From Aurora Leigh:

'- That is said
Austerely, like a youthful prophetess,
Who knits her brows across her pretty eyes
To keep them back from following the grey flight
Of doves between the temple-columns. Dear,
Be kinder with me. Let us two be friends.
I'm a mere woman–the more weak perhaps
Through being so proud; you're better; as for him,
He's best. Indeed he builds his goodness up
So high, it topples down to the other side,
And makes a sort of badness; there's the worst
I have to say against your cousin's best!
And so be mild, Aurora, with my worst,
For his sake, if not mine.'
' - I own myself
Incredulous of confidence like this
Availing him or you.'

What is the meaning of the sentence in bold?

"I own" = "I admit"? "To avail" = "To assist"?

"I admit that I am incredulous of confidence like this being of assistance to him or you"? I still can't understand the meaning.

What is this "confidence" that assists her or him?

2 Answers 2


The two speakers in the passage are Lady Waldemar and Aurora Leigh. They are rivals for the affection of Aurora’s cousin Romney Leigh. Lady Waldemar is older than Aurora, and an insincere and manipulative character.

There are three points to Lady Waldemar’s speech. First, she belittles Aurora by likening her to ‘a youthful prophetess’ who has to put up a severe façade but underneath it is distracted by pretty sights. Second, she deprecates herself in comparison with Aurora and Romney, but we can tell that this humility is false, not just because it follows immediately on the belittlement, but because it is only a few lines since she was boasting:

              My first husband left me young,
And pretty enough, so please you, and rich enough,
To keep my booth in May-fair with the rest
To happy issues. There are marquises
Would serve seven years to call me wife, I know:
And, after seven, I might consider it,
For there’s some comfort in a marquisate
When all’s said

Third, Lady Waldemar entreats Aurora to be her friend. We can guess that this appeal is motivated by strategy and not by affection, for if she can enlist Aurora as confidante and ally in her pursuit of Romney, then this effectively cuts Aurora out of the running, for she can tell that Aurora is too virtuous to compete with a friend for the love of a man.

Since this undertone is clear to the reader, it is hardly likely to be unclear to Aurora, so when she replies:

                        ‘I own myself
Incredulous of confidence like this
Availing him or you.’

what she means is, “I doubt that telling me all this helps either Romney or you,” indicating that she sees through Lady Waldemar’s attempts at manipulating her. Here ‘own’ means ‘acknowledge’; ‘incredulous’ means ‘unbelieving, skeptical’; ‘confidence’ means ‘a confidential communication’; and ‘avail’ means ‘benefit, profit, help, assist’.


Taking the rest of the passage in context, it seems that the "speaker" does not think to highly on themselves and has no self esteem. It seems there is a group of three people; the speaker, Aurora, and a man (Aurora's cousin) about they are speaking about.

The speaker is saying that Aurora's cousin is so "good" that it is almost a bad quality within him, and that is worst thing the speaker can say about him. The speaker also seems to think that Aurora is a much better woman than her.

So breaking down the lines you have highlighted, I would interpret the word in question this way:

  • You correct on the usage of own

    [formal no object] Admit or acknowledge that something is the case or that one feels a certain way.

  • There is another meaning of avail that I think will make more clear

    [archaic (of an action)] be of no help at all to someone.

  • And tie is all together with incredulous

    (of a person or their manner) unwilling or unable to believe something.

to give us the an interpretation of: I admit I am unable to believe in my confidence which is of no help to you or him.

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