What are the methods and techniques Henry James uses to portray Isabel's character and identity in The Portrait of a Lady?

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lprono eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chapter 42 of The portrait of a Lady marked a new direction in literary works towards the exploration of human consciousness. The chapter heavily focuses on Isabel's inner feelings and the third-person omniscient narrator closely identifies with Isabel's point of view. This results in an early form of interior monologue, a technique that modernist authors such as Woolf and Joyce would take even further into their characters' psychological depths. The narrator reports Isabel's meditations "far into the night" inserting into the narrative, thoughts that seem to be flowing directly onto the page from Isabel's mind. See for example the italicized sentence in this passage which seems to be Isabel's direct answer to the question on Lord Warburton's feelings for her asked by Osmond:

". . . now that it [the question] was directly presented to her she saw the answer, and the answer frightened her. Yes, there was something - somenthing on Lord Warburton's part."

The italicized sentence strives to reproduce Isabel's sudden realization and consequent psychological turmoil with the direct answer to the question ("Yes") and the repetition of "something". In the same paragraph, there are also several questions that Isabel poses to herself which are further examples of the same technique.

The chapter shows Isabel's gradual understanding of Osmond and Madame Merle's scheming and culminates with a final revealing vision "that of her husband and Madame Merle unconsciously and familiarly associated".


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The Portrait of a Lady

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