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A kind of delight at the success of this transformation informs every page of this masterpiece. From the Paperback edition. His father, Henry James Sr.

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About The Portrait of a Lady Isabel Archer, a beautiful, intelligent, and headstrong American girl newly endowed with wealth and embarked in Europe on a treacherous journey to self-knowledge, is delineated with a magnificence that is at once casual and tense with force and insight. Also in Modern Library Classics. Also by Henry James. Inspired by Your Browsing History.

The Portrait of a Lady

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Stay in Touch Sign up. We are experiencing technical difficulties. Please try again later. She also rejects the hand of Caspar Goodwood, the charismatic son and heir of a wealthy Boston mill owner. Although Isabel is drawn to Caspar, her commitment to her independence precludes such a marriage, which she feels would demand the sacrifice of her freedom. The elder Touchett grows ill and, at the request of his son, Ralph, leaves much of his estate to Isabel upon his death.

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Although Isabel had previously rejected both Warburton and Goodwood, she accepts Osmond's proposal of marriage, unaware that it has been actively promoted by the accomplished but untrustworthy Madame Merle, another American expatriate, whom Isabel had met at the Touchetts' estate. Isabel and Osmond settle in Rome, but their marriage rapidly sours due to Osmond's overwhelming egotism and lack of genuine affection for his wife.

Isabel grows fond of Pansy, Osmond's presumed daughter by his first marriage, and wants to grant her wish to marry Edward Rosier, a young art collector. The snobbish Osmond would prefer that Pansy accept the proposal of Warburton, who had previously proposed to Isabel. Isabel suspects, however, that Warburton may just be feigning interest in Pansy to get close to Isabel again, and the conflict creates even more strain within the unhappy marriage.

Isabel then learns that Ralph is dying at his estate in England and prepares to go to him for his final hours, but Osmond selfishly opposes this plan.

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Meanwhile, Isabel learns from her sister-in-law that Pansy is actually the daughter of Madame Merle, who had had an adulterous relationship with Osmond for several years. Isabel pays a final visit to Pansy, who desperately begs her to return someday, which Isabel reluctantly promises to do. She then leaves, without telling her spiteful husband, to comfort the dying Ralph in England, where she remains until his death. Goodwood encounters her at Ralph's estate, and begs her to leave Osmond and come away with him. He passionately embraces and kisses her, but Isabel flees.

Goodwood seeks her out the next day but is told she has set off again for Rome.

The Portrait of a Lady - Wikipedia

The ending is ambiguous, 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 she is going to rescue Pansy and leave Osmond. James's first idea for The Portrait of a Lady was simple: Only then did he begin to form a plot to bring out the character of his central figure. This was the uncompromising story of the free-spirited Isabel losing her freedom—despite or because of suddenly coming into a great deal of money—and getting "ground in the very mill of the conventional".


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The Portrait of a Lady has received critical acclaim since its first publication in The Atlantic Monthly , and it remains the most popular of James's longer fictions. Contemporary critics recognise that James had pushed the analysis of human consciousness and motivation to new levels, particularly in such passages as the famous Chapter 42, where Isabel meditates deep into the night about her marriage and the trap she seems to have fallen into.

More recent criticism has been levied by feminists.

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In particular, Isabel's final return to Osmond has fascinated critics, who have debated whether James sufficiently justifies this seemingly paradoxical rejection of freedom. Isabel both feels as honour-bound to the promise she has made to stepdaughter Pansy as she does to her marriage to Osmond, and she believes that the scene her "unacceptable" trip to England will create with Osmond will leave her in a more justifiable position to abandon her dreadful marriage. The extensive revisions James made for the New York Edition have generally been accepted as improvements, unlike the changes he made to other texts, such as The American or Roderick Hudson.

The revision of the final scene between Isabel and Goodwood has been especially applauded. As Edward Wagenknecht noted, James "makes it as clear as any modern novelist could make it by using all the four-letter words in the dictionary that [Isabel] has been roused as never before in her life, roused in the true sense perhaps for the first time in her life. Crane — may have influenced James, who Habegger considers was interested in Crane's female characters. In the preface to the New York Edition of the novel, James referred to several of George Eliot 's female protagonists as possible influences on the Portrait.

Habegger questions this and quotes others as doing the same. In another critical article, "Rewriting Misogyny: