The Portrait of a Lady
The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James
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The Portrait of a Lady Theme of Men and Masculinity

Just as Portrait of a Lady reveals a wide spectrum of womanhood, so, too, does it show us a fascinating parade of different types of men. From the super-masculine to the gently feminized, James presents us with a set of male characters that are all as different as can be. He also asks us to re-evaluate what we think we know about men and women. In this novel, we see a world not so very different than our own, in which gender roles are just beginning to grow less concrete.

Questions About Men and Masculinity

  1. We are presented with two images of ideal masculinity, Caspar Goodwood and Lord Warburton. How are they similar? How are they different?
  2. Do the characters in James’s novel stay within the gender roles assigned to them by the society in which they dwell? Do any of the women demonstrate stereotypical masculine traits, and visa versa?
  3. Isabel loves Ralph as a brother, falls in love romantically with Osmond, and even had a crush on the girlish Rosier when they were children. Why is she so attracted to these un-masculine men?
  4. How are strong men and women in James’s novel different? How are they similar?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Masculinity is inextricably tied to nationalism in characters such as Caspar Goodwood and Lord Warburton, while Ralph Touchett, Edward Rosier, and Gilbert Osmond – whose national ties are ambiguous at best – are perceived as less masculine.

The adoption of masculine traits by female characters such as Henrietta Stackpole and Isabel Archer makes it less necessary for men to maintain these characteristics themselves.

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