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The Portrait of a Lady
Teacher: Socaci Malvine
Student: Buţiu Elena
Table of contents
1. 2. 3. 4.
Henry James………………………………………...5 Context………………………………………………6 Plot summary………………………………………..7 Characters……………………………………….....10
4.1. 4.2. 4.3.
Isabel Archer………………………………….10 Gilbert Osmond……………………………....12 Other characters……………………………...13
Another element that determined me to choose this work is the way how Henry James explored many of his most characteristic themes. the situation of Americans in Europe and his dedicated observing of human being in society. 3 . At the same time I was impressed how the author was capable to build such a powerful character. including the conflict between American individualism and European social custom.Argument The main reason why I have chosen this theme “The Portrait of a Lady” generally regarded as the masterpiece of Henry James phase of writing is the fascinating story of Isabel and all the events that exist only to serve the purpose of revealing this character to the reader.
The plot takes place around her and the two suitors. Gilbert and Caspar. social and motional maturation. One of them is 4 . An American writer. It is often considered to be James's greatest achievement where he explored many of his most characteristic themes. It follows the life of Isabel Archer and her desire to remain independent. The second chapter deals with the circumstances in which the book appears. especially vitality. I continued with the next chapter that presents the plot summary. The next two sections presents the other characters. he was regarded as one of the key figures of 19thcentury literary realism. She is a young American woman who embodies all the best of what James depicts as American qualities.Précis My work is entitled “The Portrait of a Lady” by Henry James and it is divided in five chapters. In the first one I presented some details of Henry James’s life and works. I started with the novel's central character Isabel. The fourth chapter is divided into three sections with the characters characterization. The last chapter is about themes such as American versus European character. and independence. sincerity. independence and style. but many people want to control her life and think she is an object they can keep it under control. He is primarily known for a series of novels in which he portrays the encounter of Americans with Europe and Europeans.
What Maisie Knew (1897). Bologna and Bonn. was written while he was traveling through Venice and Paris. an innovation to which James was an important contributor. and wrote "Jolly Corner". James is considered the foremost author of it.Henry James Henry James was an American writer. Sussex. Henry James Sr. regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. James's masterpieces are Daisy Miller (1879) and The Portrait of a Lady (1881). London. The Ambassadors (1903) and The Turn of the Screw. where he was contributor to the New York Tribune. A Tragedy of Errors two years later. From an early age James had read the classics of English. American. Another one is the point of view. In his youth James traveled back and forth between Europe and America.psychological realism. He studied with tutors in Geneva. His father. and devoted himself to literature. In 1866–69 and 1871–72 he was a contributor to The Nation and Atlantic Monthly. His first novel. but preferred reading literature to studying law. French and German literature and Russian classics in translation. After living in Paris. The Wings of the Dove (1902). James published his first short story. Other works are The Bostonians (1886). At the age of 19 he briefly attended Harvard Law School. living first in London and then in Rye. Watch and Ward (1871). was one of the best-known intellectuals in mid-nineteenthcentury America. James moved to England in 1876. Paris. 1. in which once again a young American woman becomes a victim of her provincialism during her travels in Europe. In 1905 James visited America for the first time in twenty-five years. He was born in New York City into a wealthy family. 5 . During his first years in Europe James wrote novels that portrayed Americans living abroad.
he explored many of his most characteristic themes.Context Throughout his career. Isabel Archer. It also includes many of his most memorable characters. in which many of a work's important scenes are not narrated. but only implied by later scenes. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium and his ashes are interred at Cambridge. 6 . Massachusetts. Touchett. 1915. First written in the 1880s and extensively revised in 1908. clarity." and his prose is remarkable for its elegance of balance. 2. Henry James earned criticism for the slow pacing and uneventful plotting of his novels. the indomitable Mrs. Hence. In it. as well as for his elliptical technique. 1916. Isabel takes for granted that she should be able to make her own decisions in life and to do what she feels is best. and the sinister villains. regardless of social conventions or other people's opinions. he is often considered to be a "writer's writer. and died in London on February 28. and precision. including the lady of the novel's title. Isabel and the other American characters are products of the Enlightenment whose lives show how completely these ideas were adopted in the United States and how strong their influence still was a century later. the fast-talking Henrietta Stackpole. The Portrait of a Lady is often considered to be James's greatest achievement. But as a stylist James earned consistent admiration. including the conflict between American individualism and European social custom and the situation of Americans in Europe. In The Portrait of a Lady.James suffered a stroke on December 2. the wise and funny Ralph Touchett. Gilbert Osmond and Madame Merle. It was the big ideas of the Enlightenment that fueled the American Revolution and forever shaped what it meant to be an American.
