The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James
Henrietta Stackpole is just a laugh and a half, both intentionally and unintentionally. She’s quite serious about her job at the New York Interviewer, but generally approaches life with a good-humored, perceptive, and extremely opinionated perspective. She and Ralph are sort of an odd couple; the two of them are natural friends and adversaries, and their quasi-flirtatious banter is one of the comic highlights of the book.
She’s a fierce American and finds Ralph’s lack of patriotism astounding, just as he is puzzled by her ferocious incarnation of the American nation. However, beyond their external differences and comic arguments, both of them share not only a perceptive eye and keen sense of humor, but they also share a deep love for Isabel Archer.
Henrietta’s clear view of matters is often obscured by the bluntness (or, sometimes, rudeness) with which she expresses herself. For this reason, she is sometimes disregarded or dismissed; however, we see, as the novel goes on, that what she says really does have value, even if she doesn’t quite know how to get it out there. Henrietta, like a Twinkie, is double-layered – somewhat repellent and sometimes odd on the outside, and a worthwhile voice of reason on the inside (mmm, voice of reason).
In the end, Henrietta’s two layers reconcile themselves a bit more. She softens and grows more sympathetic, even shedding tears at Ralph’s funeral, something the original Henrietta — who didn’t even return to Gardencourt for Mr. Touchett’s funeral – wouldn’t have done. She also gives in and submits to matrimony – albeit on a kind of experimental, self-aware basis – and goes as far as to move to England permanently.