I was lucky enough to deliver a paper at a Victorian Studies conference in Leeds about six years ago, and my session was handled between me and a charming lady from a University in Taiwan. She gave a thoughtful and clever paper on Lady Audley’s Secret. I showed nudie pictures of Kate Winslet while talking about film and Thomas Hardy. I got all the questions and people stayed behind afterwards to ask me things. The lesson we take from this is nudie Kate Winslet rules. Now, this was a damn shame as the lady from Taiwan’s paper was so amazing, but then I adore the book. The idea of a secret ruling you, controlling you, is compelling, and it absolutely defines the Victorian obsession with appearance. The Victorians feared the hidden shame, the skeletons in the cupboard, the secret, but also it was alluring, dangerous and fascinating. Who knows what people hide and what will happen when the beans are spilled….
|Abandoned (1881) James Tissot (used by Penguin for their cover)|
Well, I’ve read some shocking things in my time, but never felt the need to sprawl on the hearth rug in horror. I wonder if my blog is ever so scandalous that you just collapse in a heap of striped silk and laptop? Honestly, I would have arranged to fall a little further back from the fire, as you know my preoccupation about random sparks setting my dress aflame. I have a fascination with what art works are picked for book covers (more on that in another post) but I wonder why they picked this for Lady Audley? What has she read, what was in the letter, that would make her collapse? Has she been found out, or has she found out someone else’s secret? As the painting is actually entitled Abandoned then I’m guessing she is reading how her lover has left her. Either that or she had too much gin with her afternoon tea and fell out of her chair. Which of us hasn’t done that?
The Letter (1877) Marcus Stone
Oh, talking of unfortunate letters, this young lady seems to have been found out. I love her tense hand, almost claw-like on her paper, contrasting with his casual hand resting on the table as he reads the document that damns her. This is a picture is definitely two halves, the man reading without any outward sign of hostility or anger. The woman is in an ungainly, desperate pose, obviously where she has attempted to retrieve the letter and failed. If you compare it with Past and Present I by Augustus Egg, the woman seems to be almost as desperate as the cheating wife, but Egg’s husband has a look of shocked betrayal completely unlike the cool consideration of the man in Stone’s painting. He has turned his back on the crouching woman literally and presumably metaphorically, and her future does not look good. Guillotine for her, I suspect...
So that's what happens when you are found out, but how about those that choose to confess their deep, dark secret?
The Confession Frank Dicksee
I think this must be the most famous of the ‘confessing’ pictures, with the shamefaced man hiding in shadow as he spills all to his lady, who couldn’t be more innocent looking if she had a halo. Really, she’s dressed in glowing white, we get it Frank, she’s innocent. She obviously hasn’t smelt the coffee yet. Come on dear, look at him, he’s not about to tell you he’s bought you a pony now is he?
The Confession John Collier
I actually prefer this ‘confessing’ picture as I can’t quite settle on who is confessing what to whom. The man’s face is more visible than the woman’s, she is cloaked in shadow, but neither of them look like the obvious guilty party. The woman is wearing white, but that contrasts with the shadows she leans into. I love the little touch of the poker by the side of the fire. Any moment, one of them is going to sprawl on the hearth rug in shock, I bet. However, I wouldn’t like to put money on which one…
|A Confession William Warrener|
On the whole, the majority of confessing in Victorian times seems to have been an all female affair, with women spilling the beans wholesale to each other. Sometimes it was a grim affair, like Warrener’s miserable cottage interior. The mother is obviously thinking ‘I should have known she’d be trouble when she painted her clogs red…’
The Secret (1867) James Tissot
Sometimes it seems to be a frilly, giggly affair, like with these two. My goodness there is a lot of accessories involved in confessing a secret. I think the lady in black is saying ‘Yes! I admit it! ‘Twas I that ate the last of the pink macaroons! Oh, and I’m sleeping with your husband.’ Shortly after this was painted, the lady in white gave the other a shove into the river.
A Confession Erik Werenskiold
Oh, Lordy, Granny does not look pleased. Maybe her granddaughter has told her something heartbreaking, something terrible and sad, or possibly Granny’s just thinking ‘I hope she gets to the point quickly as I’m missing Strictly Come Dancing…’
|The Confession Alexander Novoskoltsev|
This possibly can be filed under ‘Wrong’. I’m not sure what Cherry Ripe is confessing to Rasputin, but the whole scene makes me uncomfortable. Nice frock though.
The Sinner John Collier
Now, that’s better. I like the thought that all her naughtiness has made it hard for her to drag herself into the confessional. In fact, she looks exhausted. Wow, she has been misbehaving...
So, gentle reader, maybe it’s better not to divulge your deep, dark secrets, but then it might not be better to be found out. Actually, it’s probably better not to do the naughty deeds in the first place. Unless you want some nice clothes.
As for me, I have no deep, dark secrets at all.
Damn, someecards.com found me out! I am ruined...*faints onto the heath rug*