Idealism and romanticism in "The Portrait of a Lady".
Idealism and romanticism are two concepts which seem quite closely related, particularly in Henry James" novel, where certain characters appear to represent these genres as two intertwined ideals. The protagonist, Isabel Archer, seems to have a strong sense of idealism, a belief in herself doing the right thing for her happiness, and a form of romanticism, however only a form, due to her refusal of three proposals in the novel. Her freedom and spirit therefore, can often be misconceived as romanticism, and I think James insinuates that the men who fall for Isabel make this mistake. Isabel's early innocence, is both a mixture of naivety and a clear sense of a representation of American thoughts and ideals of England. The displacement of all the American characters at Gardencourt, seem to act as some sort of portal for James" views on the individualistic spirit of their country in contrast to the rigid social structure of the British. Ralph is perhaps the best example, as he has both a pleasant, honest personality, yet with the detachment from the text that makes him almost an omnipotent narrator. It often appears as if we perceive things through Ralph's eyes, or more realistically, James". His illness makes him view the events from an oblique point of view, but with an attachment to Isabel that the reader can also identify with. He, perhaps more than anyone else, is an advocate of her freedom, but Ralph's only flaw remains that his intentions are questionable. His own romanticism makes him the character the reader doesn't want him to be; although slightly perverse, I believe James makes us feel that Ralph would be Isabel's best suitor, yet Isabel's happiness seems to rely on the necessity of her staying single. In the early part of the novel, Ralph seems troubled by whether he is actually in love, as is portrayed in the scene by his Father's deathbed.