Imperialism and the construction of femininity in mid-Victorian fiction


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Imperialism and the construction of femininity in mid-Victorian fiction
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Haynie, Aeron
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Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1994.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 142-147).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Aeron Haynie.
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University of Florida
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I am grateful for the support of all of the members of my

committee, past and present: Elizabeth Langland, Daniel

Cottom, Alistair Duckworth, Patricia Craddock, Louise Newman,

and Caryl Flinn. My excitement and commitment to intellectual

work I owe, in part, to the two graduate seminars given by

Professors Langland and Flinn in the fall of 1990; they remain

a standard by which I measure my own teaching and scholarship.

I am grateful, as well, for the support and collegiality that

exists in the English Department at the University of Florida

and which I experienced in the Victorian seminar, the Graduate

Assistants Union, and the Gainesville feminist discussion

group (now "FEMTV").

My family and friends deserve thanks for never mocking my

monomaniacal preoccupation or my rigid schedules. Roena Haynie

Reitz, Charles Reitz and Deirdre Haynie have unselfishly

encouraged and supported me. Most notably, my work,

intellectual development, and nascent spirituality have

profited from my extended, and invariably rich dialogues with

Anne Baker. My father, as always, provides both tangible and

intangible backing, super-human emotional support, but, alas,

little spirituality.

I wish to dedicate my dissertation to Lyda A. Lindquist,

certainly an inadequate repayment for the years of patronage

and encouragement I have received from her.







The Discourse of Colonialism . .
The Problem of the Surplus Woman .
The Mid-Nineteenth-Century Crisis in Colonialism
Notes . . .


S 2
. 6
. 22


The "Exceptional Case" of Miss Morley: Female
Colonists as a Devalued Commodity .. 34
George Talboys: The Imperial Adventurer .. 39
Robert Audley: The Detection of the Female
Criminal and Homoeroticism . .. 43
Lady.Audley:.The.Female Colonial.Adventurer 48
Landscape and Ideology in Lady Audley's Secret 60
Notes . . 64


Nettie Underwood: Colonial and Colonizer .. 75
Edward Rider: The Willing Colonized .. 80
Fred Rider: The Dissipated Colonial Adventurer 86
Notes . . 92


Notes .

. 114


Harold Transome: The Illegitimate Colonial
Entrepreneur . . 122
Mrs. Transome: The Displacement of the Female
Domestic Authority . 126
Esther Lyon: The Feminine Bourgeois Principle .. .132
Notes . . 137

SIX CONCLUSION. .... . .. 140

BIBLIOGRAPHY . . ... .142


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Aeron Haynie

December, 1994

Chairman: Elizabeth Langland
Major Department: English

This dissertation examines how representations of

colonialism and imperialism permeate those literary genres

marked as "feminine": the domestic and the sensation novels of

the mid-Victorian period. I argue that both domestic and

sensation novels of the eighteen-sixties employ colonization

as a metaphor which represents female ambition, sexuality, and

authority, as well as a way to explore socioeconomic concerns

of bigamy, "the surplus woman," and female emigration. Central

to these concerns is the issue of female (over-)production, or

the anxiety of excess.

In each of the novels discussed, the heroine's domestic

authority is implicated within a discourse of imperialism. In

Mary Elizabeth Braddon's novel Lady Audley's Secret, the


(anti)heroine's social position is achieved through a

metaphoric colonization of the Audley family. In Margaret

Oliphant's short story "The Doctor's Family," the heroine is

constructed as an embodiment of colonial (Australian)

femininity. Both Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre and Rhoda

Broughton's novel 'Cometh Up as a Flower represent the battle

for domestic power as a struggle between despotic ruler and

rebel slave. In George Eliot's Felix Holt, the feminine

authority of Mrs. Transome is effaced by the return of her

son, a colonial entrepreneur.

My dissertation focuses on novelists who were immensely

popular and, therefore, considered "hack" writers, such as

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Margaret Oliphant, and Rhoda

Broughton, as well as writers such as George Eliot and

Charlotte Brontd. In part, this dissertation attempts to

trouble the distinction between the author-as-producer and the

author-as-artist, a distinction in which gender plays an

important role. My readings of the novels suggest that the

authors were very much aware of their status as producers of

popular or "literary" texts and that issues of

(over)production, commodification, and excess inform the

texts' constructions of femininity.



Early "post-colonial" criticism has focused on the ways

that "adventure" novels, fiction set in the British colonies

or works overtly concerned with colonialism, can be read as

sustaining a discourse of imperialism.' Representations of

colonialism and imperialism not only exist in the fiction of

Kipling and Haggard, but also permeate those literary genres

marked as "feminine": the domestic and the sensation novels of

the mid-Victorian period. That "feminine" novels use a

"discourse of imperialism"--a term I discuss below--to address

issues of domestic or emotional economies suggests that this

"discourse" is not containable and that it must be examined,

even in the most unlikely sites.

In each of the novels I discuss, the heroine's domestic

authority is implicated within a discourse of imperialism: In

Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret (1862), Lady

Audley's social position is achieved through a metaphoric

colonization of the Audley family; in Margaret Oliphant's The

Doctor's Family (1863), Nettie Underwood is constructed as an

embodiment of colonial (Australian) femininity; both Charlotte

Brontd's Jane Eyre (1847) and Rhoda Broughton's 'Cometh Up as

a Flower (1867) represent the battle for domestic power as a

struggle between despotic ruler and rebel slave; and in George

Eliot's Felix Holt (1866), the feminine authority of Mrs.

Transome is effaced by the return of her son, a colonial


My project moves beyond the traditional approach of

demonstrating how literary texts equate femininity with

colonized land/people;2 instead, I argue that both

"sensational" and domestic novels of the eighteen-sixties

employ colonization as a metaphor which represents female

ambition, sexuality, and authority, as well as a way to

explore socioeconomic concerns of bigamy, "the surplus woman,"

and female emigration. Central to these concerns is the issue

of female (over-)production, or the "anxiety of excess."

The Discourse of Colonialism

I use the term "discourse" to indicate what Paul Bov6,

drawing on the work of Michel Foucault, defines as "the

surface linkages between power, knowledge, institutions,

intellectuals, the control of populations, and the modern

state as these intersect in the functions of systems of

thought. Discourse makes possible disciplines and

institutions which, in turn, sustain and distribute those

discourses" (Bove 54-5). By suggesting that there is a

"discourse of colonialism" I am drawing on Edward Said's

analysis of "orientalist discourse" in which he includes all

texts about the Orient and which he defines as a "systematic


discipline by which European culture was able to manage--even

to produce--the Orient politically, sociologically,

militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively"

(Said, Orientalism, 3).

The "discourse of colonialism" indicates the myriad ways

in which colonialism is represented and the dialectical

relationship between official reports, government policy, and

literary representations of the colonial project. I am aware

that by using the terms "colonial" or "imperialist discourse"

I suggest a Foucaultian "panopticon" that subsumes counter or

contradictory discourses while preserving the basic power

structures. 4 Although my argument does assume that sites

which are coded as personal or "feminine"--the domestic space,

the body, sexuality--exist within an ideology of Victorian

imperialism and that the domestic or feminine space exists

within the context of imperialism, this does not deny the

possibility of subversion/resistance within that domestic

space (or by the colonized). I am not proposing that a

"discourse of colonialism" is homogeneous or that it operates

as a unified force. Foucault's use of discourse, based on his

model of power as operating through multiple sites, has been

criticized by feminist critics as offering no possibility for

resistance.5 My project is less concerned with determining

whether certain Victorian texts offer moments of resistance to

ideologies of imperialism, than with examining how novels

written by women in the mid-Victorian period negotiate

competing discourses of nineteenth-century colonialism,

Victorian middle-class domesticity, and codes of femininity.

I use the term "domestic fiction" to designate what Tania

Modleski (rather loosely) describes as "novels which center

around women's activities in the home" (Modleski 16). She

distinguishes "domestic novels" from "sentimental novels,"

which focus on young women defending their virginities, and

from "sensational novels," which represent a destabilized

family situation.6 The chief concern of domestic fiction is

maintaining the home; domestic novels often portray "strong

women who must struggle to keep intact the worlds which

the weakness and unreliablility of men threaten to undermine"

(Modleski 23). In Desire and Domestic Fiction, Nancy Armstrong

uses the term in a broader context to describe representations

of a middle-class ideology, one which privileged the "more

subtle nuances of behavior" over birth or title (Armstrong

4).7 However, while I agree with Armstrong's central

argument--that, in the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries

middle-class women gained exclusive authority in the domestic

realm in exchange for yielding political control--I will argue

that representations of the domestic space should not be read

solely as signifying a middle-class ideology, but must be read

as existing within a context of imperialism. Domestic fiction,

although situated securely within the national space and

contained even further within the feminized sphere of the

home, is still implicated in the British imperial project.


Representations of ninteenth-century middle-class femininity

are constructed in opposition to the colonial other.

All of the novels discussed in this work are set within

a domestic space, although only Margaret Oliphant's novel The

Doctor's Family and Charlotte BrontI's Jane Eyre are generally

classified as "domestic novels." Mary Elizabeth Braddon's

Lady Audley's Secret and Rhoda Broughton's 'Cometh Up as a

Flower are both examples of "sensational novels," and Eliot's

Felix Holt is usually categorized as a "realist novel" or

"political novel." Yet, a central concern portrayed in each of

the novels is the struggle for authority within the domestic

space, a struggle that is described using the language of

colonialism. Each novel describes an attempt by the heroine to

seize and maintain legal, moral or financial control over a

household economy; the heroine's actions are described as

"despotic," "imperial," and she is likened to a "rebel slave,"

"empress," or "sovereign." These novels describe their

heroines as both the colonizers and colonized (at times within

the same text).8 Female characters occupy an ambigious place

in the colonial project, and this dissertation explores the

myriad ways that these novels employ the language of

colonialism to represent female ambition, sexuality and


Significantly, each of the heroines discussed are

motherless when their stories begin and are desperately in

need of male protection.9 The absence of female role models


suggests that these heroines are forced to construct new

feminine social roles; in addition, the ineffectual (or

absent) fathers in these texts could signal a failure in

patriarchal protection.'1 Their precarious domestic situations

suggest that the novels are reflecting mid-Victorian concerns

over the plight of the single woman.

The Problem of the Surplus Woman

The popular conception that there were "surplus women"--

unmarried women who had no means of employment--was

substantiated by official government reports, such as the 1851

Census, which reported that "forty-two per cent of women

between the ages of twenty and forty were unmarried" (Poovey

4). In the eighteen-fifties and the eighteen-sixties, many

popular journals contained debates on the various solutions

for this perceived overabundance of women (Greg, 140). Some

(feminist) reformers argued that women needed easier access to

the work place, while others, such as W.R. Greg, argued that

working women were a perversion of the natural order: "[Single

women] not having the natural duties and labors of wives and

mothers, have to carve out artificial and painfully sought

occupations [and] lead an independent and incomplete

existence" (Greg, 136).

Greg offered a pragmatic solution to the supposed

surplus of single women; he proposed that one third of the


single women emigrate to the colonies, one third enter

domestic service and the remaining third, now relatively

scarce, would thereby be more valuable. Implicit in his

argument is the idea that emigration would reduce the number

of women available for prostitution, forcing men to "either

live without all that a woman can bestow, or to purchase it in

the recognized mode--. marriage" (Greg, 139). Thus,

according to Greg's analysis, the "excess" of single women is

credited with creating, or at least enabling, vice. In

addition, the language Greg uses to describe the situation of

single women--"abnormal," "unwholesome," "artificial,"

"incomplete," "evil," and an "anomaly" (Greg 136-7)--is

curiously similar to descriptions of the sensation novel

heroines." This notion of feminine "excess" as unnatural and

implicitly criminal becomes a central issue in the

representation of heroines in mid-nineteenth-century women's

novels. However, the "artificiality" and superfluousness of

single women and the specter of the colonies as a convenient

dumping ground for these "redundant" women informs the

construction of femininity in domestic novels as well.

The Mid-Nineteenth-Century Crisis in Colonialism

I have focused almost exclusively on novels of the

eighteen-sixties, although issues of colonialism are apparent

in literature before and after this period.' However, the


Sepoy rebellion, or "mutiny" of British colonies in India

1857, and, perhaps less obviously, the American Civil War of

1861-5 both foregrounded questions of race and othering in the

British national consciousness, and I argue that these issues

are implicitly represented in British domestic novels.3

On May 10, 1857--which marked the centennial of British

rule in India--Indian sepoys (soldiers) in Meerut mutinied

against their officers, and a series of uprisings spread

throughout northern India. Initially, the "mutiny" was met

with disbelief by the British; the colonial stereotype of the

loyal Indian subject prohibited their imagining the

possibility of widespread, popular revolt. Consequently, early

accounts of the uprising suggested that the rebellion was

scattered and based on rumor and Indian religious

superstitions. Yet, most significant was the fact that

accounts of the uprising focused on detailed descriptions of

the mutilation, torture, rape, and enslavement of innocent

Englishwomen.'4 Jenny Sharpe, in her recent book, Allegories

of Empire, argues that fetishizing the violated bodies of

Englishwomen is a move which both effaces the destabilizing

images of massacred British soldiers and also posits English

women as the signifier of (abused) colonialism:

the English lady circulates as a sign for the moral
superiority of colonialism under the threat of native
insurrection. The slippage between the violation of
English women as the object of rape and the violation
of colonialism as the object of rebellion permits the
moral value of the domestic woman--her self-sacrifice,
duty, and devotion--to be extended to the social mission
of colonialism.


In addition, these exaggerated reports of violence

against Englishwomen legitimized British "retaliatory"

violence, and in fact, explained such violence as a response

to Indian brutality. Thus, the violence inherent within

colonialism was effaced and projected onto the figure of the

lascivious, barbaric Indian, while, at the same time, the

object of colonial violence became the defiled bodies of

Englishwomen. As Sharpe points out, the trope of the violated

Englishwoman did not exist before the "Mutiny," and this

suggests that although the 1857 uprising was not the first

instance of colonial rebellion, it was pivotal in marking a

crisis in colonial authority.

Sharpe's work focuses on how (official and fictional)

narratives about the 1857 uprising both legitimized colonial

violence and effaced representations of the Indian woman.16

However, my project is interested in how the reports and

dramatizations of the 1857 uprising affected British domestic

novels in which the colonial situation is not represented

explicitly: does the trope of Englishwomen as signifiers of

colonial authority infuse domestic or sensational novels of

the 1860s? I argue that the events of 1857 had an enormous

impact on the British national consciousness and in particular

on the role of women within the imperial project. However, the

novels do not offer one homogeneous response to this crisis in

colonialism; rather, they show the differing ways that issues

in colonialism are domesticated and feminized.


Although reports of the Mutiny represent Englishwomen as

passive objects of Indian brutality, the issue of British

women's agency in the imperial project is more complicated. On

November 1, 1858, one year after the uprising, administrative

control of India was transferred from the East India Company

to Queen Victoria.'7 This change in colonial administrative

power symbolizes the shift from "informal" or commercial

imperialism to the annexation of formal political control over

colonies.' Yet, it is also suggestive that this crisis in

colonial authority, which was represented or imagined as

located in the feminine domestic sphere, was resolved (in

part) by the establishment of a female-centered rule.

