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- Features 42 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
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Lady Audley’s Secret Themes
The thoughts and actions of the characters in this novel raise numerous ethical questions, and this is something the characters themselves are conscious of.
Lady Audley sometimes wrestles with her own shocking actions but maintains that she has been driven to act in such a way. This is partly due to her impoverished upbringing and mistreatment by George’s father, but also because she claims to have inherited madness. Ultimately, she does not express guilt or assume accountability, and is clear that she is willing to do whatever it takes to maintain her life of luxury.
Compared with Lady Audley, Robert is at the opposite end of the moral spectrum. He believes that it is his duty to expose the Lady’s cruel, deceitful actions and to do right by George and Sir Michael. He is also troubled by the idea of leaving George’s body at the bottom of the well, feeling that his friend should have a proper burial.
Morality is an issue for some of the other characters as well. Luke and Phoebe are willing to engage in extortion in order to pursue their own ambitions, though Phoebe is shocked at the extent of Lady Audley’s ruthlessness. Luke also considers revealing to Lady Audley that George is alive, but her unpleasantness towards him causes him to change his mind. He therefore believes he is justified in keeping this information to himself.
Mr. Maldon and Mrs. Plowson behave in a seemingly unethical manner—Mrs. Plowson’s exploitation of her dying daughter, for instance)—though, again, they justify this by referring to their financial need. By cutting ties with his son and seeming indifferent to his disappearance, George’s father could also be seen as morally deficient. In particular, his lack of consideration for his daughter-in-law and infant grandson set in motion the novel’s tragic events.
The overall plot of this novel hinges on themes of truth and deception. Lady Audley’s whole life is a lie, and the burdenof her deception increases as Robert uncovers the truth. Indeed, when it is finally revealed, even she feels as though a burden has been lifted.
Robert is the polar opposite of Lady Audley…