'The Haunting of Bly Manor': Is the Lady in the Lake Real or a Metaphor?

Showrunner Mike Flanagan’s wife Kate Siegel plays what might be the most terrifying ghost in The Haunting of Bly Manor. But some fans wonder if her portrayal of the Lady in the Lake was meant to be taken literally. Was she real, or did the narrator include her to make a good story better? 

[SPOILER ALERT: Major spoilers ahead for The Haunting of Bly Manor.] 

The Lady in the Lake is Viola Willoughby 

Siegel played Theo in The Haunting of Hill House, but her Bly Manor role is much more menacing. Viola Willoughby was the eldest daughter and heir to Bly Manor sometime in the 17th century. Viola and her sister, Perdita, strived to keep the manor in the family. But when Viola got sick with the lung, Perdita felt she had to show her sister mercy and suffocate her. From then on, Bly Manor served as a sort of purgatory for Viola.

Viola Willougby haunts Bly Manor because she doesn’t know what else to do 

Viola is a character ripped straight from the pages of Henry James’s The Romance of Certain Old Clothes. Waiting for her daughter to find her birthright, Viola was disappointed to see Perdita turning the keys to the chest.

When she was alive, Viola spent much of her time watching her sister fall in love with her husband — a man she was too sick to please. She holds resentment toward Perdita, and those sentiments follow her, even in death. 

As in The Romance of Certain Old Clothes, Viola’s cold, ghostly hands strangled Perdita to death. When her husband discovered the danger harbored in the chest, he cast it into the lake on the grounds of the manor. This became Viola’s home and the origin of her ghostly persona — the Lady in the Lake. 

Viola would spend an eternity walking the same path each night, hoping to find her daughter. Eventually, Viola lost all memory of why she started walking in the first place. Her habit of sleeping, waking, and walking simply became what she did. Anyone who got in Viola’s way felt the wrath she harbored for her sister and husband. A plague doctor, a vicar, and a young boy she confused for her offspring died at Viola’s hands. Like Viola, their souls became trapped at Bly. 

Is the Lady in the Lake real? 

The story of Bly Manor is told by an unnamed narrator who, in the end, is revealed to be the groundskeeper, Jamie (Amelia Eve/Carla Gugino). There was a lot of confusion about whether or not Jamie’s story was real. 

When a listener asked if the Lady in the Lake was real, the storyteller explained how Bly Manor wasn’t even real. Some fans took that to heart. Others got caught up in the fact that the bride was a grown Flora, and people from her past at Bly, including Owen and her Uncle Henry, were at the wedding. 

While Jamie’s story could have been a metaphor for losing someone to terminal illness, dementia, or even depression, it’s more likely that the Lady in the Lake was real. Because by the end of Jamie’s story, the Lady in the Lake had become her love — Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti). And if the Lady in the Lake wasn’t real, why would Jamie search for her in pools of bath water or leave her hotel door open a crack?

When Dani’s hand rests on Jamie’s shoulder in the final scene, the Lady in the Lake becomes more than a metaphor. She is a depiction of the joys and perils of having and losing love. 

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