A domestic scene in Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s 1862 novel, Lady Audley’s Secret presents Lady Audley, “amongst the fragile china teacups” preparing tea. In a novel cluttered with exotic commodities and objects, Braddon reveals how the art of making tea situates Lady Audley as a masterful performer of female domesticity and beauty-“surely a pretty woman never looks prettier than when she makes tea” (222). What characterizes Lady Audley as a particularly dangerous sensational heroine is her innocent exterior and her ability to perform aristocratic femininity, rising from a position as a governess to the lady of Audley Court. Like many of the heroines of sensation fictions, she is a woman of secrets, and clues to her past are hidden in her boudoir-a fantastic and gothic space of exotic objects and goods. The novel offers extensive references to Lady Audley’s interior spaces that are cluttered with transported objects and souvenirs such as china teacups, Indian cabinets, and valuable jewels and shawls. Critics of this exemplary sensation novel have shown how it portrays the relationship of Victorian women and female domesticity to the rise of consumer culture and the growing “world of goods” to use Mary Douglas’s term.1 Further, like the consumer goods represented within Lady Audley’s Secret, sensation novels themselves were critiqued as dangerous material objects of consumption that could entice readers and produce addictive behaviors. As has been noted in the wide range of scholarship on the genre, sensation fiction gained popularity alongside industrial and technological expansion and, further, such progress allowed for the rapid production and dissemination of popular
fictions designed to thrill and stimulate readers’ sensations. As such, the genre was aligned with the development of a broader mass culture and associated with the expansion of markets and with a widening urban and industrial world in which consumers and the journeys of consumer goods were increasingly detached from sources of production.