All in the Timing: Timekeeping and Detection in Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret




Steele, Robert

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Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s novel Lady Audley’s Secret (1860–61) was a Victorian bestseller, helping found the scandalous 1860s British genre of sensation fiction with its shocking portrayal of bigamy, arson, insanity, and murder. Recent scholarship on Lady Audley’s Secret has focused on the novel’s representation of Victorian industrial technologies such as trains and telegraphs—technologies that are central both to the nefarious schemes of the titular character and to the amateur detective work of the novel’s protagonist, Robert Audley. However, no study has analyzed the novel’s depiction of Victorian timekeeping technologies, which are equally central to the novel’s detective plot. Victorian Britain saw momentous shifts in timekeeping technologies as well as in the lived experience of time itself. Clocks and watches became more accurate and affordable; the industrial revolution restructured workdays around clock time rather than solar time; and the expansion of the railway in Britain necessitated the controversial standardization of timekeeping. Thus, by the 1860s, when Lady Audley’s Secret’s was first published, the Victorian populous was obsessed with time. Reflecting this mid-nineteenth-century interest in time, Lady Audley’s Secret is especially time-conscious in its representations of timepieces, on one hand, and its narrative structure, on the other. Examining the novel’s historical, material, and narrative relationships to Victorian timekeeping, I argue that the novel reinscribes Victorian time-consciousness through its narrative preoccupations with chronology, suspense, and timekeeping, which align its readers with Robert Audley in his time-conscious quest to untangle Lady Audley’s plots.



English literature; Victorian studies; Victorian fiction; sensation fiction; detective fiction; Mary Elizabeth Braddon; Lady Audley’s Secret; timekeeping; technology studies