Portrait of a Lady – Henry James

10 August 2008
Nine chapters in, and…
…and lots, in fact. Somehow, despite all the action taking place in domestic environments – houses and gardens – James seems to be placing his characters on a big stage. A big public stage. It’s as if he’s challenging his readers to dare to disagree, particularly with his assessment of Isabel Archer: she’s ‘our heroine’ – this is a shared experience, obviously – and if anything seems far-fetched, well, he knows best. She doesn’t calculate the effects of her words, for example, that’s ‘a game she played in much smaller degree than would have seemed probable to many critics.’ Who are these critics? She’s hardly ever seen, except by us….

He takes his time, of course. We don’t meet Isabel until we’ve met the people she’s going to be spending some chapters with: two young men and the ailing father of one of them. James resolutely keeps us on the outside, presenting them to us almost unmediated by commentary from him. Chapter 1 is like a play, in which James shows us what an opinionated, self-centred milieu it is. Sickly Ralph is, as Isabel later tells him, a humbug – not because he is a particular fraud, but because he hides behind thick walls of talk. He never lets anybody come close to him, referring, in one of the self-conscious images he uses about himself, to the ante-room where he keeps Isabel (and everybody else). Meanwhile, Isabel is a work of art in his eyes, one of which is a cathedral. He can see she’s marvellous, but he doesn’t feel he’s inside. It’s a theme: characters as edifices.

Other buildings, literally this time: the Touchetts’ big Elizabethan place overlooking the Thames; the equally impressive castle belonging to Lord Warburton, Ralph’s friend, who just happens to be the richest, most eligible, intelligent, unmarried heterosexual in the Home Counties; the parental home in the States, about to be sold off, in which Isabel is first discovered by her self-consciously eccentric aunt, Ralph’s mother. Property, private territory, wealth, intelligence, wit…. This is the world James wants to evoke, a world which Isabel sails into understanding none of the criteria for judgment but somehow managing to impress everybody anyway.

Isabel. James has read his George Eliot, he knows about presenting a heroine who is fallible but who tries. He presents her as American above all else, and although she jokes about being treated like a savage, in many ways she’s a blank page ready to have interesting work done…. She has no education except her wide, totally indiscriminate reading, and she’s been more or less left alone all her life, but she’s very bright. James has set her up as a kind of fictional social experiment. He’s set the stage with the first two candidates ready for her appraisal. Ralph the washed-out American is urbane and good company but rules himself out. (He’s mad, of course: he’s besotted by her but doesn’t seem to realise.) Lord W sees what he wants and heads straight for it – but she’s not ready for that. James tells us – in one of the very occasional glimpses he gives of any of his characters’ unfolding thoughts – that she’s scared. No, she’s in England en route for France and Italy with the barmy aunt, and she’s determined to soak up some of that before committing herself. (Still, James has spent a lot of time on Ralph and Warburton; he obviously isn’t going to drop them just yet. If ever.)

13 August
Chapters 10-15…
…a quarter of the way through. Henry James always gives the impression of being slow and these last six chapters – 70 pages – prove it: exactly nothing has happened to progress the action significantly. When I last wrote, Isabel’s ‘fear’ made her stop Lord Warburton going any further with whatever he was going to say to her. But you can’t keep a good man down, and James isn’t interested in prolonging that particular drama anyway. Pride and Prejudice had been done decades before, and James just needs Warburton to get on with it. Which he does, obviously. And she says no.

We get interminable post-mortems as everybody she knows tries to work out why on earth she refused him. Her uncle – think Mr Bennett with an American accent and a less troublesome wife – wouldn’t dream of asking. But her aunt does, and is appalled. (James wants us to be shocked by her assumption that Isabel just wants a better offer. As if.) Warburton himself is staggered. He looks at himself, his proposal, what he offers a young woman down on her luck – and he can’t for an instant see what’s not to like. Bizarrely, neither can Isabel, and James plays out the real drama inside her head. James long ago gave up on simply showing the characters in action; now he gets stuck into their deepest psychological nooks and crannies, especially Isabel’s Someties.

But… he needs some help: even he can’t spend whole chapters exploring all her inner recesses. So he lets her have conversations. First it’s Warburton himself, then the stock pushy American Henrietta. she seems ready to go off with the first Brito to look vaguely interested, a friend of Ralph’s… but before that she’s endlessly useful to the author. She’s mouthy, contrasting in every way to Isabel: she might as well wear an I’m an American teeshirt, the way she endlessly compares the Brits (unfavourably, naturally) to Americans she knows, to the American way in general. She’s no blank canvas, she’s fully formed, a type for James’s sensitive readers to be appalled by – despite some modern-sounding opinions about the rights of women.

