Henry James’ International Theme in The Portrait of a Lady
Henry James’ International Theme in The Portrait of a Lady
关键词?伊莎贝尔 国际主题 文化冲突
The portrait of a lady is the symbolic representation of international theme in Henry James’s masterpieces.
The story is centered on Isabel Archer, an American in European. She is surrounded by possible suitors and married with Gilbert Osmond. but it is fatal that Isabel final choice of husband married her for her property, her marriage is made by Gilbert Osmond and his lover, Madame Merle. In this, James revealed the conflict between the new culture of the United States and traditional European values, though the narrative of Isabel’ life hinted this sort of conflict.
Keywords: Isabel international theme cultural conflict Background introduction
Henry James, American-born writer, gifted with talents in literature, psychology and philosophy. His father was one of the best-known intellectuals in mid-nineteenth-century America. His father believed that his children should be exposed to the culture and life of Europe as a basic part of their life, so he took his children there when Henry was still a baby. In James’s youth, he traveled back and forth between Europe and America. After he left Harvard law school, encouraged by his fellow
William dean Howells he started to write articles and reviews for various journals. In 1869, finding America hostile towards as a detached talent and attracted by a Europe steeped in history; he left the United States for his first extended trip abroad. In 1876, he settled in London, which he made his home for the next twenty years. Over the next decade James wrote some of his best work, including the popular novella The Portrait
(1882). of a Lady
Isabel archer has been brought to England from Albany, New York, by her Aunt Touchett to extend her education?possibly to marry well. Isabel,
proud and independent, has other ideas. She has no desire to marry and wishes to create her own future?rather than finding it as a wife.
Consequently she refuses two very eligible suitors: lord Warburton and Casper Goodwood, who has followed her to Europe from America. When her uncle lord Touchett die, leaving Isabel a fortune, he unwittingly does her a great disservice, for on a visit to Italy she is introduced by Madame merle to Gilbert Osmond .Osmond is a charming but worthless dilettante who sees Isabel as a beautiful prize, a mother for his daughter pansy, and a source of easily attained wealth. From his cruel cynicism comes Isabel’s tragic disillusionment.
According to the writer, Henry James, the major theme of the portrait of
is the single one, Isabel archer. Isabel is everything; she is the a lady
center of the novel and its consciousness. If we’d like to discuss the theme of the novel, it’s essential that we should firstly grasp the
Isabel’ characteristics: her intelligence, her attractiveness, her independence, and her imagination. In the beginning of the novel, James shows the mind of the heroine: she reads books on German thought; she has romantic notions; other consider her bright; she is idealistic as seen by how she interprets European life when sees it. The nest step that James takes us on is the quality of Isabel’s mind. From the second chapter, where she appears first, we realize that she has a free spirit, that she makes her own decisions about what she sees and does. She says, “I am not a candidate for adoption.” “You meant she has taken me up. Yes; she likes to take people up. She has been very kind to me; but,” she added, with a certain visible eagerness of desire to be explicit, “I am very fond of my liberty.” She makes it clear that she is not up for adoption. Isabel also has an ideal side to her: she always insists in her thoughts, at first she does that with Madame Merle, later with his husband, Osmond.
Her most idealistic aspect, however, is the one that cause Isabel to think she can make a free choice. This is the aspect that causes her to reject the proposal of lord Warburton. Because in accepting him, she is accepting something that has been established before her arrival and something which she can not change. Isabel would be accepting Warburton’s way of life and all that he represented. As a true life, she would have to live according to his standards. In other words, Isabel’s acceptance of the
proposal of Warburton would be her acceptance of something that she herself has not decided upon, but something that had been decided for her. She must still see the world on her own terms; she must learn to understand the complexities of life. To accept Warburton is to lose what Isabel has come to Europe for. Ralph Touchett, Isabel’s cousin, stand a distant place but involved observer, he provides the opportunity for that character to have free play of all her characteristics. Of course, Isabel is so idealistic that she does not sense the plot that limits her choice; she thinks that she is free, but she is not. We realize that Isabel’s choice is not made in a vacuum so far as she is concerned. Once she makes her choice, she lives by it. It is this aspect that moves the basic problem of choice, action, and consequence into a moral plane. In other words, Isabel is noble, as her friend Henrietta never fully realizes. Isabel realizes that she is married to Osmond and it is only fitting that she lives the life of his wife. In her own way, Isabel decides that she can not make over Osmond, as he tries to make her over. Her nobility comes out in the way that she is able to make Osmond realize that he can not make her into something else. She is not only an object in his life, as he would like it, but also a formidably imaginative person who can see through the shallow hypocrite that is her husband. When Isabel decides to return to Rome, she is fulfilling her own image of herself. She will live to see Pansy properly cared for.
