Nina Baym
REVISION AND
THEMATIC CHANGE IN
THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY

When Henry James revised The Portrait of a Lady for the New York Edition he made thousands of changes in the wording of the text. 1 The revised version is stylistically and thematically closer to his later interests than the early one had been. Its writing is more complex, mannered, and metaphorical. It is thematically less timely and realistic, for its main concern is the private consciousness. In the 1908 version, Isabel Archer's inner life is the center of the character and of the novel's reality. In the early version the inner life is only one aspect of character, which is defined by behavior in a social context.

Owing to the prestige of the New York Edition, the novel of 1881 has largely been ignored by readers and critics, with a resulting loss in our sense of the early James as opposed to the later. In particular we do not see how topical and timely The Portrait of a Lady was. The 1881 novel was one of an increasing number of works about "the woman question." The heroine, an appealing young American, wants to live an independent and meaningful life; but she is thwarted. Unlike many works of the period on this theme, The Portrait did not depict Isabel's desire as unnatural and misguidedly unfeminine, nor did it employ the standard formula of saving her from this delusion by love and marriage. On the contrary, the novel sympathized with her aim to the point of calling both love and marriage into question. Moreover, it judged Isabel as limited by those inner qualities that, together with external obstacles, prevented her from pursuing and realizing her wish.

The changes of 1908, transforming the story into a drama of consciousness, overlaid and in places obliterated the coherence of the 1881 version. Omissions and additions altered all the characters significantly. 2 Finally, James wrote a preface for the new work which announced that the story centered in the heroine's consciousness and that its action was the development of her perception and awareness. The preface instructed the reader in how to interpret, what to admire, and what to deplore in the work. This preface is significant because it has largely controlled the critical readings of The Portrait. Since its interpretation works for

____________________
From Modem Fiction Studies 22. No. 2 (Summer 1976): 183-88, 190-200.

-119-

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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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