On the Tragic Marriage of Isabel in the
Portrait of a Lady
Abstract: The early work of Henry James, the famous American writer, 'a portrait of a lady', the heroine Isabel Archer is a simple and beautiful American girl. This article mainly discusses the root of Isabel's tragic marriage from Isabel's family, Isabel's character and the social reasons at that time. Through the research of this topic, we can not only get a better understanding of Henry James's portrayal of female portraits, but also have a deeper understanding of Henry's writing skills and social status and social phenomenon at that time.
Key words：The portrait of a lady; American social environment; Female Portrait; The root of a tragedy
1Preface: introduction of the content of the works
The American writer Henry James in the novel 'The portrait of a Lady' describes the tragic marriage of the heroine Isabel Archer, highlights the social phenomenon in the United States, and causes people to think about Isabel's marriage tragedy.
1.1 Main contents of the works
The heroine Isabel Archer is a kind and innocent American girl whose father and mother died very early. Afterwards, her wealthy aunt took her away from a small town in the United States. Isabel came to London, England, which she longed for, and she stayed in the 'Garden Village' in the outskirts. She refused to marry the British aristocrat Warburton and the rich businessman, Goldman Wood. Her cousin Ralph also fell in love with her, but he knew he had an incurable disease and couldn't get married. However, he hoped to see her happy and persuaded his father to separate half of his family property to her to be inherited so that she would become economically independent and be free to choose her own spouse. Isabel Archer met Mrs. Mell, who was elegant and understood Europe. After her uncle's death, Isabel gained part of his legacy and traveled to Italy. Mrs. Mel introduced her to Osmond. He was an old American living in Italy. Osmond was a 'half-born artist.' His lovely daughter Passy also caused Isabel’s sympathy. Isabel Archer fell in love with gentleman Osmond. Isabel took the initiative to accompany Osmond in spite of repeated warnings and opposition from her relatives and friends. After she married Osmond, she gradually realized that she had been cheated. Osmond was a hypocritical villain. She also found that Mrs. Mel was already an Osmond's mistress, and Passy was their illegitimate daughter. Isabel's cousin Ralph was critically ill in England, and Isabel rushed to see him despite her husband's opposition. After Ralph's death, Isabel was beyond everyone's expectations and returned to Italy. She did not stay in the United States.
1.2 Focus on Isabel's tragic marriage
Isabel pursues freedom, she longs for independence. She did not need the property and status of Lord Warburton, a British aristocrat. She did not like the warm love of American businessman Gideon. She advocated the independence of freedom and personal thinking. She wanted to rule out the influence of these secular factors such as money and status. In the end she was determined to marry Osmond. She thought she had found happiness and true love. However, she ultimately entered the society because of her innocence Osmond carefully arranged trap among them, Osmond just want her money, but Isabel finally be tied to marriage. She eventually returned to Italy with sympathy instead of staying with her own loved one in the United States.
2The cause and analysis of the tragedy of the heroine Isabel
The novel 'The Portrait of a Lady' mainly focuses on the tragic marriage of the full-length heroine Isabel Archer. The novel sparked countless thoughts. Why did she have such an unfortunate experience, because of her own reasons or the external interference? And Isabel Archer's tragedy marriage reflects more deeply the social phenomena and social environment of the United States at that time, which all deserves our thinking and exploration.
2.1 Isabel's own character characteristics
First of all, let me talk about Isabel's own personality traits. Isabel's marriage tragedy is different from traditional love tragedies caused by external obstruction. This is a tragedy entirely caused by the parties' choice of destiny. Isabel said: 'I try to judge things by myself, and I think even if my judgment is wrong, it is even more honorable than judging without my own.' The tragedy of her marriage was caused by her own judgment. All external forces opposing this marriage, including aunt, cousin, friend's assertion in the end proved to be correct, only her own judgment is wrong. The reason why she made mistakes is not because she is too stupid, on the contrary, because she is too smart, too fond of thinking, there is too much independent opinion. The reason why she rejected the wealthy and courteous suitors who belonged to Lord Warburton, the aristocratic elite of the British bourgeois society, and the wealthy American businessman Good wood because she was unwilling to accept the well-to-do, well-to-do life that she pursued Physical and mental freedom, she should not be bound by social factors. She wanted to be a generous and compassionate person. The lonely Osmond and his poor daughter let her sympathy flood. Helping them would make Isabel very satisfied. Isabel eventually married him despite his opposition. Shortly after her marriage, she discovered that Osmond was a thoroughly phony and weak person. The talented Mrs. Mel was actually the mistress of Osmond. And the pity Passy was their illegitimate daughter. Isabel found herself in the trap they had laid out. But she eventually failed to abandon her husband Osmond. After attending the funeral of her cousin Ralph, she returned to her home in Rome, Italy. She continued her tragedy marriage. What caused her failure was her innocent and too much fanatical romanticism. She believed too much about the people around her, and felt that the world was so beautiful. And her little poor social experience also caused her not to see the human nature. She believed in Osmond's superficial cultural rearing, and eventually she lost her freedom of marriage.
While Isabel pursues freedom, her old ideas are still rooted. At that time in society, men still dominated the marriage, and women had to obey men. Isabel was unhappy after her marriage, and Osmond did not allow her to have her own ideas. She should do according to her husband's orders. This caused her to lose her freedom. Gradually, Isabel discovered that Osmond only loved her money, not her. Not long after, Isabel knew from Osmond's sister that all this was a trap set by Osmond and Mrs. Mel. She was like a pure lamb who thought she had met true love. She also ran forward stupidly, but waiting in front of her was abyss. Isabel suffered a great blow. At this time, she could be divorced from Osmond, and leave Rome, Italy, back to the United States with friends and relatives. However, she eventually returned to Rome after she went to the United States to attend cousin Ralf's funeral. She still did not have the courage to break the shackles of marriage and break the social concept of that era.
1 Preface: an introduction to the content of the works 1
1.1Main contents of the works 1
1.2 Focus on Isabel's tragic marriage 3
2 The cause and analysis of the tragedy of the heroine Isabel 3
2.1 Isabel's own character characteristics 3
2.2 Isabel's family 4
2.3 Social and social reasons at that time 4
3 Conclusion 6
3.1 Summing up the social environment in the United States at that time 6
3.2 Summing up the root of Isabel's tragedy 8
3.3 Henry's writing skills and the meaning of his writing 8
4 Concluding remarks: The impact of this work on the present 12
 Henry James. The portrait of a lady. ［M］1881
 Jennifer Malka Brudner Nadler. A Life of One’s Own: Freedom and Obligation in the Novels of Henry James. ［D］ 2012
 Liang Mao. Henry James and the Claim of Sociality. ［D］2006（04）
 赵淑燕. 《贵妇人画像》中欧美文化的碰撞 ［J］ 文化论苑，2011