The International Theme
The international theme is the study of the American aboard. These Americans are unaware of the conventions and formalities of the Europe. James contrasts the two societies very carefully. This is not surprising, since it is a contrast he observed throughout his life as an American who spent most of his adulthood in Europe. To James, Americans tend to be native, energetic, practical, sincere, direct and spontaneous, and they value the individual above society. Conversely, Europeans are sophisticated, lethargic, formal insincere, obtuse, and scheming and the value society above individual. This theme is especially interesting in the portrait of a lady because most of its characters are American who has been living in Europe for varying periods of time. In general, the
longer an American-born character has been in Europe, the more European traits he or she has.
Isabel disrupts the conventions. Osmond is a Europeanized American; he lives by convention, and Isabel eventually realizes this in him, especially when he claims, after the reader knows of his past, that marriage is a sacred thing. This theme comes out in many ways: Henrietta always defends America; Mrs. Touchett, when she chides Isabel for wanting to stay up with the men one evening, shows that, however eccentric her behavior is, she lives by the code of the behavior of Europe. Casper goodwood knows no conventions except those that he makes for himself. Madame Merle and Isabel archer present a different opinion of what creates a person. Is it the shell or the soul? Madame Merle believes that one who lies in the materials one possesses; that what one owns gives a visual of what lies beneath. Archer believes that a person who lies within their spirit? The soul gives them a way to live. Madame Merle sees the soul as only a small piece of the puzzle, which makes a person. Merle has experienced life and has been that society judged us by appearance. For instance, when a play is performed the set, lighting, costumes, props, and makeup represent the characters the actors portray. The audience can tell what type of personality an actor is portraying by the costume he is wearing. Thus , this quote is saying that that each of these things are piece to the puzzle of what makes us who we are and determines how others see us. Isabel archer demonstrates an argument on the contrary of Madame Merle. Archer expresses that it is soul itself that makes a person what they are. The soul is the flame that burns within us that burns an undying spirit. It is the flame that lies within us that connects to the other pieces of what completes a person’s character. The shell and the soul are connected. Society can see the character, our essence has created by what we say, do and possess. However, when Isabel met Madame Merle at first time, she is attracted by Madame Merle’s graceful temperament. In th19 chapter, “Isabel had never encounter a more agreeable and interesting figure than Madame Merle; she had never met a person having less of that
the air of fault which is the principal obstacle to friendship-
reproducing the more tiresome, the stale, and the too-familiar parts of one’s own character. The gates of the girl’s confidence were opened winder than they have ever been. She said things to this amiable audi tress that she had not yet said to any one.” “However, she always remembered that one should never regret a generous error and that if Madame Merle had riot the merits she attributed to her, so much the worse for Madame Merle. There was no doubt she had great merits- she was charming, sympathetic, intelligent, cultivated. More than this, she was rare, superior and preeminent. There are many amiable people in the world, and
Madame Merle was far from being vulgarly, good-natured and restlessly witty. She knew how to think- an accomplishment rare in women; and she had thought to very good purpose. Of course, too, she knew how to feel„”
In one way, we can say that Madame Merle stand for Europe society. She seems to represent all that Isabel wants to acquire in Europe. Madame Merle is a woman of experience; Isabel is a lady of innocence, Madame Merle is devious; Isabel is honest.
These conflicts also are showed in the Isabel’ life after marriage, Isabel comes upon her husband as he is copying a medallion. At first, Isabel thinks that he is different, but later she realizes that he is quite conventional. She realizes that Osmond works to show others what he is because he needs acceptance.
In a word, this novel is about a group of Americans and how they behave when confronted by either long life in Europe or by the conventions in Europe. All the characters, except for lord Warburton, who is captivated by the American girl, and Mr. bantling, who converts Henrietta to marrying a European , and American.
Henry James asserted in the “preface” to the New York edition of novel: “The whole substance of the novel is a poor girl pursuiting for freedom of spirit and noble sentiment, she thought herself clear-minded, generous and sensible, but finally she found herself to be rolled in the “conventional millstone”. We can realize that the international theme is a sort of incompatible contrast. “Conventional millstone” means the
selfish and quirkiness fashion in Europe at that time and the innocents’ hell. In fact, this sort of “millstone” not only exists in Europe at that time, but also exists in nowadays. Perhaps James’ is popular because it has the practical significance that the beautiful in James’ works contrasted with cruel reality and kinds of conspire in the absurdness and ugly society nowadays.