Tag Archives: Henry James

Still on The Portait of a Lady

I wasn’t wrong when I referred to women as volatile creatures because aside from the fact that I am qualitatively speaking from personal experience, I  also guess The Portrait of the Lady is wholly accepted as a connotative portrait of ladies in general.

While reading her adventures, I wanted nothing more than to tell the feisty heroine, “Oh come on, Isabel! Make up your mind!”. Even with the presence of a narrator and the useful state of shifting from one character to another, I still cannot help but be perplexed at what Isabel’s thinking; it’s like she’s a complete enigma on her own! Her mind is a wonderful cornucopia of metaphors and riddles that you have to read between the lines most of the time; if the narrator focused on her thoughts alone, it would not be enough to do her justice. Even though it’s prose, there’s still that air of poetry where you have to figure out the arcane for yourself. I normally skip through the long pretexts of Oxford versions so I only got to appreciate it lately when I had to refer to it to shed me some light on some events, unfortunately though, it’s still not sufficing.

And in my previous post, I said I was not sure whether or not I like Isabel. I now know why. Call me prejudiced but my fondness for her faltered since she became acquainted with Gilbert Osmond; in the nascency of their dreadful relationship, her want of “seeing life” was greatly influenced by Osmond’s adamant view of it. It didn’t help that Madame Merle was there encouraging her all the while; by the way, I knew from the start that this woman was nefarious, her reaction to Isabel’s sudden rise in fortune was a dead give away. It was rather surprising how Isabel easily succumbed to Osmond (I was rooting for Lord Warburton) but you cannot blame her for doing so. According to St. Augustine, we love because we want to partake in another’s personhood and Isabel only thought of doing just that. Besides how could she have augured Osmond’s intentions when the only suffering she knew was literary? I have to admit, she redeemed herself in my eyes when their relationship started to waver and here I thought, Good, all the more for Lord Warburton. 🙂

Let me add this, I don’t know if it’s just me but I absolutely adore Ralph Touchett! I don’t find him selfish at all in amusing himself by putting a little wind in Isabel’s sail because I’m perfectly sure the people who were touched by Isabel’s charm would have wanted to see what this lady would do with her life. Ralph also had this homey aura which gave a sense of comfort to Isabel whenever she thought of him. So as expected, with Ralph’s moribund scene — that was, wow, that was just tear-jerking — I felt as though a part of Isabel died with him as well.

If I ever sensed patent regret on her part (Isabel was kinda proud to admit regret, I have to say), it was evident on her return to Gardencourt, at the part where she was reflecting on the painting of Bonington. She was thinking of the inevitability of circumstances that pervaded to its present outcome. If her aunt, Mrs. Touchett, would have found her somewhere else and not reading alone in her grandmother’s library, things would have turned out differently. If she ever gave a positive thought on Ralph’s and Mrs. Touchett’s warnings, she would not have suffered her fate with Osmond. That scene was incredibly human because we too find ourselves in that situation once in a while (if not most), that bitter sense of regret where our indiscreet choices lead to the rejection or the acceptance of our future.

On the Rhone Valais, Switzerland by Richard Parkes Bonington

Now I don’t really know what happened to Isabel in the end but I guess it’s one those great works of literature that leave to the reader’s imagination the fate of the characters. On my part, I think the “straight path” that Isabel was going to traverse was finishing what she started. She may be miserable but backing out would be an inconsistency with what she said about not wanting to turn away from the usual chances and dangers of life. She had Pansy (who immensely loved her) to take care of and she would not want to put the girl’s expectations in abeyance. It was truly a noble thing to do.

To conclude, I am much grateful for accidentally coming upon The Portrait of a Lady. 🙂


Some light on The Portrait of a Lady

No, I am not finished with The Portrait of a Lady yet but I feel as though I should write about the first twenty chapters I have read. A lot of things (sensible or not) have been going in and out of my mind while reading it and though not all may prove to be incisive, pouring them out is healthier than letting them rot in my capably forgetful mind.

One is always in danger of being too much of one thing thus we can say that one’s complacency is only transiently satisfied — this was what I was thinking while reading it. Isabel Archer’s unconstrained practice of liberty got me thinking if there ever was a brake to its profuseness; don’t get me wrong, I admire how she obliviously leaves a mark on people but sometimes I think there’s no harm in thinking (and acting) conventionally. Then again, if that were so, Isabel would not be the charming lady she was and the story would have taken a different turn which would have altered it drastically (haha!). The title itself constitutes ingenuity as well as deception because you can never verify the truthfulness of your opinion on a portrait unless you have gained first-class access to the painter’s whimsical basis for painting it. This may not be a universally-accepted fact but being a woman myself, we have the tendency to be fickle and this volatility addles the mind of one who perceives thereby heightening or decimating the initial perception. On the whole, I’m not really sure whether or not I like Isabel Archer. When I read her description on the back cover — a young American woman with looks, wit, and imagination — I instantly liked her and I even thought she could be comparable to Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice but alas, the portrait deceived me. 😉 Like I said, I am not done reading so my perception of her might lean on the brighter side along the way. Nevertheless, I agree with Isabel on some grounds — like this one, for example, a part of her discourse with one of her suitors, Lord Warburton:

“I’ve always been intensely determined to be happy, and I’ve often believed I should be. I’ve told people that; you can ask them. But it comes over me every now and then I can never be happy in an extraordinary way; not by turning away, by separating myself.”

“By separating yourself from what?”

“From life. From the usual chances and dangers, from what most people know and suffer.”

By the way, no value of casuistry could convince me to desecrate my copy of The Portrait of a Lady, tradition prevailed after all. And I have another reason to be happy, I finally found James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and since I did not want to leave my search in vain, I did not hesitate to pick it up. 🙂

Accidental treasure

My hands have been dying to get itself on a classic which was why I felt smugly triumphant when I emerged from the second-hand bookstore that I love. Poring over the classic titles that lined one of its shelves, my heart literally skipped a beat when I saw The Portrait of a Lady, not because it’s a specific title I sought but because I thought I finally found James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. So yea, I got too excited but I actually had reason to be because it was in the same place that I found Joyce’s Dubliners. Albeit disappointed, I picked it up and mechanically turned to the back cover to spoil myself. And wow, I ended up buying it.

oh portrait

I have not finished reading it yet but because I am, I might finally get idiosyncratic when it comes to handling my books. You see, I normally don’t fill my books with highlights and though I love quoting, I feel as though it’s a sacrilege to desecrate a book with colorful marks. Writing it down or saving it on my phone is what I have grown accustomed to. With The Portrait of a Lady, I might as well grab my orange marker and highlight –well, I don’t know– everything! Hahaha. Perhaps not all of it but each page has something worth noting that I can hardly keep up with writing it down. Oh why does it have to be so good?

Once I’m done with it, I might write something about it here even if my writing won’t give the novel its worthy praise. 🙂