Much recent "postcolonial" criticism has expanded the

body of texts that can be read as constructed by, and

contributing to, the discourses of imperialism (including

travel literature, journalism, conduct books, children's

literature, and domestic novels).'9 It is particularly

suggestive that discussions of imperialism and literature have

been recontextualized to include texts whose feminine,

domestic subjects marked them as explicitly removed from the

foreign, the exotic, or the colonial.

The necessity of reading canonical works of British

literature within a context of imperialism was first voiced in

Gayatri Spivak's 1985 essay "Three Women's Texts and a

Critique of Imperialism." The essay interrogates the tacit

ideology of imperialism in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, Jean


Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

Most important for my project is Spivak's argument that Jane

Eyre, a work which generally has been read as championing the

individualist subjectivity of a marginalized heroine, is

predicated upon an "ideology of imperialist axiomatics."2

Spivak insists that imperialism informs not only literary

representations of the exotic or colonial Other, but is also

"a crucial part of the cultural representation of England to

the English."2' I will briefly outline Spivak's reading of

Jane Eyre here, because her analysis is central to my own

argument that the discourse of colonialism informs novels that

are ostensibly bound within the (British) domestic space.

Spivak argues that Jane Eyre begins in a socially

marginalized position at the Reeds--she is the unwanted orphan

within a "legal family"; yet Jane Eyre's power or

subversiveness lies in her ability to establish a "counter-

family" in each domestic situation.2 Spivak argues that the

marriage of Jane and Rochester, which establishes a "family-

in-law" and thereby grants Jane the social legitimacy she was

denied in each preceding domestic situation, is grounded upon

the violence of colonialism.3 However, Spivak's article fails

to address the implications of representing the colonial

venture within the feminine, domestic space. In addition, the

novel presents Jane's narration as a feminine method of self-

fashioning: Bronte's heroine refuses to accept her socially

marginalized positionss, and the novel naturalizes Jane's


ambition by investing her with a moral value that transcends

the social order. Thus, instead of arguing that Jane Eyre's

connection to imperialism is based on her marriage to

Rochester, I argue that Jane Eyre, as well as the other

heroines I discuss, achieve their own metaphoric imperial

venture which echoes the heroes' ill-fated colonial


In his recent work Culture and Imperialism (1993), Edward

Said extends the paradigm of "orientalism"--that eastern

literature presents the "east" as a set of recurring

tropes/stereotypes, which both essentialize and dichotomize

the eastern other--and considers how the discourse of

imperialism informs canonical texts whose subject matter is

British domesticity. Most notably, in his discussion of Jane

Austen's Mansfield Park, he argues that "Austen reveals

herself to be assuming the importance of an empire to

the situation at home" (89).24 My own project builds on the

connections that Said and Spivak have made between the

domestic/interior space and the ideology of the British

empire." Yet, while Said's analysis of Mansfield Park seeks

to uncover unspoken economic connections between the Bertram

estate and Sir Thomas's sugar plantations in the West

Indies,2 I am concerned with how the "male" colonial project

is appropriated and used as a metaphor to express issues of

feminine agency and desire.


In discussing the novels' representations of female

desire, it is important not to posit an essential, pre-

existing sexuality-as-truth, which my analyses then rescue or

recover. Based on the theories of Foucault, my project assumes

that discourses of sexuality are historically constructed and

that representations of sexuality determine a knowledge of

sexuality.2 My project investigates how a discourse of

colonialism is used to represent female desire. For example,

in chapter three, I examine how the figure of the exotic or

colonized other is used to define the white/western heroine's

sexuality. However, only two of the texts that I address,

Broughton's 'Cometh Up as a Flower and Eliot's Felix Holt,

present female desire in sexual terms; in these novels both

heroines suffer drastic punishments for admitting to a sexual

desire outside of their marriages." Thus, in these two texts,

feminine sexual desire is represented as a de-stabilizing

force which cannot be contained within the boundaries of

domesticity. Yet in each novel the heroine's ambition to

control her domestic space is encoded as an unnatural desire.

The representation of female desire becomes more

complicated in both Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret and in

Oliphant's story "The Doctor's Family," in which the heroines

are marked by a lack of sexual desire. Lady Audley's lack of

sexual desire is coded as abnormal, even criminal; however,

her lack of desire works to make her the object of desire.N

Yet, it is not just Lady Audley's lack of sexual (or romantic)


desire that is coded as threatening in the novel, it is her

intense social ambition, her desire to appropriate the Audley

wealth. The novel suggests that, if not tempered by the codes

of romantic love, a woman's desire for domestic authority is

violently criminal and in fact, insane. In Oliphant's story,

Nettie Underwood illustrates the separation of female sexual

desire from a desire for domestic authority. Nettie refuses to

acknowledge that she could be the object of romantic/sexual

desire, and she willingly gives up her own romantic desires in

order to maintain her domestic authority. Nettie is

characterized as wanting absolute control over her sister's

family, a control that is represented as imperialistic. The

conventions of romantic fiction require that Nettie abdicate

her command and establish a more proper sovereignty over her

own family with Dr. Rider." Yet the punishments that these

two heroines receive for desiring domestic authority do not

efface the power of their portrayals.

In my readings of the novels, I examine the ways that

female desire is represented as transgressing the domestic

space. I do not posit female sexual desire as an essential, a

prior quality which is then channelled or sublimated into

other forms, such as domestic authority, social ambition, or

violence. Rather, I wish to problematize the divisions between

these forms of desire. My analysis of the representations of

desire relies on a Lacanian definition of desire as that which


is "always displaced, always deferred, and [which] reappears

endlessly in another guise" (Meltzer 160).

I have chosen to examine mid-nineteenth-century novels

written by women (both "popular" and "literary"); however, as

should now be clear, my aim is not to suggest that gender

somehow transgresses the discourse of imperialism, but rather

to tease out the ways that gender negotiates within that

discourse. Although my project questions the "space" that

gender occupies within the discourse of imperialism, I am

unwilling to assume that gender provides an automatic escape

out of this discourse. In part, I am questioning the arguments

of Mary Louise Pratt and Sara Mills, whose works seem to

privilege a feminine discursive space where eighteenth- and

nineteenth-century women writers could establish an "organic"

relationship with the exotic. In Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing

and Transculturation, Mary Louise Pratt argues that certain

writers, such as Mary Kingsley and Richard Wright, transcend

the imperialism of their culture because their gender and race

allow them a privileged position by which to write about the

exotic other.3' In Discourse of Difference: An Analysis of

Women's Travel Writing and Colonization, Sara Mills similarly

maintains that since women traveler's texts stress personal

involvement and, therefore, were not allowed the authority of

masculine colonial discourse, they provide "counter-hegemonic

voices" that resist generalizations about the other." I argue

that gender, although it is an important point of negotiation,


does not preclude a text from reflecting the discourse of

colonialism. To argue otherwise would be to assume that women

writers exist outside of their culture's ideology.3

However, this project does not focus on the explicit

representation of the other/foreign/exotic that travel

literature proposes, but instead investigates how mid-

Victorian domestic and "sensational" novels written by women

implicitly enact the colonial project. My argument is indebted

to the recent work of Firdous Azim, who connects the rise of

the novel to the history of colonialism. She argues that the

feminine adventures of Roxana and Pamela are not a break from

male adventure novels but, in fact, are a continuation of the

colonizing, foreign enterprises of Robinson Crusoe:

The leap from Robinson Crusoe (1719) to Pamela (1740-1)
or Clarissa (1748-9) marks the transition of the novel
into the more domestic and homely domain. This is not to
say that excitement and adventure are eschewed, but
that they are transferred into the sexual terrain,
and by making the female protagonist and the female
narrator central to the discourse, the status and
position of women and sexuality become increasingly the
main concerns of the novel. Again, the shift to
the domestic does not keep the novel confined within
familiar structures: the realm of the domestic is
extended to show how even familiarity can be rendered
strange, exciting and dangerous. (Azim 61)

In the above quotation, Firdous Azim indicates a significant

shift in the British novel--from representations of the exotic

as a male adventure narrative to a feminized and subsequently

domesticated enactment of colonization. Azim argues, through

readings of Roxana and the novels of Charlotte Brontd, that

the development of female subjectivity in eighteenth- and


nineteenth-century novels cannot be read outside of the

discourse of imperialism.

Yet, while domestic novels "feminized" colonial themes,

the genre of the novel itself, particularly the popular novel,

was seen as feminine." I have purposely selected novelists

who were immensely popular and, therefore, considered non-

literary or "hack" writers, such as Mary Elizabeth Braddon,

Margaret Oliphant, and Rhoda Broughton.5 However, in order to

complicate the division between "literary" and "hack," between

art and commodity, I have also included writers, such as

George Eliot and Charlotte Bront6, who did not position

themselves as producers of mass commodities. In part, I wish

to trouble the distinction between the author-as-producer and

the author-as-artist, a distinction in which gender plays an

important role. I argue in my readings of the novels that the

authors were very much aware of their status as producers of

popular or "literary" texts and that issues of (over)

production, commodification, and excess inform the texts'

constructions of femininity.

Both popular novels and women were perceived in terms of

excess and were devalued as commodities within a capitalist

market. My argument assumes a Marxist position which connects

the development of capitalism to the expansion of colonial

markets.6 If these novels are viewed as examples of

"commodity culture," then their use of the colonial or exotic

can be read as an appropriation or importation of new


material, which is then used to reenergize the formula of

domestic fiction. Thus, domestic or sensational fiction's use

of colonial themes enacts capitalism's need to extract raw

materials from colonial markets.

In chapter 2, "Gold Miners and Gold-diggers: the Female

Schemer as Imperial Adventurer in Lady Audley's Secret," I

discuss how this sensation novel, whose explicit plot revolves

around the detection of feminine criminality, implicitly

addresses anxieties of excess, which are expressed in the

novel's representations of bigamy, the "surplus woman," and

(over)production. I argue that "Lady Audley"/Helen Maldon, the

(anti-)heroine of Mary Elizabeth Braddon's novel, represents

a domestication and feminization of the imperial adventure

that George Talboys enacts when he makes his fortune in the

Australian gold mines. Lady Audley acts out a symbolic version

of the colonial conquest, one in which marriage figures as the

colonial marketplace; she invents a new identity, seeks out

fresh, lawless territory, invades the Audley family,

appropriates the Audley title and wealth, and ultimately uses

violence to maintain this rule. The violence in the novel,

instead of an illustration of repressed feminine rage, is read

as an expression of the violence that imperialism legitimizes.

I situate my analysis of the novel within the context of

nineteenth-century social issues such as female emigration to

Australia, English marriage laws and bigamy, and women as

producers and consumers of mass culture.


The intersection between the discourse of colonialism and

domestic ideology is further explored in my third chapter,

"The Disempowering of the Female Colonist: Margaret Oliphant's

The Doctor's Family." Here, I discuss how the

characterization of Nettie Underwood, a "colonial girl" who is

financially independent and, in fact, supports her sister's

family, subverts the trope of the "superfluous" single

woman.37 Nettie's ideology of domestic duty privileges self-

sacrifice and familial obligation over romantic love (until

the conventional romantic resolution); however, her hyper-

efficiency justifies her illegitimate seizure of authority

within her sister's family and is linked to the rhetoric of

the "white man's burden." In addition, the arrival of the

Rider family into the closed community of Carlingford

represents what Stephen Arata has termed the "anxiety of

reverse colonization."38 Although Arata's essay focuses on

Bram Stoker's Dracula, his argument that the presence of a

powerful, energetic non-English character performs a

"colonization of the body," which in some sense revitalizes

his English victims, can be applied to the representations of

the other or colonized in earlier British fiction. For

example, in Oliphant's novel, Nettie's imported "colonial"

energies serve to revitalize and remasculinize what the text

presents as Edward Rider's bleak and unsatisfying bachelor

life. Thus, the intrusion of the foreign or colonial is

presented as necessary for the fulfillment of the


domestic/romantic ideal. The essential incoherence in

Oliphant's text lies in the contradictory ways that the figure

of the "extra" woman is used to represent both the colonizer

and the colonized, and this ambiguity signals a larger tension

concerning the role of women in the imperial project.

Chapter 4, "The Construction of Female Sexuality and the

Discourse of Imperialism in Jane Eyre and 'Cometh Up as a

Flower," discusses how Jane Eyre and Nelly Le Strange offer

representations of "English" femininity, which are defined

against the figure of a sexualized, "orientalized"/nonwhite

other. Gayatri Spivak and Suvendrini Perera have identified

the political implications of defining the western woman's

subjectivity against the nonwestern woman's perceived lack of

autonomy.39 Both texts employ what Suvendrini Perera terms

"the language of orientalist misogyny"--using images of

despotism, seraglio, and sati to illustrate western women's

oppression; yet, this "identification" works to differentiate

the western woman from the orientalized female subject.

However, I move beyond a discussion of how the discourse of

imperialism informs the heroines' sexuality to examine how

this discourse complicates the struggle for domestic authority

in each novel. It seems significant that both texts contain

heroes for whom colonial adventuring results in tragedy (i.e.,

Rochester's supposed victimization in the West Indies and

Major M'Gregor's death in India) and who must be feminized

before a romantic union can be achieved.


The failure of colonial adventure as an alternative

course or method for the younger or disinherited son to recoup

his lost wealth and status is a motif which occurs in all of

the texts I address, but which is foregrounded most

prominently in George Eliot's Felix Holt. I discuss the novel

in terms of its characterization of Harold Transome, the

prodigal son and wealthy colonial businessman, particularly

how his colonial experience marks him as incompatible with the

feminine, domestic economies of his mother and Esther Lyon. I

examine the ways that the text portrays the colonial adventure

as having contaminated Harold Transome; this "contamination"--

signified by his nonwhite son--culminates in the revelation of

his illegitimacy.

Finally, what are the implications of reading these

novels in terms of how they express issues of colonialism and

imperialism? The purpose of reading within the context of

colonialism is not to reduce the complex issues in the texts

to flat expressions of the imperialist project; rather, my

readings show the heterogeneity in the way that mid-Victorian

women's fiction responds to and negotiates within the

discourse of imperialism. Insisting that these "feminine"

texts be read as employing a discourse of imperialism works to

complicate the division between the domestic and the

international and compels the reader to acknowledge that these

texts exist within a political and historical context.


1. The most notable examples of criticism which treat
colonialism as a theme are Martin Green's Dreams of Adventure,
Deeds of Empire (1979) and Patrick Brantlinger's Rule of
Darkness: Imperialism and British Literature (1984), both of
which analyze texts--by, for example, Defoe, Kipling, and
Conrad--that depend upon imperialistic language and ideology.

2. The trope of the woman as conquered or conquerable
territory (and the concurrent eroticization of foreign
landscape) exists in literature from the 17th century poetry
of John Donne to the 20th century prose of Hemingway:
Licence my roving hands, and let them goe
Behind, before, above, between, below.
Oh my America, my new found lande,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man man'd.
My myne of precious stones, my Empiree,
How blest am I in this discovering thee.
-- John Donne, "Elegie: To His Mistris Going to Bed"
Also see Judith Williamson's article, "Woman is an Island,"
for an analysis of the ways in which women are used in
advertising to represent difference: "Our culture, deeply
rooted in imperialism, needs to destroy genuine difference, to
capture what is beyond its reach; at the same time it
constructs difference in order to signify itself at all. .
. the main vehicle for this representation [is] 'Woman'"
(Williamson 100-101).

