Valuables, within women
When traveling around the world, there are many different beliefs that will be encountered or new ones that will be formed. Even the old beliefs that a person may have can change, in the course of time, for the better or for the worse. In the book, The Portrait of a Lady, Isabel goes on a journey to discover the world and to find herself by exploring different parts of the world. In the journey, she encounters men who want to marry her, due to the fact that she’s intelligent and beautiful. Almost all the men want to have her and it makes her look like a prize waiting to be won. In the journey, she’ll meet women who seem to be dealing with the same circumstances as her such as, Pansy Osmond and Madame Merle. In the book, The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, he conveyed the message that in the 19th-century women were mostly viewed as valuables to be owned, and it was done through the symbolic journey of Isabel Archer, the protagonist.
The men encountered in the story all seemed to be stunned by Isabel’s personality, mind, and beauty. Although, not all the men have good intentions especially, the man named Gilbert Osmond. Gilbert Osmond and Madame Merle state that ‘ “ Is she beautiful, clever, rich, splendid, universally intelligent and unprecedentedly virtuous… She’s beautiful, accomplished, generous… She’s also very clever and very amiable, and she has a handsome fortune",” ‘(James, 2004. p.255). Gilbert has an idealistic idea of the perfect wife that he wants to have in his life. If she didn’t meet the requirements that he asked for, he wouldn’t want to meet the woman since it seems that she would not be worth his time. He seems to appear very picky towards people he lets in his life. Ironically enough, Isabel met all the requirements perfectly meaning, that she would be a great value to add to his collection. This part can make someone feel very weird just thinking about how one can have many things in mind that the other is not aware of. Andreinna Perez, a researcher from Cali-Colombia, states that “ She abandons her apparent New World liberal ideologies and becomes a true ―lady. The value placed on money as well as men‘s roles",” (Perez, 2016, p.14). Andreinna is agreeing that Isabel had in fact, become a perfect lady that any man would be pleased to have and to show that he has the absolute best. Furthermore, Andreinna means to say that what is now valued is to fit the role of the perfect lady, by putting it into having money and a male role in one’s life, which Isabel ends up having in the ending of her journey. Not only does Isabel meet great bachelors for herself, but she also meets two other women who seem to be in the same position as her. The position is that they are viewed as valuable and appealing to other men.
The woman that Isabel looks up to, for a major part of the book, is Serena Merle also known as Madame Merle. She will influence Isabel’s actions and decisions a lot in the story which Isabel will consider upon every time. Henry James states that “Isabel had never encountered a more agreeable and interesting figure than Madame Merle… She was charming, sympathetic, intelligent, cultivated… She knew how to think- an accomplishment rare in women",”(James. 2004, p.201-202). Isabel and Madame Merle seem to have a lot of qualities that represent one another, explaining the reasoning behind why Isabel would look up to her for guidance. Isabel viewed her as ideal for the reason being that she was able to think on her own, just the way that she does, and finds her interesting with all the points that she has. Serena Merle seems to be an ideal woman to have, as a valuable, which can raise the question as to why does she not have anyone, like a husband? Emily Boockoff, from Bridgewater University, answered the question by stating that “ Madame Merle is driven by material interests and quickly drags Isabel into this life and away from her aunt… exploits Isabel on a daily basis using her in order to get closer with Osmond as well as gain more material items and trips",”(Boockoff, 2015, p.15-16). Emily is showing that Merle isn’t a genuine person but is actually quite, in fact, deceiving in her actions towards the people around her. It is shown that Merle will use people to get what she desires out of a situation. She was the one that made Osmond and Isabel meet, so in a way, it will help her be closer to Osmond since she helped him find his ideal woman. This could’ve made her believe that she might’ve been able to get something out of him by doing him that favor. It didn’t seem to faze her, that she would be hurting Isabel in any way since that wouldn’t seem to affect her since the one she truly cares about is Osmond along with herself.
The final young lady that Isabel Archer comes to encounter is Pansy Osmond, Gilbert Osmond’s daughter. Isabel will watch Pansy grow up, since she ends up marrying Gilbert, and will see her change into a great young lady before her eyes. According to Henry James, he says that “She felt afraid of Pansy’s wisdom… There was something brilliant in her lucidity and it made her companion draw a long breath… Pansy had sufficient illumination of her own",”(James, 2004, p.491-492). When Isabel talked to Pansy she felt intimidated by how she was able to present herself in a great light. It amplified her qualities and showed how Pansy will be able to guide herself in the world on her own, making it seem that she will not need someone else to think for her. The light can also represent how Pansy is innocent and hasn’t much experience to go off, resembling that she has faith in what she can do. All these characters that Isabel met, show how Henry thought through each one to show many great or terrible things within a person. In the article, by Lauri Rebar, she says that “Fascinated by the intricacies of psychology, James used fiction to dissect his characters' complex and sometimes aberrant personalities… James was one of the first male authors to examine women's roles in Western societies",”(Rebar, 2011, para.7-8). Henry James likes to look at his characters to see if they fit in what he is trying to do in his work. If he was one of the first male authors to look into women roles in societies then he really doesn’t want to incorrectly receive information. If he does it can potentially harm the image he was trying to show in his writing. James may also not want to incorrectly portray the character in his story. He cared thorough about the character to be able to depict that men wanted women to be ideal in the 19th century.
Isabel goes through a symbolic journey that shows how women were valuables to be obtained by men. Even when that was the case some women, like Madame Merle, can have bad intentions for their own personal benefit resulting in them to be unwanted. There could also be young ladies who will have a radiant look about them since they are innocent and haven’t encountered the hardships of life. They all seem to be different but have common ground on how they are viewed.