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:

  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Cassandra Truth: Ralph knows since the beginning that Osmond is a "sterile dilettante".
  • 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.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Countess Gemini is pretty much a Gossipy Hen but she's not fooled by anyone.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Mrs. Touchett claims she never got along with her brother-in-law, the late Mr. Archer, and that's why she has been The Ghost for her nieces until his death.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Osmond refuses to allow Pansy to marry Ned Rosier, and his devoted daughter is unable to defy him. When he fears she may do so anyway, he has her confined to a convent.
  • Parental Substitute: Pansy really likes Isabel , more than her own biological mother.
  • 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.
  • 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.