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The Portrait of a Lady

The Portrait of a Lady


by Henry James

The Portrait of a Lady Theme of Women and Femininity

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.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. In Henrietta Stackpole, James paints a picture of the woman of the Future – in hindsight, is it accurate?
  2. Does Henrietta’s eventual marriage mean that the image of female independence from men that she represents is a false one?
  3. How does Isabel compare to a new woman, like Henrietta, or a traditional one, like Pansy?
  4. Does James set up any of the women in this novel as a feminine ideal?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

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.

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