Isabel Archer is the towering figure of the Portrait of a Lady. Henry James is the author of the novel. He has very beautifully portrayed the curving journey of a young woman’s wish to live free. She thinks that she is powerful to cut the chains of paternity. Set in the 1870’s it tells us how Isabel has a dreamlike quality of being mysteriously attractive and undoubtedly intelligent. Since the beginning, we see her in a meditative mood as if she is reflecting over something serious and that was the marriage proposal with Lord Warburton. If you have seen the movie, Nicole Kidman enacts the role and it makes us easier for us to understand. There are tears in her eyes but she does not let them fall. It is symbolic. Another charming young man Casper Goodwood who is a bit fiercer in the aspect of persuasion is proposing her. Isabel rejects both of them. This woman has large ideas about her life, and she wants to make them without men’s aid. Going ahead through the novel, we find that she has charmed her cousin Ralph Touchett as well. He is a sick man and is hopelessly in love with her but meets a negative fate. Isabel does not do this on purpose but the playwright has tried to show the feminine perspective through the hands of men. Isabel believes in love, but she also believes in struggles and painful life. When approached by Lord Warburton, she politely declines his proposal by saying that she likes him but cannot marry. He is eager to know the reason but she remains silent.
Isabel is the live example of what a woman hopes and desires to live a liberal life. Going out in the world and exploring people is her core wish. She wants to take risks and win over dangerous situations. Over here, Archer believes that her life is going to be painful and miserable. This does not mean that she is thinking of committing suicide. This is the harsh fact of life but everyone chooses to ignore it. The wise readers will react to Isabel as being immature and a naysayer, but I believe it is her choice to live this way. She does not believe in hearts and flowers but pain and endurance. Some readers have vehemently declined her thoughts by saying she has a weird perspective of being miserable. I say if your life imparts you pain it also renders a shelter a shoulder to burden all your tears. Isabel is wandering to find that shoulder. She does not want to compromise on her fate. Our female protagonist sincerely believes that she will be unhappy and her destiny will let her have the novel experiences. Marital chains will only stop her from having her slice of life and she strongly opposes this fact. Her dearest friend Henrietta Stackpole meets her in London and is very surprised by her deviant attitude. She was even more shocked to realise that Archer rejected Warburton. Henrietta is a reporter by profession and is a symbol of feminism in those days. Henrietta misjudges the noble people’s sentiments and calls Casper Goodwood “I have never seen an ugly man look so handsome“, when he talked about his wish of marrying Isabel. Ralph on the other hand mixes with Henrietta and demands to know why Isabel refused Warburton. He practically blackmailed her to know but she gives a rational answer. He knows Isabel very well and wants to save her from her fate but cannot do anything as he is about to die. The playwright has made him a spectator as he looks on to Isabel’s life.
James has candidly divulged into a female’s perspective about life, love, and marriage. Through the medium of Casper Goodwood, he shows us the respective mannerisms of single and married women. They have a code of conduct to follow. The lines, “An unmarried woman- a girl of your age- isn’t independent. There are all sorts of things she can’t do. She’s hampered at every step.” These lines show the open ascendancy of the person. Then the fact of allowing her to have happiness and dangers is another patriarchal morsel that he wants to feed her on. This is exactly what Isabel dislikes but her fate takes an ugly turn as she marries Gilbert Osmond the archetypal villain with his partner Madame Merle and an innocent daughter.