced out of cover. To try to save her reputation and keep her secret hidden.
It's all very melodramatic of course, but it's quite attractively done, with a briskly paced narrative and some amusement and distraction along the way. The style is very arch, and probably exactly of its time, with little asides to the audience reminiscent of music hall type entertainments. There is also a surprising amount of wit and humour built into the tale, although sometimes the language of the time is very dense, and very wordy, which might defeat some current day readers. Particularly those who are more interested in the reveal - the secret, than the journey towards it.
It's wonderful to have the opportunity of going back to the early days of crime fiction with books like LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET. Stylings, tone and point of view might have changed over the intervening years, but for readers that can handle the density of words and the different cultural and social attitudes, then it could be a very enjoyable wander around in the past.
ps - the price of these little gems ($9.95) is classic Penguin as well and makes getting the entire set of Green Classics a distinct possibility which is very encouraging for book-addicts as well. Certainly it's a bit of a quest in these parts now.
When his uncle, Sir Michael Audley marries a beautiful and enigmatic young woman, Richard suppresses his misgivings. But the strange behaviours of Lady Audley and the suspicious disappearance of his friend, George Talboys, lead him to explore her mysterious past – with grave consequences.