3. There is not, on one side, a discourse of power, and
opposite it, another discourse that runs counter to it.
Discourses are tactical elements or blocks operating in the
field of force relations; there can exist different and even
contradictory discourses within the same strategy. (Foucault,
History of Sexuality vol.1 100)

4. The idea of the "panopticon" derives from the nineteenth-
century philosopher Jeremy Bentham's model of a prison, built
in a circle, in which the prisoners are always under possible
surveillance. Foucault uses this model to describe the
operation of power wherein each individual, aware that they
could be under the gaze of those in power, internalizes the
codes of behavior and disciplines himself.

5. See Judith Newton's article, "Historicisms New and Old:
Charles Dickens' Meets Marxism, Feminism, and West Coast
Foucault." Here, she challenges D.A. Miller's Foucauldian
reading of Bleak House, arguing that it precludes the
possibility of resistance. Yet, as Ann Cvetkovich recommends,
"It is important to distinguish between a critique of the
Victorian novel and a critique of resistance. The Victorian
novel need not be defended in order to guarantee the
possibility of resistance" (Cvetkovich, 40-41).

6. However, critics such as Nina Baym have argued that
"domestic fiction" does not portray the domestic situation as
Home life is presented, overwhelmingly, as unhappy.
There are very few intact families in this literature,
and those that are intact are unstable or locked into
routines of misery. Domestic tasks are arduous and
monotonous; family members oppress and abuse each
other; social interchanges are alternately insipid or
malicious. (Baym 27)

7. Armstrong argues that "domestic fiction" produced an
ideology of the domestic woman, that it "mapped out a new
domain of discourse as it invested common forms of social
behavior with the emotional values of woman" (Armstrong 29).

8. See my discussion in chapter 5 of Eliot's Felix Holt in
which I discuss how Mrs. Transome is represented an "imperial"
sovereign but later is described as "colonized" by her son,
Harold Transome.

9. Lady Audley's mother died when Lady Audley was a young
girl; Nettie Underwood's mother is never mentioned in the
story; Nelly Le Strange's mother died before the novel begins;
Jane Eyre is an orphan; Esther Lyon does not even know the
identity of her dead mother until the novel's end.

10. Lady Audley's father is a penniless drunk; Nettie
Underwood's father is never mentioned; Nelly Le Strange's
father is bankrupt; Jane Eyre's father is dead; Esther Lyon
finds out that Reverend Lyon is not her biological father.

11. See Margaret Oliphant's review of sensation novels in
Blackwood's Magazine and E.S. Dallas's review in Gay Science.

12. The exception to my focus on novels of the eighteen-
sixties is Jane Eyre (1847), which I discuss because it has
become almost an archetype of how the domestic novel engages
the issues of imperialism.

13. Britain's dependence upon imported raw materials,
including cotton from the southern states for use in its
textile industries, complicates its abolitionist stance.

14. One contemporary account of Indian violence comes from
Colin Campbell's Narrative of the Indian Revolt from its
Outbreak to the Capture of Lucknow (London: George Victers,
Wives were stripped in the presence of their husbands'
eyes, flogged naked through the city, violated there
in the public streets, and then murdered. To cut off
the breasts of the women was a favorite mode of

eyes, flogged naked through the city, violated there
in the public streets, and then murdered. To cut off
the breasts of the women was a favorite mode of
dismissing them to death; and, most horrible, they were
sometimes scalped (20)

15. Jenny Sharpe, Allegories of Empire, 68.

16. In his recent work British Social History 1815-1906
(1991), Norman McCord states that the "repressive measures
adopted during the suppression of the Mutiny by the British
were welcomed by a British public fully informed of the
conduct of the more savage mutineers" (emphasis mine),
suggesting the tenacity of justifications of British colonial

17. Queen Victoria's dominion over India culminated in 1877
when she was crowned "Empress of India."

18. In The Lion's Share, historian Bernard Porter divides the
history of British imperialism into two stages: the "informal
empire" of the mid-nineteenth century (sometimes referred to
as "spheres of influence") and formal annexation. He argues
that the increase in formal colonization by Britain was a
symptom of Britain's internal economic troubles and world-
wide political decline. He maintains that Britain's "informal
empire" did not have an explicit overall logic (or agenda),
but rather adapted to local conditions.

19. Sara Mills, The Discourse of Difference: An Analysis of
Women's Travel Writing and Colonialism (1991); Mary Louise
Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Literature and Transculturation
(1992);Jenny Sharpe, Allegories of Empire: The Figure of the
Woman in the Colonial Text (1993); Edward Said, Culture and
Imperialism (1993); Firdous Azim, The Colonial Rise of the
Novel (1993); Suvendrini Perera, Reaches of Empire: The
English Novel from Edgeworth to Dickens (1991); and David
Spurr, The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in
Journalism, Travel Writing, and Imperial Administration

20. Gayatri Spivak, "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of
Imperialism," 267.

21. Spivak, 262.

22. For example, at the Brocklehursts, Jane, Miss Temple, and
Helen Burns form a feminine "counter-family." Later, at
Thornfield, Jane and Rochester's proposed union is an "illicit
family" in opposition to his legal marriage to Bertha Mason.
Thus, these "counter-families" are only temporary solutions to
Jane's social marginalization.

23. The violence of colonialism is represented in the novel
both by Rochester's appropriation of the wealth of Bertha
Mason, a West Indian heiress, and by her fiery death, which
frees Rochester to marry Jane.

24. Said argues that the casual mentioning of colonial
territories in Mansfield Park is significant, contending that
just as the Bertram estate is maintained by wealth from a West
Indian plantation, so, too, the domestic novel upholds and
supports the ideology of imperialism:
To earn the right to Mansfield Park you must first
leave home as a kind of indentured servant, or as
a kind of transported commodity--this, clearly, is
the fate of Fanny and her brother William--but then
you have the promise of future wealth. I think Austen
sees what Fanny does as a domestic or small-scale
movement that corresponds to the larger, more openly
colonial movements of Sir Thomas, her mentor, the man
whose estate she inherits. (89)

25. Suvendrini Perera, in Reaches of Empire: The English
Novel from Edgeworth to Dickens (1991), challenges the
bifurcation of "expansionist" and "domestic" novels and argues
that the discourse of imperialism informs even those texts in
which the empire is a "peripheral presence."

26. Said, 89.

27. Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, 8.

28. In Broughton's novel, the heroine, Nelly Le Strange, is
forced to give up her "natural," passionate love for Major
M'Gregor and enter a loveless marriage in order to secure the
family estate. In contrast to the descriptions of pastoral
landscape, the domestic interior is encoded as cold,
oppressive, and ultimately fatal. Likewise, in Felix Holt,
Mrs. Transome's youthful passion for lawyer Jermyn eventually
disrupts her carefully controlled domestic economy.

29. Lady Audley arouses desire in the male characters, a
desire which is transformed into the detection process.

30. Although Nettie is forced to abdicate domestic rule over
her sister's family, Dr. Rider and her sister allow her to
retain Little Freddy as a concession to her former

31. Pratt argues that Kingsley employs a language which seeks
to "separate mastery from domination, knowledge from control"
(215). Pratt offers an appealing description of Kingsley's
narrative persona; however, she depicts Kingsley's experience

in Africa in terms which replicate traditional stereotypical
tropes: "Africa is her mother, and down those shimmering, dark
and slimy pathways, Kingsley is getting herself reborn" (216).
This passage posits Africa as the dark and mysterious primal
setting of Kingsley's rebirth, and as the feminized landscape.

32. Mills maintains "because of their oppressive
socialization and marginal position in relation to
imperialism" that women travel writers "tended to concentrate
on descriptions of people as individuals, rather than on
statements about the race as a whole" (3).

33. The same argument could apply with regard to the class or
race of an author. Class, race, and gender are important
considerations, however, they do not allow authors to write
from a space that is beyond cultural ideology.

34. Terry Lovell, in Consuming Fiction, points out that women
were the majority of producers of fiction in the eighteenth-
century, but by 1840, when the novel achieved a higher
literary status and more pay, women produced twenty per cent
of fiction; however, this percentage still indicated that
novel writing supported a substantial number of middle-class
women (42).

35. Rachel Bowlby argues that the nineteenth-century novel
had become a "short-term rather than a durable good" and that
this raised questions about the difference between the artist
and commercial producer:
The same developments which were binding commerce and
culture together, making commerce into a matter of
beautiful images and culture into a matter of trade,
a sector of commerce, also, paradoxically, led to the
theoretical distinction whereby they were seen .
as antithetical in nature. (Bowlby, 9)

36. See Rosa Luxemburg's analysis of the development of
capital in Accumulation of Capital.

37. The mid-nineteenth-century conception of the single woman
as superfluous is wonderfully parodied in a speech by Mr.
Copperhead in another of Oliphant's novels, Phoebe Junior:
I think we could get on with a deal fewer women,
I must allow. There's where Providence is in a mistake.
We don't want 'em in England; it's a waste of raw
material. .. [W]e can't do without 'em of course,
and the surplus we ought to export as we export other
surpluses. (Oliphant, 255)

38. Stephen Arata, "The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the
Anxiety of Reverse Colonization," Victorian Studies (summer
1990) 621-645.


39. Gayatri Spivak, "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of
Imperialism," and Suvendrin Perera, Reaches of Empire, 82.


In this chapter I examine how a mid-nineteenth-century

"sensation novel," Lady Audley's Secret, by Mary Elizabeth

Braddon, processes issues of imperialism.' I argue that the

"peripheral" plot of the colonial adventurer is not marginal

to the text, but functions to create an (anti-)heroine who is

a domesticated and feminized imperial adventurer. The domestic

novel's appropriation of the figure of the colonial adventurer

suggests a need to work through issues of imperialism within

the confines of the novel. Braddon's novel plays out

nineteenth-century anxieties of excess, which are expressed in

representations of bigamy, the "surplus" woman, and

(over)production. I situate my analysis of the novel within

the context of mid-nineteenth-century social issues, such as

female emigration to Australia, English marriage laws and

bigamy, and women as producers and consumers of mass culture.

Lady Audley's Secret (1862), one of the most popular of

Mary Elizabeth Braddon's serialized best sellers, is

ostensibly a novel of detection, romance, and murder. In this

"sensation novel," a dilettantish young barrister, Robert

Audley, discovers that his ravishing young aunt, Lucy Audley,



has lied about her past and is hiding a former marriage, a

child, and the attempted murder of his missing friend, her

first husband, George Talboys. George Talboys had met Lady

Audley/Helen Maldon when he was a dashing, wealthy dragoon and

she was a beautiful inn-keeper's daughter who hoped that a

marriage to Talboys would elevate her socially. After they

married, however, George Talboys is disinherited by his father

and forced to retire from the dragoons. He becomes despondent

when he cannot find a job and then decides to desert his wife

and child and seek his fortune in the Australian gold mines.

His wife, Helen Maldon, when left to create her own fortune,

changes her name to Lucy Graham, fakes her own death, deserts

her son, relocates, secures a job as a governess, and

eventually marries the wealthy Lord Audley. When George

Talboys, who is coincidentally a friend of Robert Audley's,

returns to England a rich man he discovers his wife's "death."

Robert Audley invites his grieving friend to his family estate

for the weekend, where he is reunited with Lady Audley/Helen

Maldon. When she is confronted with the return of her first

husband, George Talboys, Lady Audley pushes him down an old

well on the Audley estate and leaves him for dead. The rest of

the novel charts Robert Audley's dawning suspicions of his

aunt and his accumulation of evidence against Lady Audley (all

of which results in her confinement in a Belgian maison de



The term "sensation novel" was a largely pejorative term

used to describe the immensely popular, often serialized

fiction of the eighteen-sixties. Ann Cvetkovich argues that

the "sensation novel" is not really an identifiable genre; the

term was used to designate fiction that was considered

"aesthetically inferior and morally questionable."2

However, there are certain distinguishing characteristics of

novels characterized as "sensation novels"; they included

"violent and thrilling actions, astonishing coincidences,

stereotypic heroes, heroines, villains, much sentimentality,

and virtue rewarded and vice apparently punished at the end"

(Brantlinger 5).' Certainly, sensation novels were not the

first to depict crime or adultery; however, sensation novels

were received as shocking because they revealed a hidden

criminality beneath a placid domestic surface:

[The sensation novel contains] crimes and mysteries
[which] occur, not in foreign countries or wild
landscapes, not among the lower classes or the
inhabitants of monasteries and convents, but in the
stately homes of the aristocracy, whose lives are
depicted in realistic detail. The sensation novel
exploits the disparity between apparently stable
families and marriages and the horrifying secrets and
extremes of passion that disrupt them. (Cvetkovich 45)

I would expand Cvetkovich's argument--that sensation novels

reveal a "wildness" or "foreignness" within the "stately homes

of the aristocracy"--and suggest that these novels implicitly

describe the violence of colonialism, a violence that is

represented as contaminating and destabilizing the country

estate. The threat to the family is often represented as a


transgressive woman who violates social conventions, by either

committing bigamy, or murder, or deserting her children. Thus,

women become the metaphoric agents of colonial violence.

Braddon's novel was received as a shocking portrait of

evil, a dangerous and unwholesome portrait of female ambition

and an inauguration of a new type of heroine, one "standing

alone, carrying out some strong purpose without an ally or

confidant, and thus showing herself independent of mankind and

superior to those softer passions to which the sex in general

succumbs."4 However, the representation of Lady Audley/Helen

Maldon/Lucy Graham as vain, greedy, manipulative, cold-hearted

and self-consciously beautiful goes beyond that of a typical

anti-heroine; she is also implicated within the novel's

rhetoric of imperialism. Lady Audley is a feminization of the

male colonial adventurer; she represents the colonizing

impulse in female Victorian imagination as well as the limits

of female ambition and women's possible engagement with


Victorian reviews of Braddon's novel condemned both its

alleged immorality and its supposed lack of literary worth.

Margaret Oliphant's scathing review of sensation novels

("Novels," published in Blackwoods) chastises Braddon for

creating "unfeminine" and immoral heroines.5 The Victorian

critic E.S. Dallas also objected to the depiction of what he

claimed were unfeminine heroines in sensation novels on the

grounds that these heroines are inauthentic: "The life of


women cannot well be described as a life of action. When women

are thus put forward to lead the action of a plot, they must

be urged into a false position. if the novelist depends

for his sensation upon the action of a woman, the chances are

that he will attain his end by unnatural means" (Dallas, The

Gay Science, 2, 298). Dallas' argument unwittingly suggests

that sensation novels created a hitherto nonexistent space for

female action and aggression within the domestic realm. The

charges against sensation novels often included claims that

women novelists were themselves immoral and unfeminine.Thus,

contemporary charges against Braddon's novels often implicated

Braddon's known bigamous marriage to John Maxwell and her

humble experiences supporting herself on the popular stage.

