The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James
The Portrait of a Lady Women and Femininity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
She was intelligent and generous; it was a fine free nature; but what was she going to do with herself? This question was irregular, for with most women one had no occasion to ask it. Most women did with themselves nothing at all; they waited, in attitudes more or less gracefully passive, for a man to come that way and furnish them with a destiny. Isabel's originality was that she gave one an impression of having intentions of her own. "Whenever she executes them," said Ralph, "may I be there to see!" (7.6)
This view of women in general is rather dismal; Ralph assumes that most of them aren’t as interesting or intelligent as Isabel, and that they simply wait for men to come along and structure their lives. Isabel, however, is a kind of advanced-model woman, who doesn’t need this external assistance.
"Shall I love her or shall I hate her?" Ralph asked while they moved along the platform.
"Whichever you do will matter very little to her," said Isabel. "She doesn't care a straw what men think of her." (10.2)
Huh – the idea of a woman that doesn’t care about male opinions is something of a novelty and a challenge, since even Isabel cares what men think about her.
"A woman perhaps can get on; a woman, it seems to me, has no natural place anywhere; wherever she finds herself she has to remain on the surface and, more or less, to crawl. You protest, my dear? you're horrified? you declare you'll never crawl? It's very true that I don't see you crawling; you stand more upright than a good many poor creatures. Very good; on the whole, I don't think you'll crawl." (19.12)
Madame Merle takes quite a cynical view of woman’s role in the world, but admits that Isabel, unlike her sisters, is unlikely to give in to the belittling demands of the world. OK, we get it, we get it – Isabel is superior to all the other women out there.