College of Arts and Sciences
Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley's Secret, Victorian literature, gender, insanity
Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Literature in English, British Isles | Women's Studies
Hayes, Corey, "The Beauty and the Barrister: Gender Roles, Madness, and the Basis for Identity in Lady Audley's Secret" (2014). Senior Honors Theses. 411.
This thesis examines the concept of identity in the novel Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. In the mid to late Victorian period, self-definition was strongly tied to gender roles. Men were expected to be mentally active, physical strong, and morally guiding leaders of society, and women were to be their passive, pious, domestically minded followers. These expectations for behavior were so strong that those breaking them were in danger of being considered insane. In Braddon’s novel, the behavior of most characters does not align with the expectations for their gender. The exception is Lady Audley, the apparently ideal woman whose beauty and charm mask a vicious and criminal nature. Her plea of insanity, while it may offer an excuse for her unfeminine behavior, does not pardon her crimes. However, hero Robert Audley’s behavior is absolutely effeminate, but he has a strong moral sense and total devotion to his loved ones. Their deviation from or adherence to gender-appropriate behaviors does not change their essential natures. In Lady Audley’s Secret, Braddon uses gender roles and the theme of insanity to critique the Victorian conception of identity.