The Portrait of a Lady is not simply the portrait of one single woman – instead, it reveals to us a whole range of different women, all of whom are emblematic of their time, the late nineteenth century. We see an example of the modern career gal as well as a traditional, proper-to-a-fault, obedient Victorian daughter, and everything that falls between these two extremes. In the novel, Henry James presents the state of women in general as he saw it – in relation to men, in relation to each other, and in relation to society on the whole.
Isabel is an ideal woman, placed in a flawed world.
Henrietta Stackpole’s character represents both the anxieties and hopes of the Victorian man towards the modern woman.