Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Lady Audley vs. Helen: Light vs. Dark

“She did not remove her gaze from the darkening countryside, but for some moments was quite silent; then turning to him with a sudden passion in her manner, that lighted up her face with a new and wonderful beauty which the baronet perceived even in the growing twilight, she fell on her knees at his feet.” (Bradon 17)

Though the passage initially just struck me simply as an oxymoron (how can darkness cause so much light?), this passage can be used to further ensure that Lady Audley was previously Helen before she took on her new life. The contrast of light and dark symbolizes her quickly changing thoughts of getting married to Michael. When she looks back on the growing darkness, she is having negative thoughts on getting married. Firstly, if she is Helen and marries Michael, she will be going against the laws of marriage with George. Furthermore, marriage will force her to give up hope that George, the one Lady Audley/Helen truly loves, is somehow alive and will return to her. Afterwords, she realizes the upsides to marriage, and the darkness lights up her face. She will never have to be worried about her past again. She can live openly as wealthy, cheery Lady Audley and leave Helen behind. Her past may seem dark in some ways, but she can take advantage of the darkness and hide in it.

However, even the baronet can see the growing twilight, as mentioned in the penultimate clause of the passage. This may resemble an example of foreshadowing; if Lady Audley shines too brightly, she will have no darkness to shroud her. She may be free of Helen for now but Lady Audley should still proceed with caution.


  1. Although I agree with your association of dark and light to Lady Audley’s life, I see the symbolism a little different. From the quote that you pulled, I saw Lady Audley’s actions of gazing into the darkness as a final goodbye. The darkness symbolizes her past, and I believe at this point she had decided that she would marry Sir Michael, so in gazing at it she allowed herself to let go of the burdens of being Helen once and for all. The light on her face as she turns to Sir Michael and away from the darkness symbolizes a new beginning for Lady Audley.

  2. The comparison you make between the two personas of Helen/ Lucy and the light/dark is interesting. It is a very powerful passage especially when considering the theory that Lucy is Helen and that she is hiding her identity. You go into a good amount of detail about what this would mean for Lucy/Helen. You also mention the impact it would have on her relationship with George. What impact might her marriage to Sir Michael have on her new husband? How might he be impacted by the potentially problematic relationship that he has entered into and what might happen to all the party’s involved?

  3. I agree that the light and dark in this passage represents Lucy’s inner turmoil of marrying Sir. Michael. However, I disagree about the idea that part of the reason why Lucy does not want to marry is because she still loves George. I do not think that there is any evidence that Lucy loves anyone especially since she says, “I do not love any one in the world” (17). Though hypothetically this could mean that she does not love anyone living; I think she is literally saying that she does not love anyone at all. If Lucy is Helen, then that means that she has abandoned her own child to go start a new life. If she did love George, it is hard for me to imagine she would abandon their child. Also, George says that Helen said to him that, “he ought not to have married her if I could give her nothing but poverty and misery” (24). Helen basically told George that she wished they were not married which does not seem like something someone who was in love would say to their spouse.

  4. The way that you portray Lady Audley’s life as a dichotomy between light and darkness is interesting. There is another part of the novel that features this same conflict moitf (light vs. dark). When George Talboys is in Lady Audley’s bedroom he is looking at her painting with “one candle carried by Robert only making one bright nucleus of light as he moved about holding it before the pictures. . .”. The lack of light in the room represents the inner emotions of George. He is heartbroken over not being able to find his wife, although the portrait of Lady Audley captivates him in such a way that may mean Lady Audley is Helen. Therefore, the small “nucleus of light” may represent the hope that George feels when looking at the painting.

  5. I think that the devices(ex:the motives) used to catch/describe similarities and contrasts between the characters are as important as interesting and you made a qualified discovery here. But I think I can go along with the opinions in the first comment because I thought the darkness described in the scene may not indicate the feelings internalized in Lucy, but just an environment that Lucy gazed as an observer or to which her delighted feelings is emphasized in contrast. And returning to your original statement, I also want to extend it by referring to the additional motive of color and colorless that exists between the lady and Phoebe. I think it can also imply the possible and unknown connection between them or the tricks that may follow in the later chapters of the book.

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