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Henry James writings, particularly ‘The Portrait of a Lady’
I read this book out of interest for another Henry James piece, liking Daisy Miller so much. I found that this book, as in Daisy Miller, has a female point of interest throughout. Isabel Archer is a young American girl brought to Europe after her father has died in America. Isabel is an independent girl, easily noticed by many others in her circle. I felt that Isabel was a woman in her time, in that she took notice of things that she wouldn’t have without certain without the opportunities she was given. In America she would have see and done other things, but in Europe she saw so much opportunity. I like the carefree attitude she had, but with the regard for her elders and common courtesy. The example in the book about being a proper young lady when it was not looked at very well that she stay up ‘alone’ with her cousin and another young man. She had asked her aunt to help her and tell her when she is doing, or about to do something saw as improper. I admired that. I think nowadays young women would revolt against proper if it meant something they did not wish to do.
Henry James’ writing was interesting to me in that he gave these characters a real life, with real life struggles and even consequences. I enjoy reading his work, very much like I enjoy watching and reading Jane Austen pieces as well. The time period is interesting to me and what is proper of a lady. That is a large piece of the world I do not understand. I am very much happy to see a woman and a man as equals. Of course there are things in society that women don’t do, or just aren’t a part of, but I am not one to be against that. What’s else interesting in the reading of ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ is that Isabel fell to something she would have been totally against if she had known the creature from another experience. The man she married was awful, and yet she married him with the idea that she was happy and that he was wonderful. He was exactly the type of man that, I think, kept her from getting married at all in the beginning. But, yet as a woman she felt the obligation to follow her husbands interests and thoughts, even though she was very much against them.
Henry James initially describes a character as they enter the piece, but throws bits and pieces out as the book progresses to give the reader more to chew as they read. I like this strategy because it keeps the reader interested in what is going to happen or become of their favorite/least favorite character of the piece. The best is that all while the book the reader is told that Pansy’s mother has died and that she was raised by Mr. Osmond her entire life along with the convent. Pansy is a quiet girl, listens to her father, in fact obeys her father’s every wish. She does not want to disappoint father by doing anything he has forbidden. I find it interesting it is not until almost the very end of the book that we find out that Pansy is the daughter of Mrs. Merle and Mr. Osmond, during a 7-8 year affair. This is a character that James does not reveal much about, Mrs. Merle, only that she is a widow and a friend of Mrs. Touchett. I feel this information was key to the entire plot of the book, because knowing such things may have swayed the decision of Isabel to even be aquanted with either Mr. Osmond or Mrs. Merle in a friendly fashion.
I see a character transition of Isabel, from a bright young vibrant adventurous lady, to a wife and mother to Pansy, with worries and responsibilities. Throughout the reading several characters note on how she has ‘changed’, which I don’t think she sees herself, until the day with her cousin when he is dying. Until that day, she knows she has made a terrible decision and will live with it, but does not tell anyone about it nor recognize the changes she has gone through in her journey.
The cousin speaks to her of his mistake and how he has brought all this on her, because of the inheritance and apologizes, but Isabel fesses up to the mistakes she has made marrying Mr. Osmond. She also confesses that Mr. Osmond only married her for her money. This, I feel, is a real transition for Isabel to speak of. I feel that she only spoke of it because it was her best friend that she was talking to and that she truly loved her cousin, from the beginning as he did her.
We will never know what has happened to Isabel, Pansy and the rest as all we know is Isabel went back for Rome. I feel this ending to be perfect. Those of us who want to, can believe that she went back, got Pansy and told Mr. Osmond off like she should have a long time ago. That’s probably not what she did though, knowing the time and what was expected. Also knowing that she did not want to be improper, changes what I wish she would have done, being in current time. I’d like to think that something did happen to Mr. Osmond to make him suffer the way Isabel has.
I really enjoyed this book and will recommend it to anyone who enjoys Henry James or even the time period of the Jane Austen novels.
I know that these types of pieces are considered realism, but I see some romanticism in it also. I see it in the idea of who will marry and to the person they will marry. The idea of being arranged to marry someone is also true in this piece. The thought of who and when to marry these days is a different sort of decision, most of the time. Then in that day, it was who was rich, important in society and maybe a good looking catch. But, now it’s about love and relationships and I don’t know how things have changed so much. Sometimes I wish that I’d been born back in those times, even if I don’t believe in some of the behavior. I will definitely buy another book from Henry James or another author similar to the pieces done by Henry James. I really enjoyed the thoughts I came upon while reading this book.
The world was definitely a different place and women were definitely viewed and treated very differently than today. They were also treated differently than before this time, when they might have just gone along with what was expected of them. Women of this time had a certain independent nature, which they wished to explore whether they acted it out in such as way as Isabel Archer, Daisy Miller or another literary figure of that time. I think it was crucial to the development of society that is today and to the women’s movements of the past, present and future.
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