the powerful. where Mrs. believes that Europe is changing Isabel. though she fears that she is passing up a great social opportunity by not marrying Warburton. slowly dying of a lung disorder. allowing her to educate herself and encouraging her independence. Warburton proposes. but one of them is Caspar Goodwood. Mrs. imaginative. she still believes that marriage would damage her treasured independence. and Isabel eagerly agrees. and the Touchetts' aristocratic neighbor Lord Warburton falls in love with her. but Isabel declines. Isabel's friend Henrietta Stackpole. confident in her own mind. and slightly narcissistic. she has the reputation in Albany for being a formidable intellect. Goodwood again presses Isabel to 7 . She has had few suitors. she receives a visit from her indomitable aunt. for she feels that to marry him would be to sacrifice her freedom. becomes deeply devoted to her.Plot summary Isabel Archer is a woman in her early twenties who comes from a genteel family in Albany. Isabel makes a strong impression on everyone at Mr. Mrs. As a result. Touchett. and her father raised her in a haphazard manner. Touchett's county manor of Gardencourt: her cousin Ralph. the adult Isabel is widely read. she pledges to accomplish something wonderful with her life. Touchett offers to take Isabel on a trip to Europe.3. in the late 1860s. Touchett's estranged husband is a powerful banker. an American journalist. Her mother died when she was a young girl. Isabel and Mrs. Shortly after Isabel's father dies. New York. Isabel is drawn to Caspar. slowly eroding her American values and replacing them with romantic idealism. Touchett leave for England. telling Caspar that she cannot tell him whether she wishes to marry him until she has had at least a year to travel in Europe with her aunt. but her commitment to her independence makes her fear him as well. and as a result she often seems intimidating to men. something that will justify her decision to reject Warburton. As a result. charismatic son of a wealthy Boston mill owner. an American who lives in Europe. Henrietta comes to Gardencourt and secretly arranges for Caspar Goodwood to meet Isabel in London.
but the boy dies six months after he is born. elegant friend. Madame Merle begins to lavish attention on Isabel. wholly devoted to art and aesthetics. Mr. Mrs. Isabel is torn about whether to fulfill her duty to her husband and help him arrange the match between Warburton and Pansy. but Isabel chooses to marry him anyway. and he is annoyed by her independence and her insistence on having her own opinions. she tells him she needs at least two years before she can answer him. comes to Rome and falls in love with Pansy. and the two women become close friends. Isabel chafes against Osmond's arrogance. Osmond and Merle have a mysterious relationship. but whom Merle describes as one of the finest gentlemen in Europe. Edward Rosier. Warburton is still in love with Isabel and wants to marry Pansy solely to get closer to her. Pansy returns his feelings. Merle introduces Isabel to a man named Gilbert Osmond. but she does not consider leaving him. Touchett's health declines and Ralph convinces him that when he dies. Isabel and Osmond have come to despise one another. Mr. he should leave half his wealth to Isabel: this will protect her independence and ensure that she will never have to marry for money. and she promises him nothing. a man of no social standing or wealth.marry him. Merle is attempting to manipulate Isabel into marrying Osmond so that he will have access to her fortune. Isabel is left with a large fortune for the first time in her life. She has a child the year after they are married. especially Ralph. she did so with the intention of transforming herself into a good wife. they live with Pansy in a palazzo in Rome. but also because she makes a fine addition to his collection of art objects. and he says that Rosier is neither rich nor highborn enough. and when she married Osmond. Three years into their marriage. his wife is dead. this time. where Osmond treats Isabel as barely a member of the family: to him. Her inheritance piques the interest of Madame Merle. A young American art collector who lives in Paris. She is thrilled to have exercised her independence so forcefully. Touchett agrees shortly before he dies. Isabel travels to Florence with Mrs. In secret. But Osmond desperately wants to see Pansy married to Warburton. Matters grow complicated when Lord Warburton arrives on the scene and begins to court Pansy. his selfishness. For all her commitment to her independence. Isabel is also committed to her social duty. Osmond's daughter Pansy is being brought up in a convent. she is a social hostess and a source of wealth. or to 8 . Touchett's polished. Touchett and Madame Merle. Everyone in Isabel's world disapproves of Osmond. and his sinister desire to crush her individuality. not only for her money. But Osmond is insistent that Pansy should marry a nobleman. Osmond is pleased to marry Isabel.
