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The Portrait of a Lady - the Innocent American Heroine

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The Portrait of a Lady - the Innocent American Heroine by Herminne Tonita -

Most writers in the 19th century were concerned with the real world. Henry James felt that they sometimes concentrated too much on the surface of life. His own aim was to portray life from the inside. It is not but photographic realism that we find in his work. The purpose of his novels is to explore the ways in which people see and relate to each other.

The International Theme was James's most famous subject- the meeting between America and Europe. Compared with Europe, America was still a new, innocent country. European subtleties of manners and morality evolved over many countries, baffled the visiting America who was accustomed to directness of behavior and simple notions of right and wrong. An unusual feature of the International Theme in his best novel, The Portrait of a Lady, is that the innocent American heroine does not find herself up against an assortment of sophisticated and corrupt Europeans; she is deceived by corrupt Americans who live in Italy.

James's method of telling Isabel Archer's story is to make her the central figure of the novel in which only her character is to be clearly shown. All others characters would remain to some extent dim, undefined, obscured, even to the reader. The other characters are there to interact with her. Their function is to bring out her nature and provoke her mind to activity so that her qualities are revealed.

Almost all of Henry James's novels are structured in the same way. There must be a central idea of the novel, something towards which all the lines point. In The Portrait of a Lady the central idea is that Isabel Archer has to develop freely to the limits of her own capacity. She is seen as a person who has great potential but she doesn't have the freedom which would allow her to develop her own innate qualities. Therefore almost all the scenes and action of the novel are designed to hinder or to bring to completion this chance for Isabel to attain her full capacity.

All lines must point toward the central idea, but these lines do not follow a straight course. While everything in the novel is aimed at the central situation, James moves toward the centre by exploring all the related matters. The structure could be best described by a series of circles-around the centre. Each circle is an event which illuminates the centre, but highlights only a part of it. Each circle is then discussed by a series of characters. For example a character notices something and the goes to other character to discuss his observation. By the end of some conversations, the writer has investigated all of the psychological implications inherent in this particular situation. Thus, by the end of the novel James has probed and examined every moral, ethical, and psychological aspect of the central situation, and the reader has heard the views of many people on the same subject.
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Tags: innocent, american heroine, portrait, lady, henry james, 19th century

Category: Education  - ( Education Archive)

Date Added: 01 May '07

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