Tag Archives: Isabel Archer

Stupid Question: What to Expect Edition

What does “knocked-up” mean?

And if Caspar was in that delicate condition shouldn’t Isabel have married him?

Um, I mean . . . uh . . . okay, I don’t know what I mean, or what James meant either, for that matter.

Here’s the quote at the very end of Chapter XXXII.  Mr. Goodwood has come to see his former love after she’s written to inform him of her engagement.  There conversation is all but over, and he’s headed out the door.

‘How little you make of these terrible journeys,’ she felt the poverty of her presently replying.
‘If you’re afraid I’m knocked up – in such way as that – you may be at your ease about it.’ He turned away, this time in earnest, and no hand-shake, no sign of parting, was exchanged between them.

I’m guessing that he meant “put out, what do you think?


Posted by on February 18, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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Happy Valentine’s Day, but . . .

there’s not a lot of romance going on here.  Last February 14th we were reading The Scarlet Letter and this one finds us with a pretty unhappily married Isabel in The Portrait of a Lady.

Two Hearts in a Forest by Jim Dine

Rumor has it Adriana’s starting a syncho-read of Pride and Prejudice.  We don’t mind sharing the love.  (Plus, you can read everything we ever said about P&P here.)


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What Happened to Isabel?

Marriage Happened.

Guess that “Thumbs Down” from Ralph and others was very wise.   Ralph has not seen much of Isabel since her marriage, so in Chapter 39, he is shocked to see such changes in his cousin.   Let me sum up his great descriptions:

Isabel Before Marriage:  cared for pure truth, delighted in good-humored argument and intellectual play, curious, beautiful, free and keen.

Isabel After Marriage:   showed a violence and crudity in her experiments, spoke faster, moved faster, breathed faster, fell into exaggerations, thought nothing of people’s opinions, indifferent, beautiful in an insolent way, quite another person.

Ralph tells us she seemed to represent something.  What could it be?  Oh yes, she represents Gilbert Osmond.   “Good heavens, what a function!” he woefully exclaims.

I suppose that in marriage, one does come to represent the other partner, but hopefully not in such a one-sided way as this.   I would hope that a good marriage would change both partners.  For the better!   And despite Isabel’s representation of her husband, she is still convinced that he hates her.    That was a shocking revelation in Chapter 42!

Anyone else a bit shocked at the sudden awful unhappiness and the way James springs it on us?

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Posted by on February 12, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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“Roger and Ebert” on The Marriage

Isabel Archer is getting married.

Finally!!!   After all, she has had a plethora of proposals.   Thumbs Up, I say!

Oh.   Wait a minute.

It seems we have to listen to a bunch of characters weigh in on this matter.   First there is the Countess Gemini, the sister of our groom-to-be.   She gives a “thumbs down.”   As a matter of fact, she speaks of Isabel as a sacrifice on the altar of Gilbert’s satisfaction in Chapter 25.  Lord Warburton chimes in with two big “thumbs down” in Chapter 27.    And what about Ralph, the character who arguably knows Isabel the best?   Well, it’s two “thumbs down” from him as well, as we find out in Chapter 34.   His mother agrees with him.

So who is in favor of this marriage?   Anyone else give it even one thumbs up?   Well, Pansy is all for it.  But of course she is.  The girl doesn’t have a contrary bone in her body.   That leaves only one big supporter:  Madame Serena Merle.   She’s back in the corner orchestrating everything and casually giving “thumbs up” all over the place.

Perhaps I should change my vote.   Something’s just a little too perfect about Serena.



Posted by on February 8, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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Next up: Invidious

Last week we learned about the word incommoded.  It seemed like a silly word to me, but I didn’t want to say anything, you know how much I respect Henry James.

But then I found out that Isabel felt it was a difficult piece of vocab to swallow herself.

“You (Osmund) don’t offend me; but you ought to remember that, without being offended, one may be incommoded, troubled.” “Incommoded”: she heard herