Lady Audley's hair symbolizes the idea that appearances can be deceptive. Traditionally, fair-haired female characters were usually associated with virtue and chastity, and dark haired women were most often seen as passionate, sensual, and capable of violent acts. Several characters in the novel comment on how Lady Audley's hair gives her an angelic appearance; they compare her at times to a saint or to the Madonna. However, despite her blonde hair, Lady Audley still turns out to be capable of lying, abandoning her child, committing bigamy, and attempting murder. While she first uses her striking appearance as a kind of protection, since people find it hard to believe that anyone so beautiful could be malicious, it becomes a major source of her downfall. People remember her hair and it becomes one of the keys to Robert realizing that Helen Talboys and Lucy Graham are the same person. The bright golden color of her hair might also symbolically reveal her greedy desire for luxury objects.
Alicia's dog (symbol)
Even early in the novel when Lady Audley is at the height of her popularity, Alicia's pet dog distrusts her and behaves aggressively towards her. This symbolizes her internal ruthless nature and how it can never be fully disguised. While Lady Audley can fool people around her by adhering to social conventions and charming them with superficial traits like wealth and beauty, animals are not distracted by such things, and therefore not easily fooled. It will turn out the dog was in this sense wiser than all of the many people Lady Audley was able to deceive.
The night that George and Robert sneak into Lady Audley's dressing room and look at her portrait, a violent storm takes place. The storm symbolizes the intense and unsettled emotions experienced by George as he realizes that Helen is actually alive, and living a new life with a new husband. It also symbolizes Lady Audley's fear and anxiety when she realizes that George has seen her portrait and that she is therefore in great danger of having her lie revealed. She claims that she is terrified of the storm, but she is actually afraid of being caught.
The fire that Lady Audley starts at the Castle Inn is symbolic of her violent and destructive nature. She is so desperate to get rid of Robert and Luke, both of whom have information that could be damaging, that she is willing to do anything. Like a fire, once her emotions have been ignited, they rapidly escalate and get out of control. The fire also symbolizes her lack of control over the consequences of her actions. Once someone starts a fire, he or she cannot control where and how it will spread; throughout the novel, the choices that Lady Audley makes have bigger repercussions than she could have anticipated or planned for.
When Robert watches Lady Audley prepare tea, an important domestic ritual in the Victorian household, he is struck by how beautiful and graceful she is. The tea symbolizes the performance of an idealized femininity, and how Lady Audley uses that performance to distract people from her true self. While being able to perform domestic tasks easily and gracefully was assumed to be part of a woman's innate nature, it is actually a skill that is learned. In the same way, behaving like a good wife and a good woman was not inherent but rather something that could be faked, a shocking truth that Lady Audley's behavior reveals over the course of the novel.
Lady Audley’s Secret Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Lady Audley’s Secret is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.