unable to break away from her marriage to Gilbert Osmond. But her independent spirit urges her to flee from Osmond and find happiness elsewhere. unable to find her. Osmond is furious with Isabel. Henrietta quietly tells him that Isabel has returned to Rome. Madame Merle is also furious with her. and the reader is left to imagine whether Isabel returned to Osmond to suffer out her marriage in noble tragedy (perhaps for Pansy's sake) or whether she is going to rescue Pansy and leave Osmond. Isabel has realized that there is something mysterious about Madame Merle's relationship with her husband. At a ball one night. 9 . Isabel shows Warburton the dejected-looking Rosier and explains that this is the man who is in love with Pansy. After Ralph's death. she suddenly realizes that Merle is his lover. Now Isabel must struggle to decide whether to obey his command and remain true to her marriage vows or to disregard him and hurry to her cousin's bedside. Osmond's wife died at about the same time. and afterwards. The ending is ambiguous. convinced that she is plotting intentionally to humiliate him. She longs to travel to England to be with him.fulfill the impulse of her conscience and discourage Warburton. he quietly arranges to leave Rome. At this time. the Countess Gemini. and her commitment to social propriety impels her to go back and honor her marriage. Caspar Goodwood appears at the funeral. so Merle and Osmond spread the story that she died in childbirth. Isabel struggles to decide whether to return to her husband or not. and she does not know that Merle is her real mother. Isabel is shocked and disgusted by her husband's atrocious behavior—she even feels sorry for Merle for falling under his spell—so she decides to follow her heart and travel to England. Ralph is rapidly deteriorating. Merle is Pansy's mother. Osmond's sister. tells her that there is still more to Merle and Osmond's relationship. but Osmond forbids it. Guiltily. he asks Isabel to run away with him and forget about her husband. Goodwood asks Henrietta where she has gone. Warburton admits that he is not in love with Pansy. The next day. Encouraging her to go. while helping Pansy find a way to marry Rosier. Pansy was placed in a convent to be raised. She promised Pansy that she would return to Rome. Pansy was born out of wedlock. confronting her with shocking impropriety and demanding brazenly to know what she did to Warburton. now. and Isabel receives word that he is dying.
Isabel wins the admiration of everyone she meets. especially vitality. and so she brings Isabel back to England with her. Isabel also has suitors. who traveled to the United States after Isabel's father's death. including her cousin Ralph. In addition to this benefactor. a wealthy friend of the Touchett family.1. Isabel Archer The novel's central character. Characters 4. sincerity. She finds Caspar boring and turns down Warburton partly because she is not ready to marry and partly because she fears life with him would be too easy. Isabel's independent spirit is the driving force in her personality. also wants to marry Isabel. When she falls in love with Gilbert Osmond. and independence. Her father has recently died. Lord Warburton. As the novel opens. Isabel is a young American woman who embodies all the best of what James depicts as American qualities.4. But Isabel's independent nature leads her to reject both men. and it is what propels her into an unhappy marriage. feels that Isabel has more potential than her circumstances in America will allow her to fulfill. She longs for some adventure — even for some difficulty that will test her resourcefulness and mettle.) Her aunt. Ralph talks his dying father into leaving half his estate to Isabel so that she can be free to do as she pleases. (Her mother died previously. Caspar Goodwood travels from America to urge Isabel to marry him. 10 . Isabel is arriving at the English home of her aunt and uncle.