Without suggesting that Lady Audley's Secret be read as

autobiography (the improbable nature of the plot alone

prohibits this!), contemporary Victorian critics' linking of

the novel with Braddon's life suggests an anxiety concerning

Victorian female sexuality, unfair marriage laws, and women as

producers and consumers of commodities. What was viewed as

Braddon's hyper-productivity caused even her supporters

anxiety over her novels' literary merits:

Your stories are all admirable, but you have written
too many--or rather you have put your name on too
many. You might have had three reputations. People
can't believe your work can all be on the highest level
.because there is so much of it.6

This anxiety of excess is expressed in the novel's own

representations of (over)production, bigamy, and the problem


of "surplus women." I argue that this concern over surplus is

symptomatic of advanced capitalism's need for new (colonial)

markets; sensation novels often transformed these issues of

economic surplus into domestic dramas of bigamy and "surplus


The popularity of bigamy plots in mid-Victorian novels

also reflects a tension surrounding English marriage laws.

Between 1853 and 1863 there were 884 cases of bigamy tried in

England.7 In the much publicized Yelverton case of 1861,

Captain Yelverton seduced Theresa Longworth, underwent a

secret marriage ceremony in Ireland, and tried to coerce her

into emigrating to New Zealand, at which point she discovered

his previous marriage. Although Theresa Longworth won her

Dublin trial, she lost an appeal to the House of Lords. The

case was the impetus for many novels and stage productions,

including a sensation novel by Theresa Longworth herself,

Martyrs to Circumstance (1861), which transforms her legal

struggle for recognition of the legitimacy of her commonlaw

marriage into a tragic romance of star-crossed lovers.

However, the actual events of the case illustrate what became

common concerns of mid-nineteenth-century women's fiction: the

secret of a hidden wife (or husband), the lack of an effective

system of justice, the punishments that follow a involuntaryy

seduction, and the use of the colonies as a convenient deposit

for inconvenient women.

The "Exceptional Case" of Miss Morley:
Female Colonists as a Devalued Commodity

Lady Audley's Secret alludes to the bleak role of women

emigrants with the brief description of Miss Morley, a woman

George Talboys meets aboard ship as he returns to England.

This minor character represents the numerous Englishwomen who

were urged to emigrate to Australia during the mid-nineteenth-

century.8 Her narrative illustrates the loss of value that

women incurred after being in the colonial market: she can no

longer capitalize on youthful beauty and is now past her

child-bearing years.

He [her fiance] was too poor to marry then; and when I
was offered a situation as governess in a rich
Australian family I persuaded him to let me accept it,
so that I might leave him free to win his way in the
world, while I saved a little money I never meant
to stay so long [15 years]; but things have gone badly
with him in England. That is my story, and you can
understand my fears. They need not influence you. Mine
is an exceptional case. (15)

Miss Morley exemplifies the redundancy of Englishwomen who

were encouraged to help populate the colonies, specifically

Australia.9 In addition to emigration as a solution to the

perceived problem of "surplus" women, these women were to be

part of a "feminine civilizing mission" in the colonies. It

was hoped that the presence of gentlewomen as the repositories

of gentility, religious morality, and English domesticity

would strengthen a sense of national identity and loyalty in

the colonies. Caroline Chisholm, organizer of the Family

Colonization Loan Society, aided the emigration of wives and


children whom she termed "God's police." Chisholm argued that

Victorian women would turn "bachelors in the bush" into "loyal

and happy subjects of the state."'0

In addition to illuminating the actual living conditions

of women who chose to emigrate to Australia, Hammerton's study

shows the power of the imaginative connection between

emigration and the condition of English single women in the

nineteenth-century. Single gentlewomen were discussed in terms

of "surplus," "supply," "market." The "solution" of female

emigration served to bypass a critique of social conditions at

home, and, in some cases, worked to siphon off potential

feminist energies (i.e. Mary Taylor "). It is also

significant that Australia, originally regarded as the dumping

ground for convicts and the disreputable lower-class, was

proposed as the territory into which "excess" women would be

forced to move.

Yet, instead of marrying and permanently establishing a

life in the colonies, Miss Morley illustrates the problematic

nature of female emigrants who live in the colonies and then

return to England. After fifteen years in Australia she is a

devalued product, whereas George Talboys becomes a wealthy

producer. After just three and a half years in Australia,

George Talboys returns to England a rich man, while Miss

Morley's fifteen years have given her only "melancholy eyes:

eyes that seem to have faded with poring over closely-printed

books and difficult needlework" and a "pale and wan" face


(13). Her paltry "savings" are no insurance of her future life

back in England:

The person I go to meet may be changed in his feelings
towards me; or he may retain all the old feeling until
the moment of seeing me, and then lose it in a breath
at sight of my poor faded face. (14)

Miss Morley's capital is her femininity and genteel education,

and these do not produce much profit. Australia is thus

represented as a poor market for the commodity of femininity,

but a good market for the masculine entrepreneur. Miss

Morley's anxiety over the diminishing value inherent in

femininity is echoed in Lady Audley's constant anxiety about

getting old and losing her beauty: "Shall I ever grow old,

Phoebe? Will my hair ever drop off as the leaves falling from

those trees, and leave me wan and bare like them? What is to

become of me when I grow old?" (91). Lady Audley uses her

beauty and refinement to procure a position as a governess,

but the value of her commodities would have depreciated, like

Miss Morley's, if Lady Audley had not employed "unfeminine"

entrepreneur machinations in furthering her investment.

Miss Morley's short narrative as a governess who has not

benefitted from the colonial project contextualizes Lady

Audley's ambition and George Talboys' imperial adventuring.

Even though Miss Morley has lived in Australia longer than

George Talboys, she is not described as brave, adventurous, or

successful. Instead, the narrator suggests that Miss Morley

sees George Talboys as


so brave in his energy and determination, in his proud
triumph of success, and in the knowledge of the
difficulties he had vanquished, that the pale governess
could only look at him in wondering admiration. (19)

This dismal rendering of the female emigrant highlights the

unfeasability of imperial adventuring for women, specifically

as an avenue for Lady Audley's ambition. Unlike Lady Audley's

callous opportunism, Miss Morley is patient and loyally waits

to be reunited with her betrothed. Miss Morley's fidelity to

her first betrothed does not profit her; she did not market

herself aggressively to the highest bidder when she was at the

height of her attractiveness. Nevertheless, her comments

indicate that she is aware of herself as a unit of exchange

although she is powerless in defining her own value or in

marketing herself effectively.

Miss Morley's comments quoted above undermine her own

accomplishments and bravery as a female emigrant and instead

inflate praise of George Talboys as an heroic, successful

colonial adventurer. However, this overstated, self-

depreciating admiration can be read as ironic, given what we

know to be the falsity of George's image of his faithful wife

back home. Since the rhetoric of the male imperial adventurer

occurs after the description of Lady Audley's new life, the

image of the faithful wife is undercut as he speaks it. The

discourses of both imperialism (George Talboys' triumph in

Australia) and domestic femininity (the image of Helen Talboys

passively waiting at home) are linked and subverted through

the meek agency of Miss Morley. In voicing her own realistic


doubts about what is waiting for her in England, Miss Morley

punctures George Talboys' swaggering sense of purpose:

'I swear to you, Miss Morley that, till you spoke
to me tonight, I never felt one shadow of fear; and now
I have that sick, sinking dread at my heart, .
Leave me alone .'. (20)

Throughout their conversation, George Talboys asks no

questions of Miss Morley and ignores any similarities between

her colonial experiences and his own. It is his failure of

imagination--the inability to conceive of women's lives or

ambitions beyond a stereotype of domesticity and beauty--that

proves nearly fatal to George Talboys. Significantly, while

George's heroic narrative overshadows Miss Morley's personal

history, his story is contained and limited to two pages in a

four hundred page novel: the rhetoric of male imperial

adventure is thus overwhelmed and engulfed by the feminine

discourses of domesticity and romance.

In contrast to the helplessness of Miss Morley, Lady

Audley is portrayed as aggressive, violent, and motivated by

self-interest. Helen Maldon's transformation into Lady Audley

subverts the exaggerated rhetoric of the "Angel in the House"

that George Talboys uses to characterize his wife. Early in

the novel, he imagines his wife as a "keystone," the "one

star" which kept him "pure" and "safe," confirming Helen

Maldon's ("Lady Audley") initial depiction as a feminine

spiritualized symbol of home and England. Yet the text

deconstructs the dichotomy of the masculine, colonial-

adventurer and feminine, domestic angel by subverting George


Talboys' colonial adventure narrative and destabilizing his

image of his faithful wife. In addition, the characters of

George Talboys and Lady Audley are linked together by a series

of circumstantial similarities; these similarities implicate

Lady Audley's method of improving her situation through

marriage as imperialistic.

George Talboys: the Imperial Adventurer

The novel is structured around Robert Audley's quest to

uncover the true identity of Lady Audley, and his search is

initiated by the disappearance of his friend, George Talboys.

Robert Audley's investigation of Lady Audley is motivated by

his search for George Talboys and the investigation of Lady

Audley's past dovetails with the investigation of George

Talboys' family background. The narrative links Lady Audley

with her first husband, George Talboys: both characters have

been disinherited, both "re-fashion" themselves, both

mysteriously disappear, and both are strangely compelling to

Robert Audley. Furthermore, Robert Audley's exaggerated

fascination with Lady Audley can be read as a displacement of

his homoerotic attachment to George Talboys; his quest to

discover the "truth" behind the facade of her carefully

constructed femininity is only satisfied with the recovery of

George Talboys' body.


The violence done to George Talboys' body is the central

mystery in the novel, yet it is never described; instead, the

novel offers passage after passage of elaborate description of

Lady Audley. This displacement of Lady Audley for the battered

body of George Talboys suggest the ways that the image of the

woman was used as a substitute for the violence of

colonialism." However, in Braddon's novel this process of

displacement works differently; the beautiful woman is not the

violated object of colonial violence, she is the perpetrator.

The novel represents Lady Audley as the ultimate

spectacle of the male gaze (culminating in the description of

her portrait), yet it is George Talboys' body that is the site

of much of the novel's violence, and Robert Audley's efforts

to detect his aunt's past are dependent upon finding George

Talboys' (presumably dead) body. The effects of Lady Audley's

criminality--her opportunistic self-fashioning and her

"invasion" of the Audley family--are manifested in the body of

the male colonial adventurer. The implicit violence of Lady

Audley's metaphoric imperialism is actualized or made literal

in the physical sufferings of her first husband, both in his

physical hardships in Australia and her attempted murder of

him. Thus, the novel positions the male imperial adventurer as

an innocent victim of a crazy, "uncivilized," feminine


The violence that George Talboys suffers strengthens but

finally effaces him in the novel; although he survives the


attempted murder, in the second half of the novel his

narrative voice disappears. Although he undergoes a

ritualistic rite of passage in Australia, out of which he

emerges a self-reliant, financially-independent man, this

masculine power of conquest and enterprise is overwhelmed by

the feminine, domestic ambition of Lady Audley. Again, George

Talboys represents the colonial adventurer who can withstand

the physical hardships of a foreign land, but is conquered by

a deceptive and ambitious woman.

George Talboys suffers extreme bodily deprivation and

hardship in Australia. The "wild" /"natural" lands of

Australia are credited with changing Talboys from a "reckless,

extravagant, luxurious, champagne-drinking dragoon" to a

relentlessly hard-working man "who lay awake under the open

sky in the wilds of the new world under a wretched

canvas tent .. half-starved; enfeebled by fever; stiff with

rheumatism" (18-19). However, George Talboys' new, more

masculine body--"hardened" by the rigors of colonial life-- is

later overpowered by Lady Audley. Her feigned death breaks his

spirit, and later this slight, incredibly fragile woman is

able to over-power him and push him down a well. After his

attack by Lady Audley, he climbs from the well with a broken

arm and bruised shoulder, hobbles to safety, and then

disappears to America. This represents the defeat of the

colonial adventurer and implies a weakness or ineffectiveness

in the colonial project.


Lady Audley is linked to the two objects in the novel

that symbolize George Talboys' colonial venture: the gold

nugget and the "bullet." George Talboys strikes it rich and

thereby achieves his independence by discovering one huge gold

nugget in Australia. The gold nugget is linked to Lady

Audley's oft-mentioned golden ringlets, connecting a deceptive

femininity with the cumbersome, ultimately spurious wealth of

colonialism. The gold that George Talboys acquires from the

lawless, uncivilized Australian colony replaces his forfeited

inheritance but does not reinstate him in his father's good

graces, and, therefore, does not give him back his former

social position. The myth of the colonial adventurer as self-

made man is subverted; George Talboys' colonial wealth does

not give him back his family or social position.

The second symbolic object of colonialism is George

Talboys' bullet. George describes a symbolic "wound" he

received when his wife "died": "'when some of the fellows were

wounded in India, they came home bringing bullets inside them

S. I've had my wound I carry the bullet still" (42).

Although George Talboys uses the image of the bullet

metaphorically here to represent the emotional damage caused

by his wife's "death," his wound soon becomes literal when

Lady Audley tries to murder him. The bullet and the gold

nugget--both pieces of metal that George Talboys carries with

him--are metonymically linked and represent the physical

manifestation of (symbolic) colonial wealth. Just as George


endures physical suffering and thereby becomes hardened enough

to wrench the gold out of the colonial land, so too Lady

Audley--after exhausting the safe, traditional technique of

passively waiting for a rich young man to notice her beauty

and marry her--uses violence to secure her position as ruler

of the Audley estate. However, ultimately both George Talboy's

colonial adventuring and Lady Audley's metaphoric colonialism

are represented as failures; thus, the novel implicitly

criticizes the colonial project.

Robert Audley: The Detection of the Female Criminal and


Both George Talboys' colonial adventuring and Lady

Audley's metaphoric imperialism are represented as violent and

as threatening established social structures. However, the

crimes of Lady Audley and the mysterious absence of George

Talboys serve a positive function in the novel: they energize

Robert Audley, the passive heir to the Audley estate. Robert

Audley's obsession with recovering the body of George Talboys

transforms Robert into an active, productive agent in the

search for the "truth" of the narrative. Thus, the intrusion

of the colonial adventurers changes Robert Audley from a

domesticated, effeminate man, one who appears lackadaisical

concerning the manly pursuits of hunting and riding, into a

driven detective, an invigorated suitor of Clara Talboys and


a brutal combatant of Lady Audley. Therefore, although the

colonial adventurer is described as ultimately powerless, he

reinvigorates the guardian of the Audley estate. Robert seems

to absorb George Talboys' energy and determination, yet he

subverts George's hyper-masculinity into a more concealed,

disingenuous energy. For example, in contrast to George

Talboys' ingenuous, impulsive persona, Robert is secretive and

methodical in collecting and recording clues to George's

disappearance in a secret notebook and in forging his

detection, link by link.

