Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Portrait of a Lady: What is the most important event?

Rachel Gurney
by George Frederick Watts, 1885

Grammar Stage Questions:

Who is the central character?  Isabel Archer

What is the book’s most important event? (When does the main character change?) 

            Henry James leaves out a lot of details, such as those regarding Isabel’s marriage to Gilbert Osmond.  It picks up three years into the marriage, but it is obvious that something in Isabel has changed, and it is apparent that she is not happy.  Given what information I have, I think her marriage is the first event that causes noticeable change from an inquisitive, intelligent, and confident woman to an introverted, gloomy, and despondent soul. 

            But then there is the change that occurs once she receives word from her aunt that Ralph does not have much time left to live.  Isabel knows that her husband forbids her to go to Ralph, but she decides to go anyway.  After Ralph’s death, she has this period of clarity that causes her to realize that she is really in control of her life now.  So when Mr. Goodwood offers her a way out of her dismal marriage, she rejects him and returns to Rome.  She can lie in the bed she made with dignity because ultimately it was and still is her choice.  


  1. Although some people don't like the 'hanging' ending, I think it's the way James highlighted Isable's change. From outside, it seems nothing had changed, Isabel returns home to her husband; but inside she has indeed changed. I think that's why I like this book!

    1. It has been the most abrupt ending I have ever read; but I think it Hardy was successful in assuming Isabel's change, nonetheless, odd as it was.