Lady Audley’s Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, is a novel of many elements. It has been placed in many different style or genre categories since its publication. I feel that it best fits under the melodrama or sensational genre, and under the subgenre of mystery. It contains significant elements of both types of writing, so I feel it is best to recognize both, keeping in mind that melodrama is its main device and mystery is a type of Victorian melodrama. In order to understand how the story fits into these categories, it is necessary to explore the Victorian characteristics of each, and apply them to the text. In addition to establishing the genres, it is important to explain why and how these genres fit into Victorian culture.
The term melodrama has come to be applied to any play with romantic plot in which an author manipulates events to act on the emotions of the audience without regard for character development or logic (Microsoft Encarta). In order to classify as a Victorian melodrama, several key techniques must be used, including proximity and familiarity to the audience, deceit rather than vindictive malice, lack of character development and especially the role of social status.
The sensational novel is usually a tale of our own times. Proximity is indeed one great element of sensation. A tale which aims to electrify the nerves of the reader is never thoroughly effective unless the scene be laid out in our own days and among the people we are in the habit of meeting. In keeping with mid-Victorian themes, Lady Audley’s Secret is closely connected to the street literature and newspaper accounts of real crimes. The crimes in Braddon’s novel are concealed and secret. Like the crimes committed by respected doctors and trusted ladies, the crimes in Lady Audley’s Secret shock because of their unexpectedness. Crime in the melodrama of the fifties and sixties is... [continues]
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