The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

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What is a critical appreciation of The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James?

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Blaze Bergstrom eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This novel by Henry James is an outstanding achievement for the way it focuses on a central character and locates her within a tightly structured narrative that does not seem contrived. Although James is a meticulous wordsmith, he uses language in service of the novel as a whole rather than to show off his talent. It is Isabel Archer who sustains the reader’s attention, not Henry James. Isabel is believable and memorable because James shows that her dilemma is consistent with her personality: it is Isabel’s innate goodness, not an innocence or naïveté that can be altered by experience, that makes her trust those who do not always have her best interests at heart. Similarly, the character of Gilbert Osmond seems irredeemably corrupt, but he is not a cartoon villain. Isabel does grow and...

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Lenny Wiza eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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