The Portrait of a Lady is the story of an independent American woman, Isabel Archer, who was orphaned as a child and ‘adopted’ by an eccentric European aunt who lived abroad and wished to show her the world. Hungry for new, exhilarating experiences, Archer turns down marriage proposals from several good prospects despite the encouragement of friends and family and purposes to live her life unattached. She has a great desire to control her own destiny. Her blatant show of independence fascinates her cousin, Ralph Touchett. He convinces his father to bequeath Isabel a fortune so that she can realize her dream and because he wants to see what she can do ‘with a little more wind in her sails.” Isabel travels to Italy and is lured into a disastrous relationship which lands her into the gilded cage she had sought to avoid.
This novel raised several questions for me and I found myself pondering it for several days. Set shortly after the Civil War, I enjoyed the ‘independent and free-thinking’ mentality of the American mind portrayed in Isabel Archer. The mindset of ‘Manifest Destiny’ shines in all of the American characters. Henry James creates a compelling psychological portrait in this novel. There is a thread of good and evil woven throughout the pages. There are consequences for actions committed and strength of character developed as our heroine embraces her duty.
I found myself measuring the modern expectations of the current generation to ‘live life to the fullest’ and ‘you can have anything you want’ with the heroine in this novel. Do we balance our judgment against the advice of others? How does our character determine our destiny? Suffering improved the character of the heroine in this novel. If we strive to live a life free from suffering what will be the consequences? In our current society it seems like people abandon ship when things get tough because they are so centered on what makes them happy. Lots of things to think about!
The Portrait of a Lady, written by Henry James ——– read it and ponder!
Should I, or should I not, watch Hollywood’s rendition with Nicole Kidman?