George Talboys activates Robert's dormant passion: "Here

he was, flurried and anxious, bewildering his brain with all

manner of conjectures about his missing friend, and, false to

every attribute of his being, walking fast" (70). In fact, the

relationship between Robert and George is constructed in the

text as the central relationship in this "sensation/romance"

novel. Robert Audley's extreme attachment to George Talboys is

remarked upon by many of the other characters:

'You was uncommon fond of this Mr. Talboys, I've heerd
say, sir,' 'I've heerd the servants at the court
say how you took on when you couldn't find him. I've
heard the landlord of the Sun Inn say how cut up you
was when you first missed him. 'If the two gents had
been brothers,' the landlord said, 'our gent .
couldn't have been more cut up when he missed the

George Talboys becomes a source of acute anxiety for Robert


Was he to be haunted for ever by the ghost of his
unburied friend? even here he was pursued by that
relentless shadow; even here he was reminded of the


secret crime which had darkened his life. (349 emphasis

Ostensibly, "the secret crime" refers to Robert's suspicions

that Lady Audley murdered George Talboys; however, the passage

also suggests the unremitting guilt provoked by Robert

Audley's erotic feelings for George and a fascination with the

male body as the site of colonial violence. Robert Audley

displaces his romantic interest in George Talboys onto Lady

Audley: at the end of a long chapter in which Robert Audley

obsesses about George Talboys' disappearance, he abruptly

states, "'Bob, .this sort of thing will never do: you are

falling in love with your aunt'" (72). As Robert's

unacknowledged devotion to George mounts, so do his suspicions

of Lady Audley. Robert's investigation of Lady Audley and his

concern that he not fall in love with her is an effort to

project the guilt of homoeroticism and the association with

crime onto the body of a sexualized woman. The novel's latent

homoeroticism is later camouflaged when Robert conveniently

transfers his affection for George Talboys to George's sister,

Clara, who "was so like the friend whom he had loved and lost,

that it was impossible for him to think of her as a stranger"

(173). Robert Audley and George Talboys' relationship

functions to distinguish Robert from the other male characters

in the novel, who are motivated by a heterosexual romantic

interest. Robert Audley's attachment to George Talboys makes

him clear-sighted and analytical, whereas both George Talboys'


and Sir Michael Audley's love for Lady Audley is presented as

both deluding and weakening them.

George Talboys represents a different code of

masculinity: the trope of the macho ex-Dragoon and fearless

imperial adventurer. He fits the stereotype of the physically

impressive, rugged, uncivilized colonist: "He had brown

eyes, a bushy beard and moustache He was tall and

powerfully built" (11). He is also associated with the

lawlessness and violence of the Australian colonies --the

penal colony--which are equated with "riot, drunkenness, and

debauchery" (18). However, the hyper-masculinity of George

Talboys is implicitly undercut/defused by the character's

later state of passivity and absence. George Talboys is either

absent throughout much of the novel, or he is being taken care

of by Robert Audley. Immediately upon his return, George

Talboys --reading that his wife is dead--becomes dissipated

and passive, while Robert gains momentum. Robert becomes a

tender and solicitous caretaker while George becomes a

lifeless object. Perhaps the de-energizing of the character of

George Talboys is necessary in order to defuse the homoerotic

tension between Robert and a virile and lawless colonial

adventurer. However, George Talboys' loss of energy and power

also suggest the failure of colonial adventuring as a

substitute for the traditional social roles that Robert Audley

embodies. George Talboys fails to regain his family or social

position through his colonial adventure in the Australian gold


mines; instead, his tragedy teaches Robert Audley to value the

stability of his own aristocratic family.

Both George Talboys' colonial adventuring and Lady

Audley's metaphoric colonial adventuring are represented as

resulting from a inadequacy of traditional avenues of

ambition: George Talboys loses his ancestral wealth and his

military career while Lady Audley's (conventional) strategy of

using her beauty to marry a rich young man proves unsuccessful

once George Talboys is disinherited for marrying her. At this

point in the narrative, their two tragedies would be

salvageable within the framework of conventional romantic

narratives: the harsh father would eventually relent and the

young lovers, loyal to each other in poverty, would be

rewarded. However, in Braddon's novel the heroine lacks any

romantic motivation; instead, her marriages are carefully-

planned business ventures. Colonial adventuring then, is

represented as the result of a failure of the traditional

means of success and as an excess of ambition. However, these

ambitions are violently disruptive and must be curtailed by

the moral agency of the detective, Robert Audley.

The ambition of a single, "superfluous" woman who uses

her femininity to improve her social and financial status

destabilizes both the Talboys and the Audley families and

causes a rift between the old-fashioned patriarchs (Mr.

Talboys and Sir Audley) and the heirs apparent (George Talboys

and Alicia Audley). Ultimately, however, Robert Audley uses


the discovery and disclosure of Lady Audley's crimes as a

means of reconciling George Talboys with his father and Alicia

Audley with her father. Therefore, the criminal excess of Lady

Audley's ambition--her hyper-femininity and her bigamy--

destabilizes the aristocratic family structure, yet, finally

solidifies these families in opposition to the threat from the


Lady Audley becomes the scapegoat for Robert's romantic

attachment to George Talboys and George's association with

lawlessness. Once Robert projects his feelings for George onto

Clara, he is safe from the seductive powers of Lady

Audley/George. At the close of the novel, Lady Audley has died

in a Belgian mental home, Robert has married Clara Talboys,

George has returned alive and Clara, Robert, and George are

living happily together. The reunion of George and Robert is

disguised within a conventional (heterosexual) romantic

resolution; thus the guilt of homoeroticism and the

criminality suggested by George's Australian adventures are

displaced onto the ambitious woman.

Lady Audley: The Female Colonial Adventurer

The substitution of Lady Audley for George Talboys

functions as more than a projection of homoerotic desires:

Lady Audley also represents the feminization of George

Talboys' role as imperial adventurer. Both characters


dissociate themselves from their original families, create new

identities, and set out to make their fortunes in a new,

lawless territory. However, although there was an historical

movement encouraging women to emigrate to Australia, the easy

wealth illustrated in George Talboys' gold mining adventure

was rarely a realistic goal for women. Instead, Lady Audley

acts out a symbolic colonial conquest in which marriage

figures as the colonial market place. After conquering the

local inhabitants with her contrived girlish charm, she

invades the Audley family, appropriates the Audley title and

wealth, and uses violence to maintain this rule. The failure

of Lady Audley's colonial conquest and her eventual punishment

suggests an effort to distinguish the English countryside from

the colonial space: while the wealth of a colonial adventure

can be brought to England, the methods of colonial adventuring

will not be allowed.

In her second bigamouss) marriage lady Audley intrudes

the acquisitive, violent male imperial urge into the domestic

realm. Lady Audley--a "gold-digger"--is an invader, a usurper

into the Audley family and her marriage is described in terms

of a calculated campaign.

'I determined to run away from the wretched home which
my slavery supported. I determined to desert the father.
I determined to go to London, and lose myself in
that great chaos of humanity.'I had seen the
advertisement in the Times while I was at Wildernsea,
and I presented myself to Mrs. Vincent under an
assumed name. .. 'I came here, and [Sir Michael
Audley] made me an offer, the acceptance of which would
lift me at once into the sphere to which my ambition

had pointed ever since I was a school-girl, and heard
for the first time that I was pretty. (299 emphasis

Lady Audley's use of the word "slavery" suggests what Perera

identifies as the language of "orientalist misogyny." "4 When

she compares her domestic situation to slavery Lady Audley

uses the language of colonialism to highlight the imprisonment

of (western) women.

The above description of Lady Audley's self-determined

ambition is comparable to George Talboys' decision to leave

his family and seek his fortune in Australia:

[my father] wrote me a furious letter, telling me
he would never again hold any communication with me,
and that my yearly allowance would stop from my wedding
day. I ran up to London and tried to get a situation as
a clerk [but] I couldn't get anybody to believe
in my capacity. I flew into a rage with [Helen/Lady
Audley], myself, her father, the world. and ran out
of the house, I was going to try my fortune in
the new world. (19)

Both George Talboys' decision to go abroad and Lady Audley's

plan to relocate result from the inadequacy of the traditional

means of success: George Talboys' father disowns him, he is

forced out of the dragoons, and he is unprepared and unskilled

in the new market. Similarly, Lady Audley's first husband

deserts her, her father fails to support her and, therefore,

she must travel to a new, more lucrative marriage market.

Colonialism is thus presented as a failed solution to the

problems of a changing market economy. When George leaves for

Australia, Lady Audley is left unprovided for and must seek


"unnatural" means of supporting herself. Their marriage is a

mesalliance and both George and "Lady Audley" (Helen Maldon)

abandon their marriage--George to seek his fortune in the

colonies and Helen to capture a rich husband. However, while

George's escape to Australia is scripted as heroic, Lady

Audley's ambition is encoded as criminal. Even before she

attempts the murder of George Talboys, Lady Audley is marked

as "unnatural" or evil when she refuses to wait for her

husband to return and abandons her son with her n'er-do-well

father. The feminine sphere of adventure and conquest lies in

the domestic realm of courtship and marriage, and this is the

only avenue open to Lady Audley. Upon relocating, Lady Audley

changes her name, reproduces herself as a new commodity, and

invests in a new market. Lady Audley understands the rules of

the marriage market and consistently speaks of herself as a

product, a tool and an investment.

Both "colonial adventures" in Braddon's novel involve a

loss of self: George Talboys is physically absent throughout

most of the text and Lady Audley is "not herself"; she uses a

pseudonym and later is charged with being insane. Lady

Audley's narrative of deceit and bigamy suggests that women

must refashion their identities if they are to participate in

symbolic colonization. Yet to read Lady Audley as having given

up her "true" identity would be to posit "Helen Maldon" as an

authentic self. We only "know" Helen Maldon as a former

identity of Lady Audley. George Talboys' idea of his wife's


character is as false a representation as her later pseudonym,

Lucy Graham.

The text attempts to naturalize certain qualities of the

colonial adventurer. Both George Talboys and Lady Audley are

described as having an intrinsic, "natural" charm, which

transcends their social identities and allows them to

"conquer" people they meet:

[Lady Audley] was blessed with that magic power of
fascination by which a woman can charm with a word or
intoxicate with a smile. The boy who opened the five-
barred gate, the verger at the church the
vicar the porter her employer; his
visitors; her pupils; the servants; everybody, high
and low [loved her]. (5)

Lady Audley's reign at Audley Court is facilitated by the

devotion of each lowly "subject"; she charms all of the

inhabitants indiscriminantly. Similarly, when his wealth and

status are unknown, it is George Talboys' personality that

captivates his fellow travellers aboard the Argus:

George Talboys was the life and soul of the vessel;
nobody knew who or what he was, or where he came from,
but everybody liked him. He told funny stories,.
He was a capital hand at speculation and vingt-et-
un, and all the merry games (12)

George and Lady Audley are represented as having a quality--

a "charm"--that transcends social position, but that is

inexorably linked to their class identities. The narrative's

discourse of the "natural" implicitly legitimizes class

privilege; even stripped of his inheritance, George Talboys'

"natural" charm distinguishes him from the other travellers.

However, the representation of Lady Audley's "charm" is


presented more ambiguously and suggests a more complicated

attitude toward gender and class privilege. Lady Audley's

irresistible femininity is based on a hyper-consciousness of

her lack of status: her charm is in her self-conscious role as

dependent child. On one hand, Lady Audley's effect on others

is described as a result of an organic phenomenon, her beauty;

yet Lady Audley's beauty--like her alleged madness--is

hereditary and is marked as both genuine and contrived,

organic yet constructed.'5

Femininity is represented as comparative, competitive,

and constituted by appearances. The female characters in the

novel are developed by a series of reflections and likenesses

symbolized by Lady Audley's mirrored dressing room. Lady

Audley's power is both constituted and contained by her

femininity; the text sets up Lady Audley as the object of the

reader's gaze while also representing her as constantly in

control of (and constructing) her appearance. For example, the

climax of Lady Audley's calculated violence occurs when she

sets fire to Castle Inn in an attempt to kill Robert Audley

before he can expose her true identity. In this scene, Lady

Audley is described as having an abundance of supernatural

energy and the "unearthly glitter of her beauty" subdues even

the abusive Luke Marks. The language used to describe her as

she ignites the room is sexual:

She .. smoothed her wet hair before the looking
glass, .She [placed] the flaming tallow candle
very close to the lace furbelows about the glass before
she could succeed in throwing any light on the dusky


mirror; so close that the starched muslin seemed to
draw the flame towards it by some power of attraction to
its fragile tissue. (274 emphasis mine)

The "fragile tissue" of Lady Audley's dress (femininity)

commands the phallic flame; yet, the scene is framed by Lady

Audley looking in the mirror and arranging her appearance by

the aid of the candlelight. Thus, the passage is not so much

about Lady Audley's sublimated sexuality as it is about her

determination to be the object of (her own) gaze.

Robert Audley decodes his aunt first by analyzing varied

descriptions of her, then by examining the unfinished (Pre-

Raphaelite) portrait of her, than by contrasting her to his

cousin, Alicia Audley, and finally by judging her in

opposition to Clara Talboys. Lady Audley is composed of

surfaces: her carefully arranged disheveled ringlets, her

affected child-like demeanor, the commissioned painting. She

calculatedly presents herself as an aesthetic object, and her

portrait illustrates the controlled, minutely- detailed

artifice of her beauty:

the painter must have been a Pre-Raphaelite. No one but
a Pre-Raphaelite would have painted, hair, by hair,
those feathery masses of ringlets, with every glimmer of
gold and every shadow of pale brown. No one but a
Pre-Raphaelite would have so exaggerated every
attribute of that delicate face as to give a lurid
brightness to the blonde complexion, and a strange
sinister light to the deep blue eyes. (60)

This passage accuses the painting of an almost indecency in

its portrayal of Lady Audley. The characterization of the Pre-

Raphaelite painting as detailed, "lurid," "exaggerated," and

"sinister" is a commentary on the creation of sensation


novels. The act of viewing the painting (reading novels) is

described as solitary, somewhat unwholesome, even

masturbatory. In order to see the painting, Robert Audley and

George Talboys must crawl through a secret passageway which

opens onto a trap door on the floor of Lady Audley's room.

When they reach her rooms they are confronted by an

"oppressive [atmosphere] from the odors of perfumes in bottles

whose stoppers had not been replaced" (59). Symbolically, it

is Lady Audley's presence, her sexuality, which has leaked and

which she carelessly leaves uncorked. However, the dishevelled

disorder is calculated; Lady Audley's room, like her mass of

unruly curls, is assembled for effect, and yet it is this

apparent disorder that overwhelms and fascinates the male

characters in the novel. The sexual nature of the painting is

further demonstrated by the furtive and focused manner in

which Robert asks that George view the painting:

'we have between us only one candle, a very inadequate
light with which to look at a painting. Let me,
therefore, request that you will suffer us to look at it
one at a time: if there is one thing more disagreeable
than another, it is to have a person dodging behind one's
back and peering over one's shoulder, when one is trying
to see what a picture's made of. (60)

Robert takes his turn first, but his reaction is veiled. He

"arranged the easel very conveniently, and seated

himself on the chair in front of it for the purpose of

contemplating the painting at his leisure. He rose as George

turned around" (60). In contrast, George Talboys makes no

judgments of the painting, but is overwhelmed and almost


paralyzed by his wife's image. The portrait's effect on the

two characters suggests the distinct ways that each reacts to

Lady Audley's feminine power: Robert Audley is fascinated but

controlled while George Talboys is obliterated by the

spectacle of Lady Audley.

