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The Portrait of a Lady

The Portrait of a Lady

by Henry James

The Portrait of a Lady Questions

Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.

  1. What is the book’s ultimate take on America? It is seen alternately as a wide-open, hopeful arena for the future, and as a place of punishment – do we get a final, comprehensive vision of the new world?
  2. England represents a kind of friendly middle-ground between America and Europe proper; do you think Isabel could have been happier if she’d just stayed in England, as Henrietta ultimately does?
  3. Many of our character are collectors – is this always a bad thing?
  4. How free is Isabel at the end of the novel?
  5. Why does James choose not to show us the more positive first year of Isabel and Osmond’s marriage? Why do you think he largely ignores the issue of the child she had and lost?
  6. Could Isabel have escaped with Caspar Goodwood and still remained true to everything we know about her character? Why or why not?
  7. Do you think Isabel ever finds true happiness?

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