Portrait of a Lady and Term Paper
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Suddenly I receive a Titian to hang on my wall -- a Greek bas-relief to stick over my chimney-piece." (James in: Phelan-Cox, 2004)
Through the analogies of Ralph, the reader is able to view the manner in which "male pleasure in spectatorship with interconnected with Western aesthetics generally." (Phelan-Cox, 2004) it is the argument of Laura Mulvey that the film of Hollywood is structured around "the voyeurism and scopopophilia of the male gaze by denying the existence of other viewing positions." (Phelan-Cox, 2004) James veritably denied other ways to view through his description of the scene "by consciously omitting Isabel's own perception of herself in that setting or any objective description of the scene that might include observations about Ralph." (Phelan-Cox, 2004)
VII. Portrait and the Implications
The title of this story is even misleading as noted by Phelan-Cox the word 'portrait' "implies that the novel is to be a neutral or passive observation of Isabel Archer, who constitutes the completed art-work. However, by limiting the novel's gaze to an omniscient narrator who favors a monolithic male view, James necessarily fashions action from observation." (Phelan-Cox, 2004) According to Phelan-Cox the character of Isabel "is thus created through an objectifying gaze that transforms portrait into plot." (2004) Stated for example is the moment of Isabel's greatest independence in Chapter 31 with Isabel parting from her sister at Euston Station and James writes "and then she walked back into the foggy London Street." (James, ) at this time Isabel has the world at her feet however, due to the power of James over his character Isabel simply walks home in the fog from the station. Phelan-Cox writes that James refuses to use the narrative of his novel "to reflect Isabel's perception of her freedom of choice.
Izzo writes that the story of Isabel is "fundamentally a story of closure, the story of an illusory opening and of increasing suffocation. That is, Isabel believes herself to be free but the very nature of the novel preemptively negates her self-perceived freedom." (Phelan-Cox, 2004) Isabel holds the belief that "nothing external expresses her; the reality is that she is only constituted externally." (Phelan-Cox, 2004) the desire of Isabel to be free and to not be defined by anyone or anything external results in her refusal to marry Lord Warburton and Caspar Goodwood however, as noted in the work of Phelan-Cox, the fortune of Isabel is her downfall, because "it provides the motivation for her oppressor, Gilbert Osmond to want to marry her." (2004)
Isabel is according to Phelan-Cox "objectified by both the characters within the novel, as well as by the omniscient narrator who describes her thoughts and actions from a monolithic male gaze. The narrator informs the reader that for Ralph "conscious observation of a lovely woman had struck him as the finest entertainment that the world now had to offer." (James, )
The work of Braden (2011) questions whether Isabel Archer in Henry James's novel can be read as proto-feminist characters in terms of evidence of independence, autonomy and frere will." Braden writes that the factors of "money, marriage and sexuality are central to understanding to what extent Isabel can be" read as an individual who possesses control of her own destiny or alternatively becomes a victim of a patriarchal society. The work of Ascari (nd) states that Gilbert Osmond "whose sinister charm has been recently flavored with a distinct propensity to lust and sadism embodies the cynical apologist of the 'objet d'art." (Ascari, nd) Osmond is reported to be such that there is no "stated career, no name, no position, no fortune, no past, no future, no anything." (Ascari, nd)
It is reported that Madame Merle explains that all human beings "have their shell made up of one's house, one's furniture, one's garments the books one reads, the company one keeps" however Isabel absolutely refuses to be defined by her external attributes. Stated as the contrast existing between the naive presumption of Isabel and the ambition of Osmond is focused on the conception of identity. Osmond, who is egotistical believes himself to the "the first gentlemen in Europe." It is reported that this model of "sublime fineness is that which serves to set the "tone of his Florentine abode "a seat of ease, indeed of luxury, telling of arrangements subtly studied
and refinements frankly proclaimed housing a rich collection of chests and cabinets of carved and time-polished oak, angular specimens of pictorial art in frames as pedantically primitive and perverse-looking relics of medieval brass and pottery." (Ascari, nd)
