Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady Essay

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Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady

"On her long journey from Rome her mind had been given up to vagueness; she was unable to question the future. She performed this journey with sightless eyes and took little pleasure in the countries she traversed, decked out though they were in the richest freshness of spring. Her thoughts followed their course through other countries‹strange-looking, dimly-lighted, pathless lands, in which there was no change of seasons, but only as it seemed, a perpetual dreariness of winter. She had plenty to think about; but it was neither reflexion nor conscious purpose that filled her mind. Disconnected visions passed through it, and sudden dull gleams of memory, of expectation. The past and the future came and
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The most fertile ground for her imagination is her own life: "She was always planning out her development, desiring her perfection, observing her progress." (It is interesting to note, here and elsewhere in the novel, the way James often has Isabel treat herself in her own mind as an external, abstract, almost objectified subject: James might well have written Œher own development¹ or Œher own perfection¹, but chose not to, leaving us with the subtle impression that she is somehow disconnected from herself in her own mind.) Given these first descriptions of Isabel, it is hard not to register the simple power of the statement that, "she was unable to question the future"‹she, and by natural extension the reader, has been deprived of one of her liveliest faculties, and James has ensured that we feel the immensity of this momentary loss.

Another thing to note in this passage is James¹ metaphorical use of landscape. In the opening chapters of the novel, we are told of Isabel: "Her nature had, in her conceit, a certain garden-like quality, a suggestion of perfume and murmuring boughs, of shady bowers and lengthening vistas, which made her feel that introspection was, after all, an exercise in the open air, and that a visit to the recesses of one¹s spirit was harmless when one returned from it with a lapful of roses."(107) Now that her narrative is no longer an abstract question before her, her
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