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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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PLOT

The Portrait of a Lady is plotted around place. Place is the most important element of Jamesí novel. It influences character and action intensely and in place James locates all values in the novel. It begins in England, the estate of Gardencourt, and the center of value in the novel. There is a quick flashback to the United States in Albany where Isabel Archer is rescued from a pursuit of German philosophy by her aunt who takes her to Europe. After a stay in England, the characters travel to Paris and then Florence and Rome. The novelís action ends in England. In this series of location shifts, James maps the moral world of the novel. It is where Isabel Archer is at the height of her power, combining her American innocence and self-confidence with Englandís sense of tradition and value. She is at her most powerless in Italy, where she is essentially immured in the conventions of a social marriage. She is also quite powerless in America. While she is free to read all she wants of books usually reserved for men, she is isolated in an abandoned library in a house about to be sold. England is the home of the two most positive and stable characters in the novel, Mr. Touchett and his son Ralph, while Rome is the home of the most negative characters, Gilbert Osmond and Madame Merle, and also the home of the runaway wife, Mrs. Touchett. In England Isabel is encouraged to speak her opinions and in Italy, she is encouraged to be silent. In Isabelís move from England to Italy and back again at the end of the novel, Henry James finds a unique way to tie together place and plot.

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