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PCCBS Abstract 2011

Robert Audley's Secret

Victorians were willing to consider men as hysterics before Jean-Martin Charcot’s theories about male hysteria took flight. Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (1862) was an integral precursor to Charcot’s theories about male hysteria, as it introduced the hysterical male as heroic – rather than tragic or satirical – and, as a result, paved the way for new ideas about gender and the grotesque body in motion. The
male hysteric has traditionally been an antihero. But Robert Audley’s forms of both hysteria and heroism illustrate the macabre body in motion that was so pivotal for the Victorian gothic and, in turn, for shifting ideas about gender difference. Audley does not begin the novel as a potential hero because he lacks the motion that such status requires. His brand of hysteria initiates a physical “split” of his physiognomy. My paper entitled “Robert Audley’s Secret” asserts that Audley’s body opens possibilities through hysteria that resist characterization as either “masculine” or “feminine;” as such, Lady Audley’s Secret is one of the emblematic works of the nineteenth century which shows the dissolution of gender lines through the potential of the gothic body in motion.