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131 Railway Fatigue and the Coming-of-Age Narrative in Lady Audley’s Secret Da n iel M a rtin • This essay reads Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret through the “railway time” of the 1860s in order to situateVictorian anxieties about railway travel within the context of competing social discourses about the fatigued and nervous modern body. Published in serial parts from 1861 to 1862, the novel charts the coming of age of RobertAudley, a young barrister who undergoes a transformation from a “handsome, lazy, care-for-nothing” young man into a hard-working professional representing the“business of life” (32, 401) during his investigation into the disappearance of George Talboys—his best friend, and husband of the thought-to-be-dead Helen Talboys, also known as Lady Audley.The novel was widely criticized throughout the 1860s for its sensational narrative of Lady Audley’s acts of bigamy, identity theft, arson, and attempted murder. Braddon gained an instant reputation in a literary marketplace that increasingly demanded that readers of popular fiction feel the pace of life in the railway age with every turn of a page.The more suspenseful the novel, the more it affected the reader’s body—primarily the heart rate and the nervous system—and the more it became a literary sensation in the many bookstalls of Britain’s network of railway stations. Braddon’s novels were frequently issued as cheap railway “yellow-backs,” situating narratives such as Lady Audley’s Secret within a social process realized primarily to accommodate the kinetics of the railway traveller’s body.1 While my reading of Lady Audley’s Secret engages with the social context of this reading/railway time complex, I am primarily interested in how the novel reveals the inherent contradictions in contemporary dialogues about railway travel.The railway opened up the countryside through a perceived democratization of tourism and travel, a point often raised by proponents of the railway industry.Whether riding the rails for business or for pleasure, travellers experienced a new mobility that had implications in numerous facets of social life. Yet the resulting fatigue of excessive railway travel haunted bodies, a reminder of the somatic consequences of industrial expansion. Although thoroughly conventional in its detective narrative of Robert’s eventual immobilization of Lady Audley, Braddon’s novel remains profoundly elusive about its conceptu- victorian review • Volume 34 Number 1 132 alization of railway travel as an engine of progress and professionalism, and even exploits sensation fiction’s standardized reliance on the pace of modern life in order to represent the male professional as a social type constantly on the verge of physical fatigue and entropic decline. Lady Audley’s Secret situates the mobilization of women as a threat in need of fixing not because of the visibility of women’s bodies in the new public spaces of the railway station and train compartment but rather because of the discreet and hidden circulations of women during the formative years of railway expansion. Once set in motion during his investigation into LadyAudley’s obscure movements from London to“the fast decaying village ofAudley” (52) and thence throughout the countryside, Robert’s body becomes subject to excessive railway travel as he seeks to arrest her movements.As Pamela Gilbert argues, though, the“forced growth of Robert Audley and the masculinization of his character constitute an equal and complementary counter-narrative to Lady Audley’s tale” (93).This parallelism of the novel’s two primary agents is fraught with contrasting descents into monomania and madness: a typically masculine descent into physical fatigue resulting from too much time on the rails and an equally conventional diagnosis of feminine hereditary insanity (albeit one in which LadyAudley escapes the fatigue of excessive railway travel). This tension between the novel’s two primary railway bodies—Robert’s and Lady Audley’s—corresponds to contemporary cultural narratives about the democratization of the railway lines in the second “railway mania” of the 1860s. A stock sensational narrative portraying an extraordinarily beautiful woman intent on upward mobility at all costs, Braddon’s novel reveals cultural tensions at virtually every point of its narrative of railway bodies. Moreover, it asserts that Lady Audley...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 131-153
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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