GRAHAM GREENE

'The conception of a certain young lady affronting her destiny'—that is how Henry James described the subject of this book, for which he felt, next to The Ambassadors, the greatest personal tenderness. In his wonderful preface (for no other book in the collected edition of his works did he write a preface so rich in revelations and memories) he compares The Portrait of a Lady several times to a building, and it is as a great, leisurely built cathedral that one thinks of it, with immense smooth pillars, side-chapels, and aisles, and a dark crypt where Ralph Touchett lies in marble like a crusader with his feet crossed to show that he has seen the Holy Land; sometimes, indeed, it may seem to us too ample a shrine for one portrait until we remember that this master-craftsman always has his reasons: those huge pillars are required to bear the weight of Time (that dark backward and abysm that is the novelist's abiding problem): the succession of side-chapels are all designed to cast their particular light upon the high altar: no vista is without its ambiguous purpose. The whole building, indeed, is a triumph of architectural planning: the prentice hand which had already produced some works— Roderick Hudson and The American—impressive if clumsy, and others— The Europeans and Washington Square—graceful if slight, had at last learnt the whole secret of planning for permanence. And the subject? 'A certain young woman affronting her destiny.' Does it perhaps still, at first thought, seem a little inadequate?

The answer, of course, is that it all depends on the destiny, and about the destiny Henry James has in his preface nothing to tell us. He is always something of a conjurer in these prefaces: he seems ready to disclose everything—the source of his story: the technique of its writing: even the room in which he settles down to work and the noises of the street outside. Sometimes he blinds the reader with a bold sleight of hand, calling, for example, The Turn of the Screw 'a fairy-tale pure and simple'. We must always remain on our guard while reading these prefaces, for at a certain level no writer has really disclosed less.

The plot in the case of this novel is far from being an original one: it is as if James, looking round for the events which were to bring his young woman, Isabel Archer, into play, had taken the first to hand: a fortune-hunter, the fortune-hunter's unscrupulous mistress, and a young American heiress caught in the meshes of a loveless marriage. (He was to use almost identically the same plot but with deeper implications and more elaborate undertones in The Wings of the Dove.) We can almost see the young James laying down some popular three-decker of the period in his Roman or Venetian lodgings and wondering. 'What could I do with even that story?' For a plot after all is only the machinery—the machinery which will show the young woman (what young woman?) affronting her destiny (but what destiny?). In his preface, apparently so revealing, James has no answer to these questions. Nor is there anything there which will help us to guess what element it was in the melodramatic plot that attracted the young writer at this moment when he came first into his full powers as a novelist, and again years later when as an old man he

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Isabel Archer
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Major Literary Characters *
  • Isabel Archer *
  • Contents *
  • The Analysis of Character Harold Bloom ix
  • Editor's Note xv
  • Introduction 1
  • Critical Extracts 5
  • Henry James 5
  • Horace E. Scudder 8
  • Margaret Oliphant 10
  • Henry James 15
  • Cornelia Pulsifer Kelley 19
  • Yvor Winters 23
  • Edward Sackville West 24
  • Graham Greene 28
  • F. R. Leavis 32
  • Richard Chase 37
  • William H. Gass 41
  • Richard Poirier 45
  • Leon Edel 51
  • Dorothea Krook 57
  • Laurence Bedwell Holland 60
  • Manfred Mackenzie 64
  • Lisa Appignanesi 72
  • Ronald Wallace 76
  • Peter Jones 80
  • Critical Essays 91
  • Tony Tanner the Fearful Self 91
  • Annette Niemtzow Marriage and the New Woman in the Portrait of a Lady 104
  • Notes 117
  • Nina Baym Revision and Thematic Change in the Portrait of a Lady 119
  • Notes 129
  • Zephyra Porat Transcendental Idealism and Tragic Realism in the Portrait of a Lady 131
  • Notes 149
  • Jonathan Freedman James, Pater, and the Dreaming of Aestheticism 152
  • Notes 163
  • Stephanie A. Smith the Delicate Organisms and Theoretic Tricks of Henry James 164
  • Notes 179
  • William Veeder the Feminine Orphan and the Emergent Master 181
  • Notes 199
  • Contributors 203
  • Bibliography 205
  • Acknowledgments 211
  • Index 213
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