The characterization of Lady Audley as both wickedly

enchanting and powerfully independent suggests the complexity

of women's positions within the imperial project and within

the domestic space. On one hand, women are often identified

with the colonial space as passive territory to be conquered

by the white male colonizer. However, Lady Audley is both an

aesthetic eroticizedd) object of the male gaze (as shown in

the passage discussed above) and the creator and marketer of

herself as a product. Nevertheless, Lady Audley's power and

autonomy are compromised by her position as a wife; her access

to money and her social status are dependent on Lord Audley.

The "female adventurer," while symbolically participating in

colonialism, has a much more limited power, and it must be

remembered that her "imperial adventure" is metaphoric. Lady

Audley's relationship to money, title, and crime can be

examined within the context of what imperialism makes

legitimate: re-forging one's identity, the abandonment of

families, the ruthless appropriation of wealth, and the use of


George Talboys' decision to abandon his wife and son and

explore the gold mines of Australia is the action that


instigates a whole series of crimes in the novel. The novel

implies that George Talboys is not morally responsible for

abandoning his family because he eventually returns home

wealthy and eager to resume his marriage. Morality in the

novel consists of a series of renunciations, disowning and

blame-shifting that finally ends with Lady Audley as the only

culprit. Even the lower-class, violent Luke Marks--who

blackmails Lady Audley and controls his wife by threats of

violence--receives absolution on his deathbed when he

confesses to Robert that George Talboys is still alive. The

excess of crime in the novel--Luke Mark's violence, Phoebe's

blackmail, and even Robert Audley's deceptions--is all

projected onto Lady Audley. Lady Audley's lawlessness

justifies male efforts to "civilize" or contain her. She

functions as a double signifier: she enacts the violence of

colonizers and also represents the irrational/savage colonial

who must be subdued.

Although physically dissimilar, Lady Audley is in many

ways a rewriting of Charlotte Bronte's Bertha Mason.16

However, Braddon's text transforms the mad (creole) woman in

the attic into an ultra-white, calculating villain whose

questionable madness allows her to escape punishment. While

Bertha Mason sets the fire at Thornfield in a fit of

jealous/crazy rage and thereby kills herself, Lady Audley

methodically plots to kill Robert Audley in order to protect

and maintain her new life (money, status). She arrives at the


inn where Robert Audley is staying, finds out which room is

his, bolts his door from the outside, sets fire to the

building, and then walks home.

Lady Audley is remarkable as a Victorian heroine because

of her combination of conventional feminine beauty and

masculine violence; the terror and fascination of her

character lies in this disturbing juxtaposition of femininity

and masculine aggression. The novel depicts Lady Audley's

ambition as methodical and rational while simultaneously

portraying it as a product of genetic (maternal) "madness."

This incoherence of female ambition as both

methodical/rational and insane/out of control lies at the core

of the problematic nature of Lady Audley as villain. More

importantly, the novel only tentatively offers Lady Audley's

alleged madness as an explanation for her unfeminine violence;

much of the novel describes a carefully-planned series of

deceptions that enables Lady Audley to achieve a traditional

goal of exchanging female beauty for wealth and a new class

identity. Lady Audley's unique power, the novel implies, lies

not in her calculating femininity but in her lack of

sexual/romantic feelings. Every other character in the novel

is motivated, to some extent, by romantic interest while Lady

Audley operates purely from a "rational," economic self-

interest: "'The common temptations that assail and shipwreck

some women had no terror for me. The mad folly that the

world calls love had never any part in my madness'" (300).


Lady Audley's lack of (hetero)sexuality has been interpreted

as both a sublimated eroticism which is expressed through

violence, or as repressed homoeroticism (as shown in the

scenes between Lady Audley and Phoebe Marks).

Lady Audley's violence--pushing George Talboys down the

well and setting fire to the Castle Inn--is not motivated by

passion, thwarted romantic love, or maternal devotion. In this

way Lady Audley represents a departure from female characters

who have sinned but still possess "feminine" emotions, like

the heroine of East Lynne, whose most passionate feelings are

for her children.8 Lady Audley's violence is a response to

threats to her social position, her domestic power, and her

sovereignty. Lady Audley's acts of violence are covert and her

aggression is not open, which suggests the illegitimacy of her

social position, but which also highlights the problematic

nature of women's authority within the family. Therefore, Lady

Audley's violence calls into question the violence of the

imperialist project while it also suggests the limits of

female dominion within the family.

However, the text's attitude toward Lady Audley's

metaphoric imperialism is ambiguous; while she threatens the

stability of the Audley family, Lady Audley also functions to

consolidate it. Her criminality transforms Robert Audley into

the family protector; Alicia and Sir Michael Audley are

reconciled; and, more importantly, the Audley estate becomes


valuable as a contested site for the power over the Audley


However, while the Audley family is rescued from the

threat of Lady Audley, there exists a prevailing tone of

nostalgia and loss. After Lady Audley has been revealed as an

imposter and expurgated, Lord Audley leaves for an extended

tour of the continent. At the end of the novel, Audley manor

is deserted: "Audley court is shut up, and a grim old

housekeeper reigns paramount in the mansion" (376). Even

though Lady Audley has been defeated, the briefly described

conventional romantic resolution at the novel's end does not

dispel the sense of loss.

Landscape and Ideology in Lady Audley's Secret

The integrity and health of the Audley family is

represented in terms of the estate, Audley Court. Lady

Audley's secret is concealed within the tranquil gardens of

Audley Court; thus, the novel subverts the usual formula of

Victorian crime novels, which place violence within an urban

setting. The novel opens with a detailed description of Audley

Court, which evokes a nostalgia for the pastoral. Yet this

image of the peaceful rural estate is subverted by a series of

violent acts: the attempted murder of George Talboys, Lucas

Marks' threats to Phoebe, and the fire at the inn. The use of

the countryside as the site of violence likens it to the


lawless territory of the colonial frontier, which suggests

that the colonial project somehow contaminates or implicates

British national domestic life. Braddon's novel shows how the

social instability, lawlessness, and violence of colonialism

attacks the security of the country estate; even more

importantly, the violence does not come from outside of the

estate, but within it. In marrying an imposter, Lord Audley

has contaminated the estate and caused its eventual ruin.

Audley Court contains many elements of the picturesque


A smooth lawn lay before you, and an orchard
surrounded by an ancient wall .. overgrown with
trailing ivy .the place had been a convent .
The house .was very old, and irregular and
rambling. The windows were uneven; some small, some
large; some with heavy stone mullions and rich stained
glass; others with frail lattices that rattled in the
breeze; others so modern that they might have been
added only yesterday. Tall chimneys rose here and there
behind the pointed gables, broken down (2)

A noble place a house in which you
incontinently lost yourself a house that could
never have been planned by any mortal architect, but
must have been the handiwork of Time, who --
adding one room a year. .. a chimney coeval with the
Plantagenets, .. .the Tudors .a Saxon wall
.Norman arch Queen Anne,. .George the Third
.(2 emphases mine)

In the above passages Audley Court is described as containing

and encompassing different styles /periods of English history-

-old to "modern"--from the "Plantagenets" to the architectural

style of George the Third. Thus, the Audley family possesses

or is linked with the continuance of English history, and they

represent a kind of permanence and continuity. In keeping with


the rhetoric of the picturesque, the developing or designing

of the landscape is agentless; it is "the handiwork of .

Time" and thus encoded as natural. The language of the

landscape implicitly links the "noble" with the irregularity

and decay of the picturesque. However, this idyllic

representation is troubled by hints of secrecy and stagnation:

The hall door was squeezed into a corner of a turret
as if it was in hiding from dangerous visitors, and
wished to keep itself a secret--a noble door for all
that--old oak, studded with great square-headed iron
nails, and so thick that the iron knocker struck upon it
with a muffled sound. (2)

The description of the door suggests that the nobility of the

Audleys is thick and impenetrable, massive, yet somehow afraid

of invasion. The door symbolizes Lord Audley-- "noble," "old,"

"square -headed," and "thick." The feared invasion that the

opening description hints at is the marriage of Lord Audley to

Lucy Graham/Helen Maldon. Lady Audley--a self-fashioned

adventurer--uses her consciously-constructed femininity to

breech the impregnable Audley family.

However, the text implies that Lady Audley's success in

penetrating the Audley estate results from a weakness in the

Audley family (i.e. from the values inherent in the country

estate): a lack of productivity.

[Audley Court was] a place that strangers fell into
raptures with; feeling a yearning with to have done
with life a spot in which Peace seemed to have
taken up her abode [It contained] the stagnant
well with an idle handle that was never turned,
and a lazy rope so rotten that the bucket had broken
away from it, and had fallen into the water. (2
emphases mine)


The decay described in the above passage is caused by disuse;

in fact, violence is foreshadowed by the rotten rope which is

attributed to the inertia of the estate, symbolized by Robert

Audley's lack of ambition, productivity, or sexual desire. The

responsibility for the novel's later violence and the eventual

abandonment of the estate is attributed not to Lady Audley,

but to the estate itself, and the ideology of the country

estate. The "peaceful" appearance of the rural landscape

represents the myth of English history as unchanging/static.

However, the passages above deconstruct the image of the

pastoral, showing it to be stagnant and yet pregnant with


The function of Lady Audley in the novel is ambiguous:

she is the agent of violence, the usurper/invader of the

Audley family. All moral blame falls on her--an abandoned

wife, questionably "mad," motherless--yet her death is a false

resolution. The tone of the novel belies its conventional

resolution, so that we are left with a nostalgic mourning for

the country estate and a desire to contain the disruptive

violence of the colonial enterprise.

Braddon's novel illustrates the close imbrication of

colonialism and the British domestic space. The colonial

adventure--in both its masculine and its feminized

(metaphoric) form--is depicted as a dangerous, even criminal

strategy. Braddon's novel shows the feminine ambitions of Lady

Audley to be imperialistic; thus, the domestic space is shown

not as an isolated haven, but as a contested site of power.

This linking of the feminine/domestic with the violence of

colonialism does not justify or make moral the colonial

project; rather, my reading of the novel suggests an anxiety

that the violence of colonialism would invade the bastion of

British stability, the English county estate.


1. Suvendrini Perera notes the attention paid to Victorian
"adventure" narratives, which contain direct references to the
colonies or the exotic other, but she challenges the
bifurcation of "expansionist" and "domestic" novels and argues
that the discourse of imperialism informs even those texts in
which the empire is a "peripheral presence."

2. In Mixed Feelings: Feminism, Mass Culture and Victorian
Sensationalism, Cvetkovich argues that the term "sensation"
refers to the novels' affective powers, their "capacity to
shock, excite, [and] move audiences" (14).

3. Also see Winnifred Hughes discussion of the "sensation
novel" in The Maniac in the Cellar.

4. The New Review, December 1863.

5. Blackwood's Magazine 102 (623) 257-280. Reprinted in Robert
Wolff's Sensational Victorian Op Cit.

6. Lucy Clifford to Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Chilworth Street,
July 25 (1911), Wolff Collection, from Robert Lee Wolff,
Sensational Victorian: the Life and Fiction of Mary Elizabeth
Braddon. New York: Garland, 1979.

7. See Jeanne Fahnestock, "Bigamy: The Rise and Fall of a
Convention," Nineteenth-Century Fiction 36 (1), 58.

8. James Hammerton, Emigrant Gentlewomen, London: Croom Helm,

9. In 1889 the Australian government commissioned a novelist,
Mrs. Penden Cudlip, to write novels which would encourage
middle-class English women to emigrate to Australia. An

announcement of this upcoming book appears in the Thomas Cook
Company magazine, The Excursionist, December 16, 1889.

10. Hammerton, Ibid, 101.

11. See James Hammerton's description of Mary Taylor in
Emigrant Gentlewomen. Mary Taylor, a close friend of the
Brontes', emigrated to Wellington, New Zealand in 1845. Her
emigration, according to Hammerton, was fuelled by a desire
for a more independent, unconventional life that which was
available to middle-class, educated women in England. Once in
New Zealand, Mary Taylor enjoyed relative financial success
with cattle dealing, and later with a clothing shop.

12. See my introduction for a discussion of how the violence
of the 1857 Sepoy rebellion was represented using the images
of violated British women, in part, as an effort to obscure
the image of dead or wounded British men.

13. Lady Audley is not represented as the racial other (as
Bertha Mason figures in Jane Eyre); her otherness is her
extreme femininity and her class identity.

14. Perera, Op.Cit.

15. The text suggests that Lady Audley's madness is at once
hereditary and a convenient excuse for her crimes.

16. Charlotte Brontd, Jane Eyre New York: Bantam, first
published 1847.

17. Natalie Schroeder, "Feminine Sensationalism, Eroticism,
and Self-Assertion: M.E. Braddon and Ouida" Tulsa Studies in
Women's Literature 7 (1) 87-103.

18. Mrs. Henry Wood, East Lynne, New Brunswick: Rutgers
University Press, 1861


Self-devotion! Stuff! I am only doing what must be
done. I am a colonial girl--I don't know what
people do in England. Where I was brought up we were
used to be busy about whatever lay nearest to our hand.
It is only idle people who have time to think of
falling in love and such nonsense. When one is very
busy it never comes into one's head. (Oliphant, The
Doctor's Family, 97)

In the passage quoted above from Margaret Oliphant's

story "The Doctor's Family" (1863), the heroine, Nettie

Underwood, declares her difference through a construction of

a colonial identity. Nettie insists on a different code of

femininity--one that she identifies as "colonial" and one that

privileges a particular discourse of duty. Nettie's colonial

code of femininity privileges a domestic productivity and

materiality over an abstract and idealized concept of romantic

love. The tension in the novel is between Nettie's insistence

on concerning herself only with practical, household matters

and the text's need to produce a romantic heroine.


The novel opens after the main character, Edward Rider's

brother, Fred, has arrived penniless from Australia. Edward

takes in his profligate brother but bitterly resents his

unwelcome presence. Shortly afterwards, Fred's deserted

Australian wife, Susan, and their children appear under the

management of Susan's younger sister, Nettie Underwood. The

plot of the novel revolves around the romance between Nettie

and her brother-in-law, a romance which is thwarted by her

determined devotion to her sister's family. The dramatic

tension in the novel is between Nettie's refusal to prioritize

romance or marriage over the demands of her extended family

and Dr. Rider's reluctance to accept this same burden. Dr.

Rider cannot reconcile his duty to his professional career

with responsibility toward family. In Oliphant's earlier

story, "The Executor," Dr. Rider was unwilling to accept the

burden of a wife's family; however, this story charts his

growing regret as he realizes the value of a feminized

domestic space, a value which, according to the novel, exceeds

the costs of maintaining dependents. The catalyst of Dr.

Rider's changed attitude toward marriage is Nettie; her

unshakable belief in the necessity of supporting her

dependents alternately awes and enrages him. Ultimately,

Nettie is ousted from her position as head of family and is


thereby able to marry Dr. Rider relatively unencumbered. Yet

this conventional romantic resolution fails to contain the

destabilizing portrait of feminine power that Nettie's

character represents: her financial independence and her

sovereignty over her extended family.