But the main critique of Isabel’s odd behaviour (twice she’s told that 19 out of 20 women in her place would have accepted Warburton’s proposal) comes in Ch 15. We know Ralph thinks of her as a work of art – in a way all the people she knows fancy themselves as connoisseurs of Miss Archer – and in this chapter she seems to have become a novel. Ralph is determined to work out the plot that Isabel has written for herself, and finally he does: it’s the one we’ve known about all along. Warburton would be a safe bet, obviously. But what kind of plot would it be if she’d said yes? She doesn’t fancy a boring plot any more than the reader does – all her experience comes from reading, after all – so she chooses… what? Experience, she tells Ralph. She even quotes Horrible Hen: she won’t marry until she’s seen Europe.

Oh dear. James, being the omnipotent 19th Century author he is (however modern he sometimes seems), has already dealt her at least four aces before all this. Now he deals her another – and she’s stacked. It’s bound to end in tears… but then, as Ralph the critic tells her, he’s glad: it’ll make a far more interesting story.

17 August
Chapters 16-21
Since I last wrote, well, we only really get inside Isabel‘s head at the beginning and end of this section. Things have happened to her in between but, somehow, most of it is just plot. In Ch 16 – the one immediately after the last one I wrote about – the American suitor I forgot to mention finally tracks Isabel down in London. We get another impassioned proposal scene and again, obviously, Isabel refuses. It’s for similar reasons, but not identical ones. To accept would be to buy into a ready-made life, this time as the wife of the successful businessman instead of the first lady of the county. Caspar Goodwood is as near as James gets to a Dickensian character: his strength comes across in the firm set of his rectilinear jaw and, like a single-minded athlete, he won’t be satisfied with anything less than gold…. But he has to, and Isabel bundles him back off to America. She offers one concession: he’s allowed to ask her again in two years’ time.

More stuff happens, notably the final illness of Isabel’s ubertolerant uncle. There’s some novelistic to-ing and fro-ing, such as Ralph and his self-centred mother’s sharing out of the time at the old man’s bedside… but it’s a cover, really, for James to deal Isabel yet another ace. (How many is that now?) Ralph, besotted, doting, generous Ralph, persuades his father to change his will in order to leave Isabel half of what Ralph himself was going to get. In other words she’s rich, independent (to use the adjective Mrs Touchett used in her first telegram about her) in a way she could never have dreamt of. Blimey.

(20-odd years later Edith Wharton created her own Isabel: Lily Bart in House of Mirth. That novel might be seen as a kind of sardonic comment on this one: what happens when a charming, capable, intelligent woman doesn’t have a authorial guardian angel showering her with handouts? But, of course, this is a different experiment: what might happen to a woman who has everything going for her? Dunno yet, I‘m only just over a third of the way through.)

Other entrances…. We’ve already had Henrietta Stackpole, and she carries on making occasional appearances to remind us how fabulous Isabel is just by being nothing like her. Now there’s somebody else to compare and contrast with her: in the big house with Uncle dying upstairs Isabel meets the socially perfect Madame Merle. I’m not sure what James is doing with her yet, but she’s a lot older than Isabel, was once married, and now lives by being indispensable to her many better-off friends. We meet her before Isabel gets her windfall, and I suppose we’re invited to speculate whether this might be a future Isabel: clever, socially adept, full of admirable skills and universally liked – but with all the corners knocked off and the remainder polished to such a sheen as to make her almost invisible, Also… she definitely has a past – and she’s not averse to some quite pointed comments about whoever happens to be her current host. Not perfect then?

And finally they get off to Paris. James makes it clear that the expats are a waste of space, representing a particular species of American abroad. Isabel is struck by the pointlessness of their lives, and they join the band of types James caricatures in this novel. But Isabel speaks at length to one Ned Rosier, a man she had met briefly as a child during one of her father’s European jaunts. He doesn’t persuade her that her judgment has been hasty….

