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JILL L. MATUS Disclosure as 'Cover-up': The Discourse of Madness in Lady Audley'S Secret For a work that addresses itself in many ways to the question of madness, Lady Audley'5 Secret broaches the topic only as it nears its conclusion. In tenns of the mechanics of this sensation novel, madness is the most melodramatic of a series of scandalous disclosures. Other revelations may have been anticipated, but this one, conventional as it is, startles even the canniest reader, since Lady' Audley appears throughout the novel to be perfectly sane. This last secret is also the means by which the novel effects closure. After she has been certified, Lady Audley can be handily dispatched to a homelike asylum. On the face of it, madness is the secret now told, but it functions in significant ways more as 'coverup ' than disclosure.1 While we are asked to associate the disclosure of madness with a 'coming out' - the latent hereditary taint is made patent to explain the heroine's conduct - I want to argue that the final focus on madness serves to displace the economic and class issues already raised in the novel and to deflect their uncomfortable implications. This obfuscation is managed through the discourse of madness, because it allows historically specific issues of class and power to be represented instead as timeless and universal matters of female biology. If gender is understood as a historical and politicized construct, it has to be thought of in relation to the formation of cUltural groups, ethnicities, and classes. More than a 'cultural use of the body,' gender participates in the production of culture - and class-specific norms, which are then represented as natural- the uncovered workings of human nature.2 Victorian constructions of the feminine ideal enshrined certain standards that defined aclass of women superior to the women of other social and cultural groups, and helped therefore to support middle-class claims to moral and social superiority. Yet even while social, medical, and biological sciences investigated and produced a gendered body that distinguished the middle class from all other groups, Anita Levy observes that they also provided ways 'of removing individuals of competing classes from their place in history and culture' and drawing them together according to a set of universals which everyone seemed to possess in common. The universalization functioned to forestall any recognition that differences might be produced historically , and to erase the class and economic interests that were at stake in UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 62, NUMBER 3, SPRING 1993 'LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET' 335 a representation of the 'improperly gendered.'3 Applying these insights about the work of gender in relation to class to LAdy Audley's Secret not only raises questions about the functions , of medical discourse in Victorian culture, but also allows one to focus on the cogent ironies of Mary Elizabeth Braddon's fictional art. The novel reveals how Victorian notions of morality and constructions of maternal madness coalesce in defining the 'right' woman by representing her 'other' in terms of a specifically gendered pathology. What makes Lady Audley's Secret a fascinating text is that it slyly signals its awareness of the work that notions of madness perform, and in so doing apprehends social and medical discourses in the act of enunciating the nature of an aberrant 'other' in order to shape a healthy, middle-class self. Until madness is pulled out of the hat as a solution and the means of plot resolution, the narrative has dwelt on the attempt by the 'wrong' woman who looks 'right' to usurp a place to which she is not entitled. What seems primarily to be the matter with Lady Audley is that she threatens to violate class boundaries and exclusions, and to get away with appropriating social power beyond her entitlement. Having married Sir Michael, she has made an immense shift from powerlessness to a position of considerable influence. It does not escape the notice of his household that, having been little better than a servant as the governess in the doctor's house, she now controls Audley Court's household keys, an important signifier of domestic and class power.4 The text draws...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 334-355
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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