For the Portrait reveals in the institution the principal functions of a form: the capacity to sustain a fully developed relationship; but also the capacity to precede the full development of a process or experience while yet prefiguring it, and thus to shape the plans and aspirations for personal and social experience, to embody emerging possibilities as well as actual achievements; and the capacity to survive the process or experience itself, remaining a skeletal but nonetheless real image of possibilities no longer (or not yet again) actual. Within the context of the Portrait, the marriages of the Countess and much later of Warburton image the institution reduced to its most factitiously conventional status, while Daniel Touchett's hopes for Ralph's and Isabel's marriage, and earlier for Warburton's, and Isabel's hopes for Pansy's, view the institution as a form of aspiration and commitment, with the Touchetts' marriage (and Henrietta Stackpole's) falling in between.

Indeed, the Portrait gives body to ambivalent remarks James made in letters to his brother and Grace Norton, in 1878 and 1881, on the subject of marriage, confirming his intention not to marry but insisting on the importance of the institution, associating the form of marriage with commitments of the profoundest sort, and displaying a firm regard for the institution despite his own decision. He wrote that "I believe almost as much in matrimony for most other people as I believe in it little for myself," and that "one's attitude toward marriage is... the most characteristic part doubtless of one's general attitude toward life.... If I were to marry I should be guilty in my own eyes of inconsistency—I should pretend to think quite a bit better of life than I really do." These letters make the form of marriage an image of commitments to life itself, whether within or beyond the range of one's actual conduct. These are commitments which James's imagination entertained and made in his fiction, if nowhere else, and they are at issue in the Portrait.

There the plot—like the world it represents endowing and then drawing on Isabel's banked resources of temperament and inheritance—focuses first on the prospective form of her marriage; then as that becomes a hollow shell it widens its focus to include the prospects for Pansy's. In the process, Isabel's acts of confronting and imagining experience become acts of paying and suffering and responsible commitment as she is led by her husband "into the mansion of his own habitation" and made a victim of her world (including her own temperament and illusions) and of the Portrait which creates and paints her.

— LAURENCE BEDWELL HOLLAND, "The Marriage," The Expense of Vision:
Essays on the Craft of Henry James
( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964), pp. 35-42


MANFRED MACKENZIE

Although we are so familiar with the social observer and critic in Henry James, I doubt if we have ever asked what kind of society it is that he typically imagines. This, therefore, is the question asked here: whether there is a "sociology" implicit in James's international situations.

-64-

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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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