Lady Audley Advertising Woodcut

Lady Audley Advertising Woodcut

As I’m revising my conference paper on ekphrasis in Lady Audley’s Secret, I’m trying to incorporate as many different visual depictions of her as possible. And I’m realizing that, given the prominence of her portrait in the novel, maybe any “portrait” of her can count as ekphrasis under the definition I’m using. So here she is pushing George Talboys into the well. This scene is not actually directly represented in the novel, but it’s the scene that all the adaptations (even H.J. Byron’s) revolve around. It’s a scene of intense movement and interaction between the two actors. We can see several different representations of movement in this woodcut: Lady Audley’s posture, for example, is inclined forward, back hunched, arms locked, hair flapping behind her. George Talboys is poised to fall into the well, arms raised, hat already fallen off. Even the crumbling rocks can be seen falling into the depths of the well. But here’s what’s weird. Lady Audley is inclined forward, as if she’s ABOUT to push George into the well. But George is already falling. The two figures are not touching–even their feet, which are almost touching, are not actually in contact. This is simultaneously a picture of Lady Audley ABOUT TO push George and a picture of Lady Audley HAVING PUSHED George. Two temporalities coexist in this woodcut, future and past–Lady Audley about to do something, and the thing already having been done. So, how should we read this? Perhaps this registers the frenetic pace of the adaptations–a pace that Henry Morely critiques in his journal when he mentions that too many things are happening all at once, on top of one another, losing the measured pace of the novelistic original. Maybe this is motion overlapping motion–our knowledge of the novel fills in the gap that the woodcut creates. Or does this lack of contact between Lady Audley and her victim diminish some of her agency in this act? Although the woodcut clearly portrays her intention to shove George, in actuality, it appears that he falls before she even touches him. This may seem like a minor point, but in a novel that already complicates her culpability in the attempted murder to such an exquisite degree, this illustration, perhaps, portrays her desperation more than her aggression. Either way, this odd sense of movement is complicated even more by the fact that it’s solidified in a woodcut–which refers us to the moving stage adaptation.

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1 Comment

February 24, 2013 · 9:40 am

One response to “Lady Audley Advertising Woodcut

  1. John Madill

    Your comment about “her hair flapping about her” also indicates in the best of honourable references back to Shakespeare and stage traditions the ‘fact’ that she is probably mad or going mad. See the theatrical ‘mad scene’ for heroine and confidante in ‘The Spanish Armada’ (in rehearsal) in R B Sheridan’s all too true satire, ‘The Critic’ 1779). No doubt this added to the piquancy of the character as a lady’s hair was always bound up tightly in the latest style in everyday life.
    This is the same reason one finds so many well-dressed older gentlemen backstage at the 19th C ballet with all those little long-legged girls in transparent skirts– in part the reason for the later use of carefully focused ‘shinbusters’ (theatrical crosslights mounted on floor plates at 12″ to 18″ from the floor in the wing entrances).

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