The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James
The Portrait of a Lady Suffering Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
She had had the best of everything, and in a world in which the circumstances of so many people made them unenviable it was an advantage never to have known anything particularly unpleasant. It appeared to Isabel that the unpleasant had been even too absent from her knowledge, for she had gathered from her acquaintance with literature that it was often a source of interest and even of instruction. Her father had kept it away from her – her handsome, much-loved father, who always had such an aversion to it. (4.5)
Isabel’s dashing, ne’er-do-well father only wanted to protect his little girls from the world – and, as a result, Isabel feels as though she hasn’t really seen life at all.
As he said to himself, there was really nothing he had wanted very much to do, so that he had at least not renounced the field of valour. At present, however, the fragrance of forbidden fruit seemed occasionally to float past him and remind him that the finest of pleasures is the rush of action. Living as he now lived was like reading a good book in a poor translation – a meagre entertainment for a young man who felt that he might have been an excellent linguist. (5.4)
Part of Ralph’s suffering is the sad fact that he can’t really take part in life – although he suspects that he would love it if he could.
Ralph shook his head sadly. "I might show it to you, but you'd never see it. The privilege isn't given to every one; it's not enviable. It has never been seen by a young, happy, innocent person like you. You must have suffered first, have suffered greatly, have gained some miserable knowledge. In that way your eyes are opened to it. I saw it long ago," said Ralph.
"I told you just now I'm very fond of knowledge," Isabel answered.
"Yes, of happy knowledge – of pleasant knowledge. But you haven't suffered, and you're not made to suffer. I hope you'll never see the ghost!"
She had listened to him attentively, with a smile on her lips, but with a certain gravity in her eyes. Charming as he found her, she had struck him as rather presumptuous – indeed it was a part of her charm; and he wondered what she would say. "I'm not afraid, you know," she said: which seemed quite presumptuous enough.
"You're not afraid of suffering?"
"Yes, I'm afraid of suffering. But I'm not afraid of ghosts. And I think people suffer too easily," she added.
"I don't believe you do," said Ralph, looking at her with his hands in his pockets.
"I don't think that's a fault," she answered. "It's not absolutely necessary to suffer; we were not made for that." (5.18-19)
Isabel feels somewhat uneasy about suffering; she has not suffered yet, and the part of her that wants to experience everything doesn’t back away from it. However, she also doesn’t think that suffering is necessarily fundamental to life.