Perception Of Beauty In Henry James's 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 beauty. Even in the beginning of the novel, when Mrs. Touchett visits her in her father’s home, she mentions her love for it, calling it “full of life” and “experience” — a sentiment she shares for the idea of the Florentine “houses in which things have happened” (27). In this essay, however, I will discuss in particular, Isabel’s application of her ideals on the people around her — specifically Madam Merle and Gilbert Osmond — and how they — and on a stretch, her perceptions on beauty— in turn, affect Isabel’s her decisions and opinions regarding the world and herself.

To Isabel, beauty seems to be a goal that she strives to attain. In that respect, she seems to suggest that she doesn’t possess her own definition of beauty. As

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