Lady Audley’s Secret (1862)

by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Lady Audley’s Secret is a foremost example of what is known as Victorian “sensation” fiction. With child abandonment, bigamy, murder, and mental illness among its themes, and foreshadowing the detective story, it satisfied Victorian readers’ desire for sensational content.

Lady Audley’s is a rags-to-riches story. A beautiful governess, she attracts and marries a wealthy aristocrat more than twice her age. The aristocrat’s nephew, Robert Audley, suspects that Lady Audley is not what she seems, especially when the disappearance of his good friend George Talboys appears to be somehow connected to her.

To its contemporary readers, Lady Audley’s Secret, one of the best-read novels of the time, offered the thrill of peering at crime among the upper crust. Some of today’s readers see it as a feminist statement. Whatever her morals, Lady Audley dares to aspire beyond her place—and, for a time, to succeed.


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