"Suffering" is an interesting concept. It can mean any number of different things to different people; in Portrait of a Lady, we see many of these different incarnations brought to life. We are presented with the suffering of unrequited love, of physical pain, of loss – and, worst of all, the suffering of the horrible realization that you’ve made a wrong decision (ah, yes… we’re all familiar with that one). James plays upon his readers’ understanding of all these different brands of suffering, and, in so doing, brings us even closer to the vibrant, oh-so-real characters he creates.
Madame Merle’s suffering stems largely from her awareness of her own wickedness.
Isabel’s suffering makes her emerge a stronger woman.