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The Portrait of a Lady

The Portrait of a Lady

by Henry James

Analysis: What’s Up With the Title?

What constitutes a "portrait," anyway? Is it just a likeness? A specific interpretation? An image? Is it external or internal, physical or psychological? When an artist paints a portrait, the difficulty lies in capturing all of these elements in one single image. James’s novel also strives to show us our heroine (the eponymous "lady"), Isabel Archer, from all of these diverse angles. The book is famous for delving into Isabel’s mind, but also for showing us the various roles she plays in society. James creates for his readers an image of Isabel from outside opinions and from the interior of her own mind, as though we are able to look from the outside in and from the inside out. Make sense? No? Think of it this way – through this incredible novel, we get two different levels of perspective: first, Isabel as seen by the world; second, the world as seen by Isabel.

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