Lady Audley's Secret is a sensation novel by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. It was Braddon's most successful and well-known novel. Critic John Sutherland (1989) described the work as "the most sensationally successful of all the sensation novels". The plot centres on "accidental bigamy" which was in literary fashion in the early 1860s.
The plot was summarised by literary critic Elaine Showalter (1982): "Braddon's bigamous heroine deserts her child, pushes husband number one down a well, thinks about poisoning husband number two and sets fire to a hotel in which her other male acquaintances are residing". Elements of the novel mirror themes of the real-life Constance Kent case of June 1860 which gripped the nation for years. A follow-up novel, Aurora Floyd, appeared in 1863. Braddon set the story in Ingatestone Hall, Essex, inspired by a visit there. There have been three silent film adaptations, one UK television version in 2000, and three minor stage adaptations.
Lady Audley's Secret was partly serialised in Robin Goodfellow magazine July–September 1861, then entirely serialised in Sixpenny Magazine January–December 1862 and once again serialised in London Journal March–August 1863. It was published in 1862 in three volumes by William Tinsley.
Braddon initially sold the rights to the Irish publisher John Maxwell, with whom Braddon also lived and had children. Maxwell published it in his ailing magazine Robin Goodfellow, but Braddon did not labour much, writing the final third in less than two weeks. Not until it was published as a three-volume novel by William Tinsley did it become a success and allow Braddon to be financially independent for the remainder of her life. It also enriched her publisher William Tinsley, who went on to build a villa at Barnes, 'Audley Lodge', with the profits.
Notably for the bigamous nature of the plot, Maxwell himself was married to another woman and thus Braddon was unable to marry him until his wife died in 1874. When it became public that Maxwell and Braddon had been living in an "irregular" arrangement all those years, it caused a minor scandal during which all their servants gave notice.