Her failure to accurately judge Gilbert's character springs from an innocence that is characteristic of youth and also. Once she realizes that she made a mistake in marrying Gilbert. Isabel refuses to adopt the corrupt ways of her European circle. of Americans. Isabel's direct. Isabel intends to graciously and courageously accept the consequences of her unwise decision and to make the best life she can. Although she makes a bad marriage. Isabel is not a tragic character. But she refuses to take anyone's counsel but her own and learns too late that she completely misjudged her husband. she resolves to bring her strength of character to bear upon the circumstances that she has created by her own free choice. Instead. which have secret pasts and ulterior motives for everything they do. trusting nature is contrasted to that of the book's European characters.her friends and relatives almost unanimously warn her against him. By refusing to leave her marriage. 11 . in James's view.
who seduces Isabel and marries her only for her money. he does not have money.4. and he has an air of charm. Gilbert is an art collector.2. and Isabel is attracted to both of them for the same reason. he does not really care about Isabel. An art collector. Isabel is completely taken in and falls in love with him. And although he pretends that his daughter is the child of his deceased first wife. He treats everyone who loves him as simply an object to be used to fulfill his desires. Gilbert Osmond Gilbert Osmond was born in the United States but has lived virtually his entire life in Europe. He has the same qualities as Madame Merle. Gilbert is not what he appears to be. Osmond poses as a disinterested aesthete. Although he is charming and seductive. While all of her friends and relatives see Gilbert for the self-centered dilettante he is. and refinement that greatly impresses Isabel. Isabel's marriage to Osmond forces her to confront the conflict between her desire for independence and the painful social proprieties that force her to remain in her marriage. Although he has expensive tastes. More than any other character. A cruel. narcissistic gentleman of no particular social standing or wealth. he bases his daughter Pansy's upbringing on the idea that she should be unswervingly subservient to him. sophistication. and he even treats his longtime lover Madame Merle as a mere tool. 12 . but in reality he is desperate for the recognition and admiration of those around him. she is actually the product of an affair with Madame Merle.
Henrietta is a symbol of America's democratic values throughout his book. Goodwood's charisma.An accomplished. and lack of sophistication make him the book's purest symbol of James's conception of America. Touchett to leave Isabel her fortune.Isabel’s fiercely independent friend. Merle manipulates Isabel into marrying Osmond. funny cousin. Like Caspar. Warburton remains in love with Isabel even after she rejects his proposal and later tries to marry Pansy simply to bring himself closer to Isabel's life. Lord Warburton . Caspar Goodwood . Ralph serves as the moral center of Portrait of a Lady: his opinions about other characters are always accurate.3. capability. graceful. and it is Ralph who is the staunchest advocate of Isabel remaining independent. who is ill with lung disease throughout the entire novel. and he serves as a kind of moral barometer for the reader. resolving to live vicariously through his beloved cousin Isabel.Isabel’s wise. Madame Merle is a popular lady who does not have a husband or a fortune. but he is kept from participating in it vigorously by his ailment. as a result. Ralph Touchett . Motivated by her love for Gilbert Osmond. Unbeknownst to either Isabel or Pansy.The son of a prominent Boston mill owner. After 13 . Henrietta Stackpole . delivering Isabel's fortune into his hands and ruining Isabel's life in the process. Ralph loves life. Others Characters Madame Merle . a fact that was covered up after Pansy's birth. he acts as a dedicated spectator.An aristocratic neighbor of the Touchetts who falls in love with Isabel during her first visit to Gardencourt. but she is also Pansy's mother. which ends shortly after his death. who can tell immediately whether a character is good or evil by Ralph's response to that character. simplicity. Merle is not only Osmond's lover.4. It is Ralph who convinces Mr. Pansy was raised to believe that her mother died in childbirth. Isabel's most dedicated suitor in America. and manipulative woman. a feminist journalist who does not believe that women need men in order to be happy.
