Literature / The Portrait of a Lady

Henry James novel originally serialised in 1880-81, which tells the story of Isabel Archer, a Spirited Young Lady who, after the death of her father, leaves her native Albany for Britain in company of her estranged aunt Lydia Touchett. Isabel eschews marriage in favour of her ambition to see as much of the world as possible and find her own purpose in life, but when she inherits a fortune from her uncle, Lydia's husband Daniel, she is soon caught up in the Machievellian scheming of two other American expatriates.

This work contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Pansy doesn't acknowledge that her daddy is pretty much emotional abusive, poor little thing.
  • Affably Evil: Gilbert Osmond is mostly outwardly polite, never raises a finger on anyone or threatens someone. He's just that good at manipulate and emotionally dominate people.
  • All Love Is Unrequited:
    • Lord Warburton, Caspar Goodwood and Ralph all love Isabel who is flattered or annoyed depending on the suitors' respective insistence, but doesn't love romantically any of them (she does love Ralph but in a Like Brother and Sister way).
    • Also a rare, familial example: Madame Merle is in reality Pansy's mother and loves her, but Pansy doesn't know that and not only she dislikes Madame Merle — Madame Merle seems to be about the only person the sweet Pansy dislikes.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Isabel has left England to go back to Rome, but we don't know if she will stay with her husband or she's just going to take Pansy with her.
  • Ambition Is Evil:
    • Osmond agrees to Madame Merle's scheme of having Isabel marrying him so he could afford his lavish lifestyle and find a good match for his daughter like Lord Warburton.
    • Madame Merle's used to be rath ambitious in her youth, but didn't quite succeed in getting the social status she longed for.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Ralph gave us one twice, the first is: I love you, but I love without hope. D'awwww.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Osmond and Madame Merle, though it's clear quite early for the reader if not for Isabel. She is slightly more sympathetic than him.
  • Big Fancy House: Gardencourt.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Mrs. Touchett operates on her own system of rules, which is not really compatibile with anyone else's. She is quite fair about it though and doesn't expect any more kindness from others than she gives away (ie. very little).
  • Brutal Honesty: Mrs. Touchett is intensely judgemental, and has no qualms about telling what she thinks of any subject.
  • Cassandra Truth: Ralph knows since the beginning that Osmond is a "sterile dilettante". His mother shares the same opinion, but neither of them is listened by Isabel.
  • The Dandy: Osmond poses as a aesthete, but in reality he is desperate for the admiration of those around him. Ned Rosier is a more sympathetic version, if dumber.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Oh no, Pansy is dating a penniless art collector! Daddy is quite a hypocrite.
  • Death by Childbirth: How Gilbert Osmond's first wife died until we learn she didn't die in this way.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Poor Caspar Goodwood and Lord Warburton, Ralph didn't even try and most likely Ned Rosier didn't get Pansy.
  • Domestic Abuse: Of the emotional variety, from Gilbert.
  • Dude Magnet: Oh, Isabel! Almost every male character has shown interest in her at some point.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: And remember this, he continued, that if you’ve been hated you’ve also been loved. Ah but Isabel-adored!
  • Evil Parents Want Good Kids: Gilbert has his daughter educated so that she is innocent, submissive and obedient especially because he wants her to marry rich.
  • Foreshadowing: In her first visit to Gardencourt, Isabel asks Ralph to show her the ghost of the castle, and Ralph answer her that she must have suffered to be able to see it. And when at the end she sees the ghost, it turns out to be Ralph himself who has just died and she's devasted.
  • Gold Digger: Gilbert Osmond married Isabel to have the money to indulge in his decadent lifestyle and also to socially elevate himself and his teenage daughter.
  • Shipper on Deck: Mr. Touchett ships Ralph/Isabel while Henrietta ships Caspar/Isabel.
  • Snow Means Death: At Ralph's funeral.
  • The Social Expert: Ralph isn't fooled by anyone. He sees people for what they are.
  • Spirited Young Lady: In the first half of the novel, Isabel Archer is this to a tee. And her friend Henrietta too, to such a high degree, that not everyone considers her a lady.
  • Stalker with a Crush: All of Isabel's suitors to some degree, but Goodwood takes it to a really scary level. Isabel certainly doesn't view it positively.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Ned Rosier and Pansy are victim of Parental Marriage Veto by Pansy's father, who wants her daughter to marry rich and possibly into nobility.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: After learning of Madame Merle's story and how she among other things betrayed her, Isabel can only pity Madame Merle for being separated from and disliked by her daughter Pansy.
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