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"Lady Audley's Secret" by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Lady Audley's Secret may be be downloaded for free from the ebook catalog. The following is from a review originally printed in the Athenaeum on October 25, 1862 (referenced from Sensation Press):

Lady Audley's SecretIn Lady Audley's Secret we have a book which comes into the world determined to make 'a sensation.' It begins, in the first place, by announcing itself as in its second edition on the day of publication. In a day or two it has reached a 'third edition.' It comes out under the protection of one of the greatest of living novelists, dedicated to him 'in grateful acknowledgment of literary advice most generously bestowed upon the author.' Lastly, we have the testimony of the book itself, that Lady Audley's Secret will be read and discussed, praised and pulled to pieces, by every novel-reader in the kingdom for the next six weeks. Strange to say, the book has some merit as a sensation novel, and, in spite of this puffery, will make its way. It is, in fact, just the sort of book to be read by everybody, - not too sentimental for a man's requirements, nor too useful for a woman's; having no end of plots and conspiracies for those who like plots, and plenty of light, easy, agreeable conversation for those who do not. The descriptions of scenery are excellent, and discrimination is displayed in the delineation of even the minor characters. There is a secret to be found out, and everybody is to be made happy and comfortable - after justice has been done.

To give here any abstract of the story would be hard upon the future readers of the book itself. We will only mention casually that it contains the history of one of the most beautiful and bewitching fiends ever met within the annals of literature. Here she is as a poor governess in a doctor's family:-

"Miss Lucy Graham was blessed with that magic power of fascination, by which a woman can charm with a word or intoxicate with a smile. Every one loved, admired and praised her. The boy who opened the five-barred gate that stood in her pathway - the verger at the church who ushered her into the surgeon's pew - the vicar, who saw the soft blue eyes uplifted to his face as he preached his simple sermon - the porter from the railway station, who sometimes brought her a letter or a parcel, and who never looked for a reward from her - her employer, his visitors - her pupils, the servants - everybody, high and low, united in declaring that Lucy Graham was the sweetest girl that ever lived."

To complete the picture of the lady, we must give the description of her portrait taken after her marriage with a rich baronet:-

"The perfection of feature, the brilliancy of colouring, were there; but I suppose the painter had copied quaint medieval monstrosities until his brain had grown bewildered, for my lady, in his portrait of her, had something of the aspect of a beautiful fiend. Her crimson dress, exaggerated like all the rest in this strange picture, hung about her in folds that looked like flames, her fair head peeping out of the lurid mass of colour, as if out of a raging furnace. Indeed, the crimson dress, the sunshine on the face, the red gold gleaming in the yellow hair, the ripe scarlet of the pouting lips, the glowing colours of each accessory of the minutely-painted background, all combined to render the first effect of the painting by no means an agreeable one."

Thus, it is evident that there are two sides to Lady Audley's character. Not sufficiently sane to win our sympathy in her wicked designs, and yet not mad enough to render her crimes excusable on that plea, Lady Audley leaves on our minds the same sort of impression that a bad dream might do. She is not a woman that we can believe in and may ever expect to meet with, but only a brilliant and incomprehensible anomaly.

It will easily be seen from these extracts that the book is well written and worth reading. There are certainly several incidents of a rather inexplicable nature, and a few highly improbable circumstances occur here and there in the course of the story; but these things are allowable in a work of fiction, and do not interfere with the plot, the interest of which is pretty well sustained from the first to the last chapter of the book.


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