Gilbert Osmond's placid. Before Mr. however. which will enable her to preserve her independence and avoid having to marry for money. The wife of Mr. eventually persuading her to marry him at the end of the novel. wealthy nobleman. Mr. Madame Merle. Henrietta fights a losing battle to keep her true to her American outlook. Pansy is a large part of the reason why Isabel chooses to return to Rome at the end of the novel. who covers up her own marital infidelities by gossipping constantly about the affairs of other married women. Bantling. when she could escape her miserable marriage by remaining in England. independent old woman who first brings Isabel to Europe. Touchett and the mother of Ralph. Touchett's importance in her life gradually declines. Rosier is unable to change Gilbert's mind that Pansy should marry a high-born.The game Englishman who acts as Henrietta's escort across Europe. Mrs. When Isabel becomes Pansy's stepmother. Mrs. The Countess seems to have a good heart.Osmond's vapid sister. Edward Rosier . submissive daughter. in reality. opposing Merle's scheme to marry Osmond and Isabel and eventually revealing to Isabel the truth of Merle's relationship to Osmond and Pansy's parentage. Countess Gemini . Pansy believes that her mother died in childbirth. 14 .Isabel's aunt. and the Countess Gemini. she learns to love the girl. Rosier falls in love with Pansy Osmond and does his best to win Osmond's permission to marry her.A hapless American art collector who lives in Paris. Isabel. Touchett is an indomitable. Henrietta disappoints Isabel by giving up her independence in order to marry Mr. Pansy Osmond . Mrs. Touchett is separated from her husband. Bantling . constantly encouraging her to marry Caspar Goodwood.Isabel leaves for Europe. But though he sells his art collection and appeals to Madame Merle. Ralph convinces him to leave half his fortune to his niece Isabel. residing in Florence while he stays at Gardencourt. raised in a convent to guarantee her obedience and docility. Touchett dies. not an obscure American with little money and no social standing to speak of. her mother is Osmond's longtime lover.An elderly American banker who has made his life and his vast fortune in England who is Ralph's father and the proprietor of Gardencourt. At the end of the book. Mr. Touchett . After Isabel inherits her fortune and falls under the sway of Merle and Osmond. Touchett . Mrs.
Isabel falls prey to the more sophisticated Europeans who manipulate her for their own purposes. practical. insincere. and they value society above the individual. taken as individuals. Conversely. Gilbert has lived nearly his whole life on the Continent and is completely European in character. however. James does make a moral judgment about which culture produces better people. But he also shows that. Themes.5. sincere. the more European traits he or she has. the other characters are drawn in shades of gray. the longer an American-born character has been in Europe. and scheming. They are also. Themes American Versus European Character The contrast between the American character and the European character is a theme that appears throughout James's work. the things that lead to her downfall. By refusing to take the counsel of those who care about her. Henrietta is an example of an American whom James portrays less positively. Her American 15 . Europeans are sophisticated.1. energetic. who is just arriving in Europe as the novel opens. This theme is especially interesting in The Portrait of a Lady because most of its characters are Americans who have been living in Europe for varying periods of time. James uses him to personify the worst manifestations of European traits. most Americans and Europeans alike have both good and bad qualities. such as her energy and independent attitude. At the other end of the spectrum is Isabel. are fresh and interesting to the European characters. and they value the individual above society. and spontaneous. In general. Americans tend to be naive. While Isabel is almost wholly admirable and Gilbert is almost wholly despicable. lethargic. he clearly portrays the Americans as having more integrity. Style 5. This is not surprising. formal. direct. obtuse. since it is a contrast he observed throughout his life as an American who spent most of his adulthood in Europe. According to James. The things that make her distinctively American.
which is one reason why the novel remains popular. the contrasts between Americans and Europeans. Her lack of regard for society and convention is so extreme that she offends as routinely as Isabel enchants. Isabel. a physically weak man who is nevertheless morally strong. Lord Warburton. Ralph is also a positive European character. but not all of them come true. Independence The many women that Henry James depicts in The Portrait of a Lady specially the principle character. exemplifies European qualities in their most positive form. The novel examines the various obstacles (men. He is sophisticated and conventional. It is almost a rule that young women make poor romantic choices. Social and Emotional Maturation Isabel's social and emotional development is thrown into high relief by James's contrast of American and European natures. which contrasts the naive Marianne and her wiser sister.qualities are exaggerated so that her directness is actually rudeness. Elinor. Isabel's naiveté is common among young women in all cultures. the usual) that stand between these characters and true. unrestricted independence. over one who is less worldly but more substantial and caring. Yet Isabel's experiences and the wisdom she gains from them are certainly not unique to American women coming of age in European society. This oft-repeated error of youth has been the subject of many works of literature. social pressure…you know. and gracious even in defeat. want independence and the freedom to make their own choices and have hopes. In fact. on the other hand. yet self-centered. In The Portrait of a Lady. and even schemes. 16 . to intensify another. James uses one theme. dreams. they often make exactly the mistake that Isabel makes: they choose a man who is charming and seductive. more universal theme of a woman's development from naive youth to mature wisdom as she suffers the consequences of a poor romantic choice. but he is also courteous. Perhaps the best-known is Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. sensitive.