Isabel turned down two what are termed as "traditional patterns of male identity" in the form of Caspar Goodwood, the athletic American industrialist and Lord Warburton the supreme ornament of the British aristocracy in order to privilege Osmond, whose charm is greatly enhanced by his objets d'art." (Ascari, nd ) the environment in which all of this takes place is characterized by "decadent sensibility, the gilded molding of the frame prevail over the painting, the opulent decor draws the attention away from the drama that is being acted out." (Ascari, nd)
Isabel is drawn to Osmond, because "of the inability to define him. Her mind contained no class offering a natural place to Mr. Osmond -- he was a specimen apart, while Goodwood and Lord Warburton are all too predictable. " (Ascari, nd) the desire of Isabel is for "an ever-changing self, a ready and enthusiastic acceptance of experience. That which she refuses is a predetermined role." (Ascari, nd) This is held to be clear form the metaphors that are used by James in referring to Isabel "the young woman, whose idea of happiness corresponds to a journey towards unknown lands" or stated by James "A swift carriage, of a dark night, rattling with four horses over roads that one can't see." (Portrait III, 235 in: Ascari, nd) This space is such that has no limitations "an adolescent dream that is destined to prove unrealistic -- turns into a nightmare when she marries Osmond, the 'infinite vista of a multiple life is now reduced to a dark narrow alley with a dead wall at the end." (Portrait IV, 189 in: Ascari, nd)
Isabel is described as "a creature of the air" and stated to be held prison "within the massive walls of Palazzo Roccanera 'the house of darkness, the house of dumbness, the house of suffocation'. (Portrait IV, 196 in: Ascari, nd) Osmond, on the other hands is reported as a "gravitational center, a sort of black hole, the master of enclosed spaces." (Ascari, nd) the talent of Osmond for furnishings is reported to render him capable of making a setting that is perfect for "exclusive social rituals, aimed at magnifying his taste and status, thus satisfying his will to power." (Ascari, nd )
It is reported to be Osmond's ability and desire "to dominate the domestic space that connects the refined Osmond with Gothic villains turning him into a jailer whose coercive means are not violence and locks, but a respect for conventions and appearances which is as inflexible as it is cruel." (Ascari, nd ) it is reported that the attitude of Osmond could well be described as "the look of Medusa" as Isabel meditates in Portrait that "It was as if he had the evil eye" (IV 188 in: Ascari, nd) She thinks that this is because Osmond "reduces people and feelings to their shell" and thereby deprives them of their vital core. Even so Isabel defines Osmond as the man with the beset taste in the world. It is stated that the marriage of Osmond to Isabel, described as a "mercenary marriage" can be viewed "as the last stage of a descending curve, mirrored by his painting. When James first introduces his character the reader's attention is drawn to a watercolor representing the Alps however, when Osmond is last seek in the work he is focused on making a copy of "the drawing of an antique coin" who se artistic value "scarcely conceals its commercial one." (Ascari, nd) it is stated that the refusal of Osmond to "bring aesthetic and ethical values together, and by marrying Isabel he commodifies his life, which is his most precious artwork -- by the author's standards -- he twice fails in his aesthetic career." (Ascari, nd)
Gilmore states that the most obvious example is Osmond however, other characters in the story are not free from the habit of "metaphorizing others as expensive and beautiful objects. Osmond is attracted to Pansy because she does not have a flaw in the way she is physically composed and he thought of Pansy as "in amorous meditation a good deal as he might have thought of a Dresden-china shepherdess. The viewing of people as objects is further highlighted as Ralph takes Isabel to an art gallery and as Ralph steals glances at this cousin" the narrarator states "He lost nothing, in…
Sources Used in Documents:
Ascari, M. (nd) Three Aesthetes in Profile: Gilbert Osmond, Mark Ambient, and Gabriel Nash. RSA Journal 7.
Braden, HE (2011) Lily Bart and Isabel Archer: Women Free to Choose Lifestyle of Victims of Fate? University of New Orleans. 4 Aug 2011. Retrieved from: http://scholarworks.uno.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1247&context=td
Brown, B. (2001) Thing Theory. Critical Inquiry. Vo. 28, No. 1 Autumn 2001.
Gilmore, MT (1986) the Commodity World of the Portrait of a Lady. The New England Quarterly, Vo. 59, No. 1. Mar, 1986.
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