Beauty In Henry James Portrait Of A Lady

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In Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady, Isabel Archer’s opinions and decisions in life were shaped by her own aesthetic theories and perception of beauty. Such conceptions and ideals were applied to the items, environments, and people around her. Isabel is naturally drawn to what she regards as beautiful, though it is not of a similar taste as everyone else’s. With her “certain nobleness of imagination”, she combines together thoughts of “beauty and bravery and magnanimity” and views the world “as a place of brightness, of free expansion, of irresistible action” (50-51) that heavily implies her sense of adventure and fascinated curiosity of experience in her taste that isn’t synonymous with the conventional ideas of purely visual or aesthetic…show more content…
In that respect, she seems to suggest that she doesn’t possess her own definition of beauty. As mentioned, Isabel had left America with Mrs. Touchett in pursuit of travelling in continental Europe, a place that embodies her definition of beauty, complete with its rich culture and history. The same kind of aspiration is evident when Isabel meets Madam Merle, whom she refers to as a “brave” (194), “cultivated and civilised, so wise and so easy and still make so light of it” woman and calls her a “great lady” (193). Isabel nearly equates Madam Merle’s grace with that of an aristocratic nature — a description we would associate with the idea of beauty. Yet Isabel’s perception of her lack of such a quality is inferred as she “felt ashamed of her own facility, which she now looked upon as basely inferior” (194). She is conscious of the fact that she is not as “natural” (195) in her grace as Madam Merle is and instead, regards herself as nearly superficial while Madam Merle is “deep” (195). It suggests that Isabel believes that such ‘beauty’ or aristocratic aura is something that is inborn and natural in a character. If such beauty is not maintained, it can be overshadowed and twisted into something that is not longer beautiful. This point of view can be observed when Isabel states that her own “nature had been too much overlaid by custom and her angles too much rubbed away” (195), suggesting that she has already…show more content…
In a sense, this also implies Isabel’s naïvety in pursuing what beauty is; “she had imagined a world of things that had no substance. She had a more wondrous vision of him, fed through charmed senses and oh such a stirred fancy!” (436). The example used here is Isabel’s understanding of the man she falls in love with and marries, Gilbert Osmond. By stating that Isabel had not “read him right” (436), she insinuates her conviction that she had only taken what she had seen on the surface of this man and decided that it was beauty and was everything that she sought for and wanted. She also consciously reflects on such a conviction in which she realises that she had fallen in love with a subjective imagination of Osmond; where she had “invented a fine theory”, “loved him not for what he really possessed” (355) and “had seen only half his nature” (436). Her attraction to Gilbert Osmond was, first and foremost, a visual and aesthetic one. She called him “as fine as one of the drawings in the long gallery above the bridge of the Uffzi” (252), “a person of so fine a grain” (267) with a “fine” (252) voice and a sense of “indefinable beauty” (436). While compared to his “ugly” and “feebly put together” (6) foil Ralph, Osmond is obviously visually more pleasing, he is not one to lose out to the “noticeably handsome” (6) Lord Wharburton and “splendid” (35)

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