Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Portrait of A Lady – The Stage Reading Inquiries

These are my works on stage reading inquiries for my Well-Educated Mind Self Project. As I still have much more to talk about this book, I decided to write separate post as my final review. I hope you haven’t been bored yet to read more about this book; it’s a good story anyway! :)

Eugene de Blaas (1843-1931)

Grammar-Stage Inquiry

Who is the central character in this book?

Isabel Archer, an American young woman, daughter of a wealthy man. She was a self-possessed intelligent woman with a free and independent mind.

What is the book’s most important event? At which point in the book does the character change?

I think there are two most important points in Isabel’s life. First is her decision to marry Gilbert Osmond, an American man who lived in Italy, who has a noble manner and a conventional mind and taste. Isabel, with her obsession to anything different and new, saw Osmond as a charming man who stood aside from others. She married him, and slowly realized that she had made a terrible mistake, as Osmond was a very dominant husband. After the marriage, the free and high spirited Isabel became passive, indifferent, and seemed to always be under a mask.

The second point is at the last chapter after Ralph’s death, when Isabel finally decided that she would return to her dominant husband, but this time she would be herself. Isabel has learned all the truth, she knew now what has made her suffered, and that there was no place in the world where women could be completely free. Thus all she could do was to freely choose her destiny and live with it bravely, and I guess she won’t be as submissive to Osmond as before.

Logic-Stage Inquiry

What does Isabel Archer want? What is standing in her way? What strategy does she pursue in order to overcome this block?

Isabel Archer always wanted to be free, even before she inherited that huge amount of fortune. However, the society where she lived could not accept women to be free on their own. In this story, Isabel was trapped under her husband (Osmond)’s dominancy right after their marriage. At first Isabel firmly rejected her friends’ advises to leave Osmond, she did not want to run away from her own decision. Till the end of the story, James did not clearly mention Isabel’s plan, but I believe she has quite changed after Ralph’s dead and Goodwood’s passionate proposal. Isabel knew at last that she could not change something beyond her control: culture and society, but at least she could change her own mind, her way of thinking. Men can control her physically, but they could not frighten her, Isabel decided to return home with a new spirit. That’s only the beginning to get your freedom, to realize that no one could frighten you.

Who is telling you the story?

The story is told from both the third person limited and the omniscient point of views. James picked Isabel Archer as his central character; the story was told by a narrator using her point of view. However, there were times when the narrator also took us to analyze Isabel’s decision, her state of mind, and her feelings. So I think James wanted us to judge for ourselves whether his heroine had done the right things, considering what she had experienced, what she could not control, and the culture and society at that time.

Rhetoric-Stage Inquiry

Is this book an accurate portrayal of life? Is it true?

From what I had read in Victorian books and histories, Isabel’s situation—the lack of freedom for women—was accurate. Even until now, I believe there are still women who experience domination from men everywhere; either physically or mentally; either at home, at work place, or at society.

Do you sympathize with the characters? Which ones, and why?

From the moment Isabel entered the story, I have felt that she had much similarity to me, that made me sympathize with her more. I could understand her feeling, as I often feel it too; we both long to express ourselves in a way we want it, we like to live our own lives and make decision by ourselves. What Isabel always need was the freedom to look at things from her point of view, to be given chance to express it, and being appreciated. Isabel suffered a lot under her husband domination but she refused to surrender.

What exactly is the writer telling you?

Through his heroine, I think James wanted us to give more respect to women. When a man marries a woman, he ought not just to consider whether she would be a beautiful ornament to his household or not. Women are human being, just as men; they were created equally to support each other in a marriage life. Men must give their wives more room to express themselves, to be their husband’s partners. Men must give more respect to their wives—or women in general.

James talked a lot about the difference of Americans and Europeans. Americans were portrayed to be more open-minded and aggressive—look at Henrietta Stackpole and Caspar Goodwood; while Europeans were more conservative. I think James wanted to tell us how human beings were shaped by culture and society where they had been grown up. You could not bend their characters to be like yours; and that in marriages between two cultures, you could each compromise to each other—compromising, not total submission.



  1. Great review! So many blogs are talking about this book this month. I have been putting it off for one reason or another, but I'll try to pick it up in March. Isabel's story seems to be both realistic and moving, and that's a definite plus for any novel.

    1. Yep, we are reading this book together this month. And I agree, Isabel's story--although it was from another century--is still relevant today, and James had written it quite beautifully.

  2. Yep! We pretty much came to the same conclusions on these two questions: when did Isabel change? and what does she want and what is standing in her way? My only difference is that I could not decide on my rhetorical questions, and I'll probably leave them as questions, as opposed to statements. Maybe someday I'll re-visit them and change it.

    1. This book does offers plenty of room to discuss. Seems that there are a lot of things that James tried to say to us. I have a feeling that I'm going to get more from it when I reread it. Maybe someday...


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