"On her long journey from Rome her mind had been given up to vagueness; she was unable to question the future. She performed this journey with sightless eyes and took little pleasure in the countries she traversed, decked out though they were in the richest freshness of spring. Her thoughts followed their course through other countries‹strange-looking, dimly-lighted, pathless lands, in which there was no change of seasons, but only as it seemed, a perpetual dreariness of winter. She had plenty to think about; but it was neither reflexion nor conscious purpose that filled her mind. Disconnected visions passed through it, and sudden dull gleams of memory, of expectation. The past and the future came and went at their will, but she saw them only in fitful images, which rose and fell by a logic of their own."(606)
This passage, from the last chapters of The Portrait of a Lady, strikes me as one of the most brutally sad moments in the entire novel. Here Isabel, who has defied Osmond¹s wishes that she defer to the Œsanctity¹ of their marriage has, with a solemn and ghostly nod to the liberty and independence that has characterized her throughout, come to be beside her cousin Ralph as he dies. What makes the passage so effectively tragic is that in its tone, language and imagery, it picks up on notes that have been sounded again and again from the beginning of the novel; at the same time, however, we cannot fail to register the differences in the workings of our heroine¹s mind as she tries to make sense of what has become of her.
Much of the poignancy of the above-quoted lines comes from the way in which they contrast with James¹ earlier descriptions of Isabel¹s mentality. It is surely part of...
... middle of paper ...
...he would come back in her weakness..."(607)‹James only too vividly draws the contrast between Isabel¹s initial freedom and her eventual imprisonment within the secretly and malevolently-built structure of her marriage.
It is with one word that James sums up the central tragedy of Isabel¹s story when, fitted with this new, terrible consciousness, she concludes: "The only thing to regret was that Madame Merle had been so‹well, so unimaginable."(607) Once again, James strikes a note that has sounded again and again over the course of our reading. Indeed, imagination is in many ways the novel¹s primary subject, as it is our heroine¹s ruin; by the end of this almost unspeakably cruel and sad story, we can only hope that it will be her redemption and transcendence as well.
James, Henry. A Portrait of a Lady. 1908. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1963.
Need Writing Help?
Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.Check your paper »
- Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady "On her long journey from Rome her mind had been given up to vagueness; she was unable to question the future. She performed this journey with sightless eyes and took little pleasure in the countries she traversed, decked out though they were in the richest freshness of spring. Her thoughts followed their course through other countries‹strange-looking, dimly-lighted, pathless lands, in which there was no change of seasons, but only as it seemed, a perpetual dreariness of winter.... [tags: Portrait Lady]
1271 words (3.6 pages)
- Henry James’s novel Portrait of a Lady published in 1881, presents more than the portrait and the destiny of Isabel Archer transposing the ideas of the late nineteenth century in a strong and intense literary work. The elements of the American society from the last decades of the nineteenth-century meet the European society: America, natural, attractive by vitality and by novelty, and Europe, old and sophisticated, but artificial and decaying. The novel treats, in parallel, two key themes - in the foreground is Isabel Archer and her life story (Bamberg, 2003).... [tags: Literary Analysis]
1182 words (3.4 pages)
- Comparing Flaubert's A Sentimental Education and Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady Henry James wrote of A Sentimental Education, "[Flaubert] takes Frédéric Moreau on the threshold of life and conducts him to the extreme of maturity without apparently suspecting for a moment either our wonder or our protest--'Why, why him?' Frédéric is positively too poor for his charge; and we feel with a kind of embarrassment, certainly with a kind of compassion, that it is somehow the business of a protagonist to prevent in his designer an excessive waste of faith." .... [tags: Sentimental Education Portrait Lady Essays]
2550 words (7.3 pages)
- Jane Campion's Film Version of Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady Jane Campion's film version of Henry James's novel, The Portrait of a Lady, offers the viewer a sexually charged narrative of a young naive American girl in Victorian era Europe. James's novel focuses on "what an exciting inward life may do for the person leading it even while it [a person's life] remains perfectly normal" (James 54). James could not or would not place into his narrative the sexual thoughts, suggestions, and actions of his characters beyond the first flush of the experience.... [tags: Movie Film comparison compare contrast]
3981 words (11.4 pages)
- Henry James' The Wings of the Dove This paper will present briefly Henry James and his thoughts about the art of fiction that is presented by his same titled essay before thoroughly analyzing his novel: The Wings of the Dove. James’ ideas on his article The Art of Fiction will be applied to The Wings of the Dove and the narrative style that he uses will be indicated by certain quotations taken from the novel. James had read classics of English, American, French, and German literature and Russian classics in translation.... [tags: Henry James Wings Dove Essays]
4840 words (13.8 pages)
- Comparing William Faulkner's Light in August and Henry James' Portrait of a Lady Light in August and Portrait of a Lady are two novels which embodies within them, life affirming morals. Authors like William Faulkner and Henry James possess the art of making the reader learn by experiencing for themselves. William Faulkner uses the technique of introspection as well as by showing how characters and their actions can affect one another. Henry James also shows that a character’s actions and decisions can greatly affect one’s future and happiness. Both authors focus on the power of words that function only to categorize individuals into certain races or social classes.... [tags: comparison compare contrast essays]
2851 words (8.1 pages)
- Henry James always managed to keep certain themes in his works similar. The one that usually stands out most is his literary battles between American and European customs. This is especially apparent in three of his works, Daisy Miller: A Study, Roderick Hudson, and The Portrait Of A Lady. However, in his short story, The Beast In The Jungle, there is another theme that takes center stage. That theme is fate; moreover, the failure to control that fate. In The Beast In The Jungle, we are introduced to John Marcher, one of the main characters.... [tags: Henry James, The Beast In The Jungle]
1273 words (3.6 pages)
- Bette Howland's Criticism of Henry James's Washington Square Bette Howland, in her criticism of Henry James's Washington Square, focuses on two different aspects of the story's development. She begins by impressing on the reader how Henry James himself viewed his creation and then plunges into the history behind the plot. In doing this, she describes how Henry James has used irony to make this story his own creation. Half way through the article she changes directions and shows how Washington Square is the forerunner of his other novels.... [tags: Henry James Washington Square]
523 words (1.5 pages)
- Portrait of a Lady - From Novel to Film Jane Campion's most recent film, Portrait of a Lady (1996), offers a distinct departure from her previous work, The Piano (1993), with which some critics have found fault. In her 1998 article, for example, while commending Campion for introducing two characters able to renounce the gender warfare that characterizes Western culture, Diane Long Hoeveler criticizes Campion for celebrating marriage, the idea that women cannot survive without a man at the center of their lives (Hoeveler 110, 114).... [tags: Movie Film Essays]
2276 words (6.5 pages)
- Fall from Innocence in Grendel, Neil Young and Portrait of a Lady According to the Bible, God created man pure and innocent, oblivious to good and evil. The serpent of evil lured them to the tree of knowledge, however, and its fruit proved too much of a temptation. With a bite, their "eyes... were opened," and the course of their lives, and the lives of mankind, were changed (Gen. 6-7, 22). Whether or not one accepts the Christian concept of creation, countless works of art are patterned on this account of the "fall from innocence." The novel Grendel by John Gardner shows us a side of the "beast" the epic Beowulf never considered - the child-like innocence before the brutality.... [tags: comparison compare contrast essays]
1409 words (4 pages)