However, Nettie's autonomy is finally overcome by the

conventions of the romantic plot. The story can be read as

containing conflicting discourses of the "materialist-

domestic" and the "romantic/literary."' Mary Ann Leiby's

thesis exposes the tensions within the representation of

Nettie as domestic heroine: the "domestic-material and heroic-

dramatic discourse displace the romantic-fairy-tale discourse

and thus deconstruct the myth of the Angel in the

House"; however, this analysis does not place the domestic

discourses within the context of nineteenth-century

colonialism. I argue that the crisis of domestic authority

portrayed in Oliphant's text represents mid-nineteenth-century

anxieties concerning British colonial authority.2 Nettie's

eventual marriage to Dr. Rider, instead of being the

achievement of a conventional romantic resolution, verges on

the tragic because of the pathos when Nettie is stripped of

her former domestic authority, or "duty."


The "discourse of duty" in Oliphant's story is confined

to the emotional economy of the household and differs from the

middle-class duty espoused in George Eliot's fiction, which is

a moral responsibility to a "wider social commitment" (Cottom

186).3 However, the type of duty illustrated in Oliphant's

story--the heroine's loyalty to her family, her absence of

personal desire, and her self-sacrifice in the management of

the household--corresponds more to the Victorian myth of the

"Angel-in-the-House."4 However, as I discuss above, the text

partially deconstructs the discourse of the Angel in the House

by showing Nettie as both ethereal/"elf-like" and


Oliphant's story ultimately undermines Nettie's discourse

of duty by suggesting that her domestic management is an

assertion of her own will:

But Nettie obstinately refused to be said to do her
duty. She was doing her own will with an imperious
distinctness and energy--having her own way--
displaying no special virtue, but a determined
willfulness. (104)

Supporting and running a household becomes a means of control,

assertion, and even pleasure, for the "superfluous" single

woman, instead of the unnatural burden it is assumed to be by

the other female characters in the text.5 Yet, although the

story upholds Nettie's domestic abilities, her authority is


shown to be tenuous and the story implies that the only secure

domestic authority must be procured by marriage. Thus, the

portrayal of Nettie Underwood both subverts and recuperates

the trope of the "superfluous" single woman.

The struggle for domestic authority can also be read as

representing issues of colonialism: the Australian family is

described as "invading" Dr. Rider's house, and Nettie's rule

over her sister's family uses the language of the "white man's

burden." Thus, the novel's celebration of domestic government

is implicated within the text's implicit ideology of

imperialism. Nettie is the "colonial girl," the dark other in

the text, but she is also the colonizer: she commandeers her

sister's family and maintains absolute rule until she is

violently overthrown.6 The essential incoherence in Oliphant's

novel is the contradictory way that the figure of the "extra"

woman is used to represent both the colonizer and the

colonized, an ambiguity that signals the larger tension

concerning the role of women in the imperial project. Nettie's

eventual "abdication" of her domestic authority and the

realization that her "sovereignty" is unfounded symbolize a

crisis in colonial authority.

Although she moves into the closed fictional community of

Carlingford, Nettie refuses to conform to the standard codes


of English femininity: she is independent, financially self-

sufficient, and uninterested in being the object of romantic

designs. Nettie uses a discourse of duty, which includes self-

sacrifice, and familial obligation to achieve a metaphoric

colonization of the Rider family. Her control is justified by

her competence and an implicit moral superiority.

As recent post-colonial critics have addressed in their

discussions of the latent imperialism in Charlotte Bront 's

Jane Eyre, the emancipatory representation of a single,

(white, middle-class, European) woman's struggle for

independence cannot be separated from its seemingly peripheral

colonial context.7 For example, in his analysis of Jane

Austen's Mansfield Park, Edward Said argues that the domestic

novel is supported by and implicated within the imperialist


Austen synchronizes domestic with international
authority, making it plain that the values associated
with such higher things as ordination, law, and
propriety must be grounded firmly in actual rule over
and possession of territory. .What ensures the
domestic tranquility and attractive harmony of [the
estate] is the productivity and regulated discipline of
[the slave plantation]. 8

Said's arguments destabilize the boundaries between the

domestic and the imperial, between a narrative of courtship

and Britain's colonial expansion. The structure of patriarchal

authority and wealth--embodied in Sir Thomas Bertram--which


supports Mansfield Park derives from a system of colonialism

and slavery that is not articulated in the novel. Said's most

useful point however, is his analysis of Fanny Price as an

"imported commodity" who is paid for by Sir Thomas's colonial

wealth and who supplies a missing morality for the Bertram


[Thomas Bertram] understands .what has been missing
in the education of his children, and he understands
it in the terms paradoxically provided for him by .
.the wealth of Antigua and the imported example of
Fanny Price What was wanted within was in fact
supplied by the wealth derived from a West I n di a n
plantation and a poor provincial relative, both bought
to Mansfield Park and set to work. 9

Although Said's marginalization of feminist criticism keeps

him from exploring the implications of the surplus woman as a

site for the intersection of the discourses of imperialism and

the domestic, his insistence on viewing these canonical works

of British literature within the context of nineteenth-century

colonialism is important."1

As I have discussed in the preceding chapter on Mary

Elizabeth Braddon's novel Lady Audley's Secret, the colonial

space is often represented off-stage and is seemingly

peripheral to the main action of the domestic novel. I argue,

however, that issues of colonialism and imperialism are acted

out covertly within the domestic sphere,particularly in each

novel's representations of the "superfluous" single woman and


her struggle for "sovereignty" over her extended family. Both

Braddon's Lady Audley and Oliphant's Nettie invade and

appropriate families by using an exaggerated femininity: Lady

Audley is a caricature of frail beauty, and Nettie is

astoundingly competent at domestic management and self-

sacrifice. However, while Braddon's heroine, Lady Audley, is

linked through a series of identifications to the colonial

adventurer, George Talboys, the heroine in Margaret Oliphant's

story, "The Doctor's Family," Nettie Underwood, herself

Australian, is "imported" into a small, proto-typical English


What does this importation imply about the text's

representation of colonialism? Colonialists in this novel are

a heterogeneous group: Fred Rider, the doctor's older brother,

who is able succeed in neither England nor Australia and

eventually drowns after a night drinking; Fred's wife, Susan,

an incompetent mother, lacking in propriety and morality--she

is only too happy to return to Australia; Richard Chatham, a

massive, animal-like Australian; and Susan's younger sister,

Nettie, the "colonial girl" who takes on the responsibility

for her sister's household. If there are qualities that

distinguish the Australian characters from the English ones in

the novel they are unconventionality and transience: the very


opposite of the values championed in Oliphant's Chronicles of

Carlingford series. Fred, Susan, and Richard Chatham never

become members of the Carlingford community; Nettie becomes

ensconced in the community only after her ties to her family

are broken."

The language of colonial conquest is used to depict power

struggles within the Rider family. The arrival of Dr. Rider's

brother's family in Carlingford is described as an "invasion"

(74); Nettie rules over a family of "savages" (85); and when

she separates from them she is characterized as an

"abdicat[ing] emperor" (192). Nettie uses the rhetoric of the

"white man's burden" to explain to Miss Wodehouse why she must

stay with her sister's family:

"They can't do much for each other--there is actually
nobody but me to take care of them all. You may say
it is not natural, or it is not right, or anything
you please, but what else can one do? That is the
practical question," said Nettie, triumphantly. (98)

Nettie defends her seizure of power, the imposition of her

will and sovereignty, by arguing that her sister's family is

incapable of maintaining their own domestic economy. The

rhetoric of feminine domestic efficiency and familial duty

thus implicitly upholds the relationship of the colonizer and

colonized. As the colonizer, Nettie controls every aspect of

the Riders' daily lives by imposing a strict code of domestic


behavior. Her authority is greater than just financial power;

her family is described as unable to manage their lives

without her. Their attitude toward Nettie alternates between

surly resentment and utter dependency. For example, when

Little Freddy becomes ill, both of his parents are shown as

comically useless and incapable of assisting Dr. Rider:

Fred, shivering and helpless, stood by the fire,
uttering confused directions and rubbing miserably his
own flabby hands; his wife, crying, scolding, and
incapable, stood at the end of the table, offering no
assistance, but wondering when ever Nettie would come
back. (111)

Nettie's family is described consistently as comically

incompetent and appallingly ungrateful. However, their main

function in the novel is to serve as a foil for Nettie's

resourcefulness, household thrift, and self-sacrifice.

Nettie Underwood: the Woman as Colonial and Colonizer

Dr. Rider is initially fascinated by Nettie because she

is physically unlike the English women of Carlingford. Nettie

represents a different code of femininity, one that is

explicitly linked to her identity as a "colonial girl." Her

appearance and manner are contrasted to Dr. Rider's former

love interest, Bessie Christian, a woman of "saxon .

beauty" and "composure" (101). In contrast, Nettie's


"prettiness was peculiar she was not only slender, but

thin, dark, eager, impetuous, with blazing black eyes and red

lips, [Dr. Rider was] not altogether attracted--

scarcely sure he was not repelled--unable to withdraw his

eyes" (75). Although the descriptions of Nettie do not suggest

that she is in any way nonwhite, Dr. Rider's reaction to her

marks her as somehow outside of British femininity. Nettie's

appearance is a compelling spectacle and marks her as other.

"Thin" and "dark" signify a racial otherness; "eager" and

"impetuous" suggest an energetic childishness; and "red lips"

and "blazing black eyes" mark an eroticization of ethnicity.

Nettie's physical otherness signals her socially

anomalous position: although she is an unmarried woman, she is

the head of her sister's family, a role that she is granted

based on her financial, domestic, and moral authority. While

Braddon's Lady Audley uses her hyper-femininity to invade and

appropriate the Audley family and estate, Nettie's domestic

efficiency--and her sister's abdication of authority--justify

her seizing authority over the family. Nettie's assertion of

will and her position of power within her sister's family mark

her as non-English within the closed world of Carlingford.

Dr. Rider describes Nettie as a little fairy queen, tiny

as Titania, but dark as an elf of the east, [with] tiny


hands, brown .She had dragged her plaintive sister

over the seas -- she it was that had forced her way into

Edward Rider's house; taken her position in it, ousted the

doctor; and who swept the husband and wife out of it

again. (82)

This portrayal combines standard orientalist tropes of

the "little fairy queen," and the "elf of the east," with

descriptions of aggressive, energetic action: "dragged,"

"forced," "taken," and "swept." Thus the text counters the

image of Nettie as the orientalized object of Dr. Rider's gaze

by describing her as the active agent within the household.

However, the text suggest that this domestic power is an

unenviable authority that comes from others' incompetence; she

takes over the domestic tasks her sister is unable or

unwilling to perform and assumes the masculine authority as

head of household by default:

Everybody seemed to recognize Nettie as supreme. .
[Dr.Rider] drew near the table at which Nettie, without
hesitation, took the presiding place. Nettie cut
up the meat for those staring imps of children .
kept them silent and in order. She regulated what Susan
was to have, and which things were best for Fred. .
.Nettie put out her tiny hand as she spoke to arrest
the bottle. Fred stared at her with a dull flush on his
face; but he gave in, in the most inexplicable way; it
seemed a matter of course to yield to Nettie. .
[S]he managed them all (89)


In the passage above Nettie governs the domestic space,

regulating what her "subjects" consume and monitoring their

vices. Nettie's managerial role is based on domestic

efficiency, yet it only barely conceals a moral authority.

Nettie's family is represented not only as lazy and inept, but

as incapable of proper feelings. When Fred Rider dies, not

only does Nettie manage the removal of the body, but she is

the only one who grieves properly:

Her heart alone was heavy with regret over the ruined
man--. she only, to whom his death was no loss, but
even, if she could have permitted that cruel thought to
intervene, a gain and relief, recognized with a pang of
compassion almost as sharp as grief, that grievous,
miserable fate. (144)

By contrast, "neither the wife nor children were capable of

deep or permanent feeling" (145). Thus, Nettie's seizure of

domestic sovereignty is represented as moral.

The morality of the "superfluous" woman does not rest

only on this propriety of feeling; Nettie is an agent of

activity and domestic production in contrast to the inactive

members of her sister's family. Thus, Nettie's colonization of

her sister's family is justified by her ability to transform

a stagnant (domestic) economy into a productive, profitable

enterprise. The text, itself a product of a hyper-productive

feminine literary machine, privileges a self-effacing domestic

energy.2 The novel implies that the Australian colonies are


a liberatory space where female independence exists and where

hard work and practical concerns replace the discourse of

romance. The portrayal of Nettie as exaggeratedly industrious

implicitly criticizes the English for being too "soft" and

unproductive. However, once imported, these commodities are

recuperated into a domestic, national economy. Ultimately,

Nettie's authority--cloaked in the language of self-sacrifice

and pragmatism--is undone by the greater sovereignty of


The climax of the plot occurs when Susan, now a widow,

announces her decision to marry Richard Chatham, forcing

Nettie to give up her domination of her sister's family.

Instead of feeling relief that she is now free to marry Dr.

Rider, Nettie is angry and humiliated at this loss of her


The work she had meant to do was over. Nettie's
occupation was gone. With the next act of domestic
drama she had nothing to do. For the first time in
her life utterly vanquished, with silent promptitude she
abdicated on the instant. She seemed unable to strike
the blow for the leadership thus snatched from her
hands. Never abdicated emperor laid aside his
robes with more ominous significance, than Nettie,
smoothed down round her shapely wrists those
turned-up sleeves. (191-192)

Nettie's role as head of the household is depicted using the

language of political power; she is described as the ruler of

the domestic empire who is forced to "abdicate" in the wake of


a stronger (male) ruler: Mr. Chatham. This language of

political domination, while obliquely signifying a link

between the domestic and the imperial, also functions to

belittle Nettie's power; she is later referred to as "the

little abdicated monarch" and even the passage quoted above

ends with a description of her "shapely wrists." Nettie's

adamant uninterest in her erotic power, or in the value of

herself as a commodity, is constantly undercut by the

expectations guaranteed by a domestic novel. The novel at once

valorizes Nettie's domestic reign and ridicules her self-


Edward Rider: The Willing Colonized

The arrival of Dr. Rider's extended family is referred to

as an "invasion" and an "occupation" of his home (79). Dr.

Edward Rider's home is the locus of the invasion, and his

mixed reaction reflects the ambiguous nature of the novel's

representation of colonialism. Ultimately, the invasion forces

Dr. Rider into accepting the burden of familial responsibility

through marriage. This intrusion of Australians into the

insulated English community of Carlingford signifies what


Stephen Arata has termed "the anxiety of reverse


the fear that what has been represented as the
"civilized" world is on the point of being colonized by
"primitive" forces. In the marauding, invasive
Other, British culture sees its own imperial practices
mirrored back (Arata 623)

Although Arata's essay is concerned with the gothic genre and

focuses on Bram Stoker's Dracula, his argument that the

presence of a powerful, energetic non-English character

performs a "colonization of the body" which in some sense

revitalizes his English victims can be applied to the

representations of the "other" or colonized in earlier British

domestic fiction. Dracula "invades" England and colonizess"

through polluting English blood, while in Oliphant's text the

Australians invade by appearing as part of an English family.

Arata points out that Dracula appropriates Western culture by

learning English customs and disguising himself as an

Englishman. Similarly, Nettie appropriates through

exaggeration the feminine English qualities of thrift and

self-sacrifice and revitalizes Dr. Rider.

Since the Australian colonies were composed of British

emigrants, they do not provoke the same racial fears as other

British colonies (such as India or Africa). Australia was

conceived as a vast frontier, an empty space into which excess


British energies (and women) could be directed.13 The reverse

"invasion" of Australians into Carlingford in Oliphant's novel

occurs in layers: first when Fred Rider returns from Australia

and second, when his deserted family joins him.

The fictional community of Carlingford, which appears in

a series of Oliphant's novels, is a closed, insulated world,

a prototypical English village of strict class hierarchies.

Edward Rider's house serves as a microcosm of this village: it

is described as cramped, drab, and located in a second-rate

neighborhood where his professional ambitions are limited by

the superior practice of Dr. Marjoribanks and the

superstitions of his own patients.

While the occupation of Dr. Rider's house by his brother

provokes impatience and anger, Nettie's residence is described

in increasingly positive terms. The difference in these

colonial portrayals reflects the novel's ambiguous

representation of colonialism and codes of femininity. The

novel champions the virtues of Nettie's domestic skills not

just by showing the helplessness of Fred and Susan Rider, but

also by illustrating Edward Rider's misery in his


There is no fresh air nor current of life in this
stifling place (68) He was never so bored and sick of a
night by himself. He tried to read, but reading did not
occupy his mind. He grew furious over his charred chops


and sodden potatoes. (81) the dullness of that
house, into which foot of woman never entered.
The chill loneliness of that trim room, with its drawn
curtains and tidy pretence of being comfortable,
exasperated him beyond bearing. (83)

By showing Edward Rider's bachelor life as bleak and

unsatisfying the novel valorizes Nettie's ability to create

and maintain a feminized domestic space. The stifling,

claustrophobic atmosphere of Dr. Rider's un-feminized rooms

suggests that the imported "colonial" energies of Nettie are

necessary to revitalize and re-masculinize the stagnant,

closed community of Carlingford.

The novel ends with an ambiguously subdued domestic


But when the doctor brought Nettie home, and set her in
that easy-chair which her image had possessed so long,
he saw few drawbacks Nettle diffused herself
till the familiar happiness became so much a part of
his belongings that the doctor learned to grumble once
more the little wayward heroine who, .loved
her own way still in the new house had it as
often as was good for her. (205 emphasis mine)

Nettie's character reflects an ambiguous fascination with the

imagined freedom of colonial women in Australia and the

pressure to contain this female energy within the established

discourse of English domesticity.

Nettie's sense of domestic duty compels Dr. Rider finally

to accept his patriarchal role as head of a family. What

motivates Edward's desire to take on the responsibility for


his extended family is the conviction that Nettie's role is

unnatural. Nettie, however, violently resists abnegating her

position. In the resulting power struggle, Edward undermines

Nettie's power through secret solicitations on her behalf and

by stubbornly wooing her. Edward's first move to subvert the

balance of power is to subsidize Nettie's rent secretly,

symbolically initiating a "hostile take-over" which serves to

undermine the locus of her power--the home. The moment of the

overt shift in power occurs when Fred Rider is discovered dead

and Edward asserts his latent masculine authority and assumes

control over his surviving family:

Edward Rider was superintending all the arrangements of
the time for Nettie's sake. Not because it was his
brother who lay there, nor because natural duty
pointed him out as the natural guardian of the orphaned
family. it was the consciousness of doing
Nettie's work for her, taking her place, sparing that
creature Not for Fred's sake, but for Nettie's,
he held his place in the troubled cottage, and assumed
the position of head of the family. (145-6 emphasis

Edward's motivation, disguised under the rhetoric of

solicitude, is to supplant Nettie's position as ruler of the

family. His urge to power is explained not as a result of

familial feeling, but as a response to the perceived

unnaturalness of Nettie's authority. "Sparing" Nettie is a

convenient euphemism for limiting her authority to the role of

a wife. The death of Fred Rider, an empty figure-head of male


authority, opens up the space for Edward as the legitimate

male authority.

Nettie's authority in the family is taken over by a

combination of two male authorities: the English authority of

Edward Rider and the hyper-masculinity of Richard Chatham, the

Australian "Bushranger" who marries the widowed Susan.

Interestingly, it takes two male characters to take over

Nettie's responsibilities as head of the household, perhaps

symbolizing the weakness of male characters in the novel and

also implying the need to merge the English (national,

provincial) moral authority (Dr. Rider) with the

"uncivilized," hyper-masculinity of the colonial (Mr.

Chatham). Dr.Rider has been unable to shoulder the

responsibility of a family until he becomes energized by the

perceived threat of Chatham. This splitting of authority

marks the eventual splitting of the Rider family: Nettle

marries Dr. Rider and persuades him to adopt little Freddy

Rider, while Susan and Chatham take the rest of the family to


Although the novel ends with a scene of Dr. Rider and

Nettie enjoying domestic tranquility, this use of a

conventional romantic resolution does not obscure Nettie's

tragic loss of power nor does it negate the transgressive


nature of her former dominion. Nettie's abdication of

authority is the emotional climax of the novel--the one moment

when Nettie breaks down--and this occurs when Nettie must say

goodbye to Little Freddy, her favorite nephew:

She dropped down on one knee beside the child, and
clasped him to her in a passion of unrestrained tears
and sobbing. She could exercise no further self-
control. It was Freddy, and not the doctor, who
had vanquished Nettle He [Dr. Rider] took quiet
possession of the agitated trembling creature who had
carried her empire over herself too far. At last Nettie
had broken down; and now he had it all his own way.
(201 emphasis mine)

Freddy's tears trigger her outburst; his childish, "savage"

grief becomes her excuse for "hysterical"/feminine behavior.

In fact, she projects her own sorrow and anger onto a

bewildered Freddy, who then becomes the excuse for her

emotional outpouring. This passage reveals Nettie's need for

those she supports (dominates/colonizes) and suggests the

inter-dependency of the colonizer and the colonized. Yet this

passage also highlights Dr. Rider's need to curtail Nettie's

"empire" in order to fashion her into a proper wife.

Fred Rider: The Dissipated Colonial Adventurer

Fred Rider, the disreputable older brother of Dr. Rider,

emigrated to Australia after failing to establish a medical


practice in England, and has returned penniless from Australia

at the beginning of the novel. He is the negative

representation of the male colonial adventurer: instead of

returning home triumphantly wealthy, with a gold nugget and

heightened sense of masculinity, (i.e. like George Talboys in

Lady Audley's Secret) he arrives broke at his brother's

doorstep and soon adds the further encumbrance of a large

family of (colonial) dependents. Fred is first described as "a

large indolent shabby figure prowling down the street" (70)

and is characterized as a financial, emotional and moral

burden within Dr. Rider's domestic economy.

Fred Rider's dependence on his younger brother, Dr.

Rider, marks a breakdown of traditional British social

authority. His dependence on Dr. Rider, and later Nettie,

perverts the traditional order of authority. Fred Rider fled

to Australia, the refuge of the disreputable, instead of

fulfilling his familial expectations as "the clever elder

brother, to whose claims everyone else was subordinated" (72).

Yet Fred Rider fails to achieve even an illegal or

dishonorable success; instead he brings his failed colonial

lifestyle into Edward Rider's parlour. As an ex-colonist, Fred

Rider is associated with vice: he is unemployed, tries to

dessert his wife and children, and finally dies after a


drunken binge. Fred Rider's vices--tobacco and alcohol--derive

from the products of the colonial slave trade. Thus, Fred

represents the degenerating effects of the excesses produced

by colonialism.

In contrast to the trope of the heroic male colonial

adventurer, Fred Rider is portrayed as an emasculated, languid

sultan who lives off of the energies of women. His character

represents the anxieties of excess as he speculates about

converting his brother's meager household goods into luxuries:

"Mentally he appraised the prints over the mantleshelf, and

reckoned how much of his luxuries might be purchased out of

them" (71). He introduces the notions of waste, inactivity,

indulgence and intemperance into the constricted household

economy of Dr. Rider.

Unable to provide for his family, without any social

function, Fred himself represents surplus; he is the

"superfluous" man, a "useless hulk--[a] heavy encumbrance of

a man, for whom hope and life were dead" (100). This

representation of Fred as "surplus" is a curious inversion of

the trope of the surplus woman: here, it is the male head of

the household who is useless, whereas the spinster aunt is

essential to the welfare of her family. The text intimates


that Fred is perhaps not even a "real" man and that his

masculinity has been mistakenly posited onto Nettie:

To think of a man that could do hundreds of things
living like that! One would think almost that
Providence forgot sometimes, and put the wrong spirit
into a body that did not belong to it. (117)

The character of Fred represents the failure of the male

colonizer: he is an English professional with a ruined

reputation whose efforts to start over in Australia fail and

who is left with no money, moral authority or sense of

responsibility. He is depicted as fundamentally without

energy, emasculated by his dependence on his brother and

Nettie. Fred Rider embodies the failure of the colonial

system: he is the weak, corrupt colonizer who is maintained by

the energies and surplus wealth of the colonized. It is a male

character--Fred, the failed colonizer--who is linked with

lower class forms of entertainment: he lounges in his

brother's parlour reading "cheap novels" from the "circulating

library" (69). His indolence is described as effeminate and

faintly oriental:

A sickening smell of abiding tobacco--not light whiffs
of smoke, such as accompany a man's labours, but a dead
pall of idle heavy vapour; and in the midst of all a
man stretched lazily on the sofa, with his pipe laid on
the table beside him, and a book in his soft, boneless,
nerveless hands. A large man, interpenetrated with
smoke and idleness and a certain dreary sodden
dissipation, heated yet unexcited, reading a novel he
has read half-a-dozen times before. (69)


The spectacle of the dissipated colonizer is linked to mass

produced novels, thus associating tobacco, popular fiction,

idleness, lack of virility (the "boneless, nerveless hands")

with a failed masculinity of colonialism.

This characterization of Fred Rider as degenerate reader

of mass produced novels reveals the text's complicated

attitude toward its own genre. Popular literature of the mid-

Victorian period, particularly what was designated as women's

literature, was perceived as a commodity and hence devalued:

[The] emphasis on mechanistic, commercial production,
and passive, appetitive consumption, marked the
sensation novel as a feminine form Mass-produced
for mass-consumption, based on repeated and hence
predictable formulae, sensation fiction was by
definition "feminine" according to the rules
of a gendered discourse in which the masculine
(positive) term was reserved for a work that offered
itself as the unique expression of individual genius.
(Pykett 31)"4

The Doctor's Family was a popular, mass-produced novel,

consumed primarily by women, yet it attempts to distinguish

itself from more notorious genres, such as "sensation"

fiction. Margaret Oliphant wrote several essays in Blackwood's

Magazine criticizing sensation novels for their alleged overt

sexuality and hence unrealistic portrayals of English women:

Women driven wild with love in fits of sensual
passion who give and receive burning kisses
and frantic embraces .The peculiarity of it in
England is that it is oftenest made from the woman's


side--that it is women who describe those sensuous
raptures--that this intense appreciation of flesh and
blood, this eagerness of physical sensation, is
represented as the natural sentiment of English girls.15

Oliphant links the frank sexuality of sensation novels to the

pleasures of repetition inherent in the form of serial


The violent stimulant of serial publication--of weekly
publication, with its necessity for frequent and rapid
recurrence of piquant situation and startling incident-
-is the thing of all others most likely to develop the
germ, and bring it to fuller and darker bearing."

The above passage characterizes serial fiction as a powerful

narcotic that effects a moral illness. The imagery Oliphant

uses to describe the ill-effects of sensational novels--a

"germ" which will grow "fuller and darker"--suggests a fear of

racial contamination. In addition, Oliphant's story, in its

portrayal of the Fred Rider, links serial fiction with alcohol

and tobacco and presents all three as the vices of a

dissipated colonial.

The Doctor's Family represents serial novel reading as an

emasculating, passive, consumption which undermines an

authentic, productive domesticity. Nettie, the imported

"colonial girl," rejects the romantic narrative and

revitalizes the Rider household through her hyper-active,

productive code of femininity. However, although Nettie

asserts that she is "too busy" to read novels or to be the

subject of a romantic narrative, she is eventually consumed by

the conventions of the popular novel: she marries.


1. See MaryAnn Leiby, in "Constructing 'Nettie': A Battle of
Discourses in The Doctor's Family."

2. As I discuss in my Introduction, fiction of the eighteen-
sixties can be seen as reflecting the crisis in British
colonialism that the Sepoy rebellion of 1857 highlighted. See
Jenny Sharpe's Allegories of Empire for an extended analysis
of the ways that the "Indian Mutiny" was represented in
British fiction.

3. Daniel Cottom argues that George Eliot's notion of middle-
class duty is that which "transgresses personal egoism and
fosters a responsibility toward others" (Cottom 186).

4. The term, "the Angel in the House" derives from Coventry
Patmore's poem of that title which champions the selflessness,
purity and simplicity of a young Victorian lady. In Madwoman
in the Attic, Gilbert and Gubar claim that the angelic wife
creates a domestic space which is a refuge from the world of
business and action (24). The ideal of the middle-class woman
as the "Angel in the House" implies a "professional wife and
mother who undertakes the practical details of household
management" (Rowbotham 17) with "cheerful self-sacrifice"
(43), and a "spiritual and moral superiority" (51).

5. See W.R. Greg's "Why Are Women Redundant?," for a
discussion of mid nineteenth-century anxiety concerning the
perceived "surplus" of single, unemployed women.

6. Nettie's overthrow is "violent" within the emotional
economy of the novel.

7. See Gayatri Spivak's discussion of Jane Eyre in "Three
Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism." Critical Inquiry
(Autumn), 12 (1): 243-61. Spivak criticizes earlier feminist
critics who read the Jane Eyre as emancipatory,as a struggle

of an independent woman. Spivak criticizes Gilbert and Gubar's
analysis of the novel in Madwoman in the Attic, who read
Bertha Mason as the psychological double of Jane. Spivak
argues this interpretation sidesteps the question of Bertha's
treatment as a subject of imperialism; instead, argues Spivak,
this view posits Bertha (the non-European other) as just a
representation of the white Englishwoman's psyche, that the
text denies the "native" woman (Bertha Mason) subjectivity and
thereby endorses imperialism.

8. Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism. New York: Knopf,
1993, 87.

9. Ibid., p.91.

10. I am referring to the Introduction of Culture and
Imperialism where Said suggests that "feminist" works are
often "egregiously overstated," exclusivistt," or "maudlin"

11. As the wife of Dr.Rider, Nettie appears as a member of the
community in later novels set in Carlingford.

12. Margaret Oliphant wrote close to 125 books during her
lifetime. Between the years 1861 to 1866--when "The Doctor's
Family" was published--she wrote eight novels, a biography of
Edward Irving, a translation of Montalembert's Monks of the
West, and numerous magazine articles.

13. See Manning Clark's A Short History of Australia New York:
Mentor, 1987, and his discussion of the history of emigration
to Australia, specifically the notion of "surplus labor" in

14. Lyn Pykett, The 'Improper' Feminine. London: Routledge,

15. Margaret Oliphant, "Novels" Blackwood's 102, 259,

16. Margaret Oliphant, "Sensation Novels," Blackwood's (May