It’s only in Chapter 21 – the last before Isabel arrives in Italy and (I’ve just had a peek) the novel changes direction – that we get a proper conversation from her. And, like the one just before Caspar’s failed proposal, it’s with Ralph. She’s always bouncing ideas off him and, during the few days of their visit to his winter retreat in the south of France, that’s what she does. Ralph is a useful character for James, doing a lot of convenient things to keep the story going. Here, as in Ch 15, he lets Isabel think aloud about what she’s doing. Ok. But he also does other work for James: he introduced Isabel to Warburton, for instance, and Henrietta to Bantling – a connection that is continuing… and, of course, he makes the windfall possible. He’s interested in Isabel, and yet he’s out of the running for her. Is he a self-portrait? He’s diffidently attractive, and seems to share James’s jaded views on Americans in Europe. (That’s what he is himself, of course – like James.) But unlike James it’s not Ralph’s sexuality that disqualifies him, it’s his poor health. Fair enough: this is 1880 after all.

20 August
Chapter 22-31
This has been easily the best section of the novel so far: something’s happening. We’ve moved to Italy, we’ve met Gilbert Osmond… and the plot to seduce Isabel has been hatched (by Mme Merle) and set in motion by both of them. (All along I’ve been reminded of the film of Dangerous Liaisons. John Malkovich is the seducer in that and, of course, he’s Osmond in the movie of this novel as well. It’s an image I can’t get out of my head.)

We know from the start that Osmond is going to be a key player because of the way James introduces him. It takes a whole chapter – starting with an exterior shot of his house in Florence and only gradually moving in, through barred windows if I remember rightly, to see a tasteful room and ‘a gentleman’ talking. It’s pages before we learn his surname, more pages still before we get the rest of it. Anyway, it’s the next chapter that gets things going. We find out what Mme Merle is really like, how she’s a kind of fixer for Osmond. We find out how monstrous Osmond is – he thinks Ralph is ‘a donkey’, so he must be bad – and how relationships for him are only about retaining his fastidious interest. We realise Isabel is doomed.

This is confirmed almost immediately as Osmond insinuates himself into Isabel’s company. In a pincer movement at his house Mme Merle manoeuvres everybody else away from him and Isabel, and we hear the beginning of the conversation which is Isabel’s introduction to the world according to Gilbert. It’s another wonderful scene, like the previous chapter: James lets us see and hear for ourselves how Osmond operates, feigning diffidence and modesty to suggest that he’s got hidden depths, that he knows and feels a lot more than he’s letting on. Isabel has never come across anyone so cynically manipulative, and he exploits her naivety mercilessly. She falls for his schtick.

Other people have seen more of the world – and more of Gilbert Osmond – and there’s a (fairly typical) succession of scenes in which, well, we need to talk about Isabel. There’s Ralph and his mother, then Mme Merle and Ralph’s mother…. Best of all, there’s Mme Merle and Osmond’s sister Gemini. She was introduced in the pincer-movement chapter as a ridiculous relic of a life of bad moves, and she seems to be there for comic relief. Osmond thinks she’s an idiot – but we shouldn’t forget that any opinion he has is self-serving at best. In fact, she sees right through the plot and tells Mme Merle she’ll try to stop it. But Mme Merle knows this marginalised figure hasn’t a chance – and so do we. She’s become part of a Greek chorus of doom-sayers who can do nothing but look on helplessly.

Two of these conversations seem to seal Isabel’s fate. In the one between Mme Merle and Ralph’s mother (in which MM pretends to be surprised by the idea of Osmond considering Isabel as a possible wife) MM warns Mrs Touchett not to alert Isabel to the possibility: it might have the opposite effect from the one they want. This is part of her Machiavellian plot. (Ironically it’s Osmond who is called this by one of the other characters, but nobody suspects Mme Merle….) In another conversation two genuinely interested characters – Ralph and, I think, Lord Warburton of all people – they decide on the same course of action. Or inaction. But this time it’s a miscalculation, not games-playing.

(Lord W is in Rome, being very British about not going against his promise not to bother Isabel. Poor Isabel: another possible lifeline (well, maybe – how should I know?) pulled away before it’s of any use to her.)

21 August
Chapters 32-36
Only five chapters, maybe, but a lot has happened. The weird thing is, James keeps playing this trick so that we don’t actually see any of it, but we think we have. He gives us key scenes – although by no means all the key scenes, just a selection – and then he leaves it alone for a while. He’s done this all the way through, such as when, after their first conversation, we hear almost nothing of how Osmond cosies up to Isabel. We see it – or, rather, the other characters do, noticing the way Osmond’s head leans towards hers in the garden, or how often he visits the house – but we don’t often hear it. So when we do hear it, James makes sure it’s bloody good.

So, Ch 32: Isabel has to tell the monster that she needs to see the world. Osmond is superb. James has this literary trick of describing the effect Osmond makes as though it’s based on sincere feeling. So although it’s pretence we appreciate the effect from Isabel’s point of view. (When I was reading page 334 I made a mental note: remember page 334.) Anyway, he doesn’t dissuade her, just makes her believe that he wishes she wasn’t going and, while she’s in Florence, would she mind seeing his daughter for an hour or two? Bastard.

Then James glosses over the next 15 or 16 months in a few paragraphs. Isabel sees the world and comes back. Cleverly, Osmond bides his time – and we never get another conversation as intense as the one before she left. But, after over a year apart, they end up in Florence (or Rome, or somewhere) at the same time as one another. Over three weeks… what? James doesn’t tell us – until Isabel has an excruciating meeting with her aunt to confirm that she’s engaged. (This comes after another excruciating meeting in which poor, obstinate, appalling Caspar doesn’t in any way come to terms with the idea that she really is out of his reach.) Her aunt hates Osmond and doesn’t try to pretend otherwise.

Fair enough. But then Ralph, looking more ill than ever (because he is more ill than ever) tries to persuade Isabel how distraught he is…. He even tells her, simply, that he loves her. It’s a mirror-image (what’s that about a glass darkly?) of the conversation in Ch 15. Now, all the hope for her he was feeling then is replaced by its opposite. He doesn’t let Isabel know it, of course, but he bitterly regrets persuading his father to leave her enough money to be able to make exactly this mistake. And the reader knows he’s right.

James gives us a short conversation between Isabel and Osmond, just to remind us how good he is at playing the part of the thoughtful/caring/attentive lover. Git. Then suddenly…

…It’s three years later, and we’re on another planet. James begins Chapter 36 – because that’s where we’ve got to, folks – with some gentleman or other arriving somewhere or other…. It’s Ned Rosier (didn’t you just know we’d see him again?) at Mme Merle’s place in Rome. He‘s come to ask her advice about – wait for it – asking Osmond’s daughter to marry him. Ok. And via several kinds of tangent James lets us know that Isabel is now Mrs Osmond, that they had a son who died at six months old, that, frankly my dear, they really don’t see eye to eye on anything. And that Ned Rosier is a lightweight: he doesn‘t like Renaissance art, he likes Louis Quinze porcelain. (Building note: the Osmonds live in a Roman palace that Rosier thinks is like a prison. Subtle.)

23 August
Chapters 37-45
James has filled in the background following the tease of Ch 36 (which he continues into Ch 37 even after we’ve met the Osmonds). He’s also moved things on… but, first things first. James uses the Rosier/Pansy plot to let us see the Osmonds in action. And, basically. Osmond calls all the shots. Like, he has the taste when it comes to things – all the décor and objets d’art are an externalisation of his psyche – and (according to Pansy at least) Isabel confines herself to literature. But in all this we’re only getting the external signs of the crapness of her marriage. What about the real story? What’s going on inside her head?

We get all that in a superb conversation between her and Os – for which James spends the first four pages of Ch 41 setting the scene. By the end of it we’ve seen exactly how Osmond has become the epitome of – what? – the reasonable bully, the man who uses routinely offensive arguments to force his wife’s hand. (It’s about Lord Warburton, who has entered the story in an unexpected way. Tell you later.) That chapter ends, and the whole of the next one is devoted to Isabel’s dark night of the soul. By the end of it we’re in no doubt: her marriage is a ‘blasted circle’ – think bomb-crater – and James has shown us exactly what’s happened in the three years since he last let us know what was going on. Aargh.

This is in the context of Plot Developments. We know about Rosier’s bid for Pansy, and we find out it’s serious: she’s as interested as he is. But Osmond hates Rosier, obviously, and shows it first through a calculated rudeness – he really is a twat – and then a straightforward prohibition. And then along comes Warburton… and guess what: he likes the look of Pansy as well. This gives James at least three things to work on. Is W really only showing an interest in Pansy because it keeps him near to Is? He strongly denies this, but it’s kept in the reader‘s mind because the other two interested parties – Ralph and Caspar – retain a strong interest throughout these chapters…. That’s one thing. Then there’s Osmond and his colossal snobbery: he quite openly tells Isabel to encourage Lord W because he fancies the idea of aristocratic relatives. (During her dark night the second-rate conventionality of Osmond’s snobbishness is one of the horrors she begins to come to terms with – after he had seemed so careless of such forms of society when she first met him.) And Warburton’s suit is noticed: Isabel’s aunt, Henrietta Stackpole and, it transpires, the whole expat population of Rome are looking on. Henrietta hears from Osmond’s sister the latest gossip – and tells Caspar while they are both still in Florence – that W is ‘making love’ to Isabel.

In these chapters Isabel really is ‘our heroine’, as James has called her more or less from the start, in the way that Gracie Fields was Our Gracie or Diana was the People‘s Princess. Everybody has some sort of stake in her. It’s as if Isabel, unlike ordinary mortals, has the gravitational ability to pull the attention of everyone around her in her direction. And I’ve noticed how much of an impresario James has become, or at least a master of ceremonies in the Isabel Archer show. There’s more of the authorial ‘I’, as if he’s asking us not to forget the guide, and there’s the occasional flourish, as when a character writes a note and ‘it is our privilege to look over her shoulder’ to read it. Thanks, Henry.

What else? Poor Ralph, that’s what else. (When you think about it, it’s poor everybody in this novel, except the Osmonster. And the Henrietta/Bantling partnership: nothing can stop their enjoyment. But otherwise it’s poor Isabel, poor Lord W, poor Rosier, poor Pansy… but poor Ralph especially.) He’s dying, slowly, and all his fears for Isabel have come to pass. Os can disapprove all he likes, but she visits him in his hotel and – and what? We don’t follow her there, which suggests there’s to be a big set-piece scene between them later. (Hope so.) But he does talk to Lord W, and his sorrow goes deep – deep enough to keep him in Rome to look after her instead of heading to the warm south to look after himself. This book is shaping up to be his tragedy at least as much as Isabel’s (if her story is a tragedy).

Meanwhile, Isabel is determined not to let any of her unhappiness show: she puts on a ‘mask’ of contentment and serenity. Her close friends see through this – not that it helps them or her – but the obtuse Henrietta mistakes it for coolness and decides she needs to go to Rome to see what’s going on. So there’s be plenty of space for confusion and misunderstanding – what with the alleged moves being made on Isabel by Lord W – when she gets there, if James wants to make anything of it. (I’m not sure he will.) And… she’s learnt to keep on the right side of Osmond, mainly by staying away from him. Which he’s perfectly happy about.

However. She wants to look after Pansy, who would be happy with Rosier. What to do? She takes her marriage vows seriously, will not go against Osmond however much he deserves it, and is starting to be torn in two different directions. It’ll end in tears. (Or maybe it won’t. How should I know?)

26 August
Chapters 46-50
The last time I wrote I was three quarters of the way through; now there’s only a small fraction left (a tenth?) and there’s a feeling of things being finished off. James himself even refers to the ‘threads’ he needs to deal with.

They’re not plot threads, not in the way some novelists would have taken it. The gossip about Lord W and Isabel is dealt with in about a second, for instance…. So it’s about states of mind, states of being – and there are some key set-piece conversations. The best of these is between Isabel and Mme Merle. The moment when Isabel realises that she was the subject of an arranged marriage, a favour for a ‘most intimate friend’, is chilling. She wonders whether MM is ‘wicked’ in the old-fashioned sense that nobody uses in the late 1870s, but the more she tries to decide the more she sympathises with the woman she ends up calling ‘poor Mme Merle’….

There’s also a conversation between Isabel and Ralph – but it’s not the one we were hoping for. Ralph wants her to admit how unhappy she is, but that’s a step too far for her. They part on intimate terms – she kisses him the last time she sees him as he prepares to go back to England, almost certainly for the last time – but there’s still some ice there. We see a bit more of Pansy, kept artificially young by Osmond’s controlling ways. One set piece is when she announces to Isabel that she’s going back to the convent. Osmond is full of reasonable arguments for this, obviously, but the real reason is to stop Rosier from sniffing around now Lord W’s ruled himself out. (Did I mention that?)

In fact, everybody’s leaving or already left. Henrietta, a far more sympathetic character than we originally took her for, takes Ralph back to England – with Caspar, who has been in Rome again being miserable. Perversely – James makes a big thing of it being the opposite of what everyone would expect – Osmond had taken Caspar under his wing as a kind of exotic specimen. But then everyone’s a specimen to him, of course: think of Pansy the (ahem) delicate flower he keeps practically under lock and key. Who’s Isabel got left? Only silly Gemini, whose only strong point is her pitch-perfect ability to calculate her brother’s motives. And she’s overstayed her welcome by getting to know Rosier, so she’ll be levered out of the room pretty soon.

What else? The word ‘tragedy’ has been bandied about a few times, in connection with Caspar, Isabel, Mme Merle and possibly others. But any tragedies in this novel are rooted in character rather than plot, decisions tortuously reached (or not reached), the endless unpicking of one another’s motives as well as one’s own. And at the centre of them all (yes, I’ve decided, all) is the Osmonster. At least twice in the novel so far, James has used the word ‘blight’ to refer to his effect on other people’s lives. He’s a wonderful character because we recognise him: he’s one of those people who are so secure in their own rightness, their own judgment, their own taste (etcetera, etcetera) that they don’t begin to see how, in their own perception, the whole universe revolves around them. ‘Poor’ Mme Merle wonders whether he’s destroyed her soul. He’s sarcastic about the idea, but we realise that’s exactly what he’s done. Hmm. The one hope as we approach the endgame of this novel is that Isabel’s soul, surely, is made of stronger stuff.

28 August
Chapter 51 to the end
It’s over. Well, the novel is… Isabel’s only just beginning to come to terms with the stupid thing she did half a book ago. In these last few chapters she’s been offered several different ways out of the unbearable situation she’s in: in a marvellous pair of chapters (51-52) we get the full weight of the dead hand of Osmond – he forbids her to go to England to be with the dying Ralph – followed by the revelation, which a more alert reader should have seen coming for about the last 200 pages, that Mme Merle is Pansy’s mother and that Isabel has been used mercilessly. But that’s only a start. Henrietta’s take on women’s rights would be enough for some people to start bringing about some kind of reparation…. And, finally, there’s Caspar Goodwood offering her something she finally recognises for what it is: unqualified, unlimited love and the opportunity to simply get out.

She accepts none of it. She’s made a promise to Pansy, still incarcerated in the convent and, as Isabel recognises, entirely ’vanquished’ by her father. Worse: she made that little promise to Osmond when she married him and she keeps coming back to it. In the moral universe she’s made for herself, simply disappearing into a comfortable (unmarried) relationship would simply not do. And this is in spite of the nearest James comes in this novel to a straightforward description of sexual passion as she and Caspar finally kiss a page from the end: she doesn’t want to be ‘possessed’ like that and it gives her the strength to return to Rome. It made me want to give her a good slap (not the refusal of Caspar’s offer – her perception of her duty) but you can see why she had to do it. I suppose.

These last chapters have some of the best set-piece conversations in the novel: Osmond and Isabel, when he gives exactly no ground to her; Isabel and Osmond’s sister, when the countess tells her what she should have guessed about Pansy; Isabel and Mme Merle at the convent, in which Isabel pities the woman who destroyed her life, and tells her she never wants to see her again; Isabel and Pansy, when the full vice-like extent of Osmond’s control over the girl becomes clear; Isabel and Henrietta, with Bantling (now the Hen’s fiancé) hovering in the background…. And we do get the final scene between Isabel and Ralph that we‘ve been waiting for. This has turned out not to be his tragedy after all, but Isabel’s: she refuses to let him take the blame for what she allowed herself to get into. There’s reconciliation and, dammit, love between them before he dies. The metaphor-fuelled conversation between Isabel and Caspar finishes it off nicely…. And have you noticed something? For the first time James has kept Isabel in the picture for chapters on end. For the first time she isn’t the hapless subject of other people’s never-ending discussions.

So what do I think? Ask me later. At the moment I’m annoyed that James left Isabel’s story alone when he did. How will she be able to confront (or not confront) the Osmonster’s unremitting hypocrisy? How will she get Pansy out from under his heel? And why should she let social convention define who and what she is – a wife – when he’s torn into shreds every line of the social contract it represents? If hers is a tragedy it’s based on a fatal flaw in her: she’s an idiot for letting it carry on.


2 Responses to Portrait of a Lady – Henry James

  1. WA Tyler says:

    I read POL years ago, and have long felt frustrated at her decision to return to Osmond. Thank you for your article..

  2. kez says:

    finally!!! someone else who thinks as i do about the book. thank you!!

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