objective prose that sought to engage readers' minds more than their emotions. The Realist period in American literature followed Romanticism. The stories are about what goes on inside characters' minds. how they experience and think about the things that happen to them. He wrote about the wealthy because it was the wealthy and their problems that he was familiar with and interested in. The events that happen in James's stories are included not primarily for their own 17 . Heroes and heroines were not larger than life. Realism got its name from the fact that its stories depicted realistic characters in believable. These stories were told in straightforward. in which everyone was wealthy and refined. they were often "just plain folks" that readers could identify with. lifelike situations. a subcategory of American realism. James also built his stories on the psychology of his characters. Some critics complained that there was nothing realistic about James's stories. The year of the war's end. a movement that produced stories of idealized love and that elevated emotion above reason. The harsh realities of the Civil War suddenly made Romanticism irrelevant. and how these inner experiences change them as people.2. The simple answer is that James never pretended to write about all elements of human society. And these characters faced problems similar to those that real people faced — neither melodramatic and overblown nor magically solved by some unexpected and incredible twist of the plot. along with Mark Twain (who is sometimes classified as a regionalist) and William Dean Howells. 1865.5. marks the end of the Romantic period and the beginning of American realism. James was one of the leading authors of American realism. In addition to limiting his subject matter to the lives of the wealthy. Style Psychological Realism James is considered the foremost author of psychological realism.
who was a pioneer in minimizing the author's role in the story. 18 . James wanted readers to observe his characters directly and to interpret characters' actions themselves. James was influenced by George Eliot. but he developed the new point of view into the form that is common today. the author was a prominent narrator — almost a character. commenting on the characters' actions. This gives fiction an artificial quality. This technique of storytelling was not suitable to realism. readers learn about Isabel directly by observing Isabel's actions. it was an innovation in James's time. Instead of readers learning about Isabel through a narrator's comments and interpretations. For this and other masterful tales of human psychology. In most novels published before this one. which strove to make the story seem lifelike rather than artificial. In fact. it was an innovation to which James was an important contributor. This meant that he had to get himself as author out of the picture. the author-narrator often inserted asides directly addressing the reader. James is considered the father of psychological realism. just as they would observe people around them in life. In addition to telling the story. To put it another way.importance but because they shed light on the minds and personalities of the characters. the author is always "visible" as an intermediary between the characters and the reader. While the point of view that James uses is common today. the reader never forgets that he or she is being told a story that has been invented and shaped by the author. The Portrait of a Lady is the story of Isabel's mind and how it shapes her destiny and her character. So. and so on. but James's contemporaries did. Point of View Modern readers are unlikely to take special notice of point of view in The Portrait of a Lady. that narrator is not James and does not intrude into the story. while The Portrait of a Lady does have a third-person narrator.
Henry James letting the readers to interpret it in their own way he even manages to maintain the curiosity alive along the novel due to the desire and the way Isabel tries to remain aimless and independent. The end is quite ambiguous. In Isabel’s life. both romantic relationships and those among friends and family. At the same time there are other people who insist on giving Isabel the freedom she wants. 19 . a portrait that they can hang on the wall and keep under their control. there are people who want her only as a prize. but there is also reason for hope.Conclusions All in all the Portrait of a Lady paints a sometimes grim picture of human relationships.
Henry James and the Novel. Harold. New York: Norton. Buitenhuis. 1968. Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady. 1956. New York: Chelsea. The Themes of Henry James.sparknotes. 20 . 1975. Edwin T. Bamberg.Bibliography Bowden. New Haven: Yale University Press.com/lit/portraitlady/. 1987.com . Robert D.enotes. Bloom. Peter ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Portrait of a Lady: A Collection of Critical Essays. www. www. The Portrait of a Lady: An Authoritative Text. Reviews and Criticism.
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