The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James
The Portrait of a Lady Identity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
"I don’t agree with you. I think just the other way. I don’t know whether I succeed in expressing myself, but I know that nothing else expresses me. Nothing that belongs to me is any measure of me; everything’s on the contrary a limit, a barrier, and a perfectly arbitrary one. Certainly the clothes which, as you say, I choose to wear, don’t express me; and heaven forbid they should!" (19.17)
Here, Isabel argues with Madame Merle, showing the essential difference between them – Madame Merle believes in the importance of outward show and appearance (under which anything can hide), while Isabel believes that people can only express their own individual identities, regardless of everything they try to show on the outside.
"Take things more easily. Don't ask yourself so much whether this or that is good for you. Don't question your conscience so much – it will get out of tune like a strummed piano. Keep it for great occasions. Don't try so much to form your character – it's like trying to pull open a tight, tender young rose. Live as you like best, and your character will take care of itself." (21.7)
Ralph, with his eternal wisdom, attempts to get Isabel to just relax and go with the flow; he hopes that she’ll let go and allow herself to develop without being so hard on herself.
Isabel was the attraction, and in all conscience a sufficient one. Osmond was a critic, a student of the exquisite, and it was natural he should be curious of so rare an apparition. (26.1)
It’s as though Osmond’s very character and identity draw him inexorably to Isabel – he can’t help but desire her.