whether the literature derives from New England, New York, the South, or the West. It has often been said that Isabel Archer is an imitation of George Eliot's Dorothea Brooke, but it is apparent from all the novels of James which have no resemblance to Middlemarch, and from their Emersonian echoes, that The Portrait of a Lady could have brought the theme of aspiration to the point it does without the help of George Eliot.

Comparing, for example, the scenes wherein the heroine of each novel discovers within the atmosphere and landscape of the city of Rome a representation of her own feelings of disappointment, we can remark on the substantially greater vividness and resonance of George Eliot's imagery. In Middlemarch Romecan objectify and symbolize the nature of Dorothea's inner turmoil, and it can do so in a way that considerably extends the historical as well as the personal significance of the failure of her marriage. By comparison, James's descriptions of the city in The Portrait of a Lady are misty, sentimental, and weakly suggestive. The city cannot adequately reflect the quality or the representative importance of Isabel's sense of failure and possible betrayal. A comparison between James and George Eliot along the lines being briefly sketched would require another study as full as this one. What I am offering is merely a specific instance to illustrate the literary consequences of James's temperamental bias towards a specifically American view of tragic experience—the discovery of the unsatisfactory correlation between the internal world of heroic imagination and the external, historical world. Santayana, speaking of American philosophers, including William James, summarizes the dilemma in ways that give Isabel's part in it a wider context. 'Each of them,' he writes in Character and Opinion in the United States, 'felt himself bound by two different responsibilities, that of describing things as they are, and that of finding them propitious to certain human preconceived desires'. In James's novels, very often, the second of these is the happy prelude to the first. This, at least, is the experience of his heroic characters, and it is ours in reading about them. For us as for Newman, Eugenia, Isabel, and Milly, there is the entertainment before there is the knowledge, the romance before the reality. In heading, as we are, towards a discussion of artful manners and glamorous deception in this novel, it is well to recall James's definition of 'romantic': '... the things that can reach us only through the beautiful circuit and subterfuge of our thought and desire'.

— RICHARD POIRIER, "The Portrait of a Lady," The Comic Sense in Henry James:
A Study of the Early Novels
( New York: Oxford University Press, 1960),
pp. 213-22


LEON EDEL

The Portrait of a Lady was the third of Henry James's large studies of the American abroad and twice as long as either of its predecessors. In Roderick Hudson he had posed the case of the artist, the limitations of his American background, and the frustration of his creative energy from the moment it was confronted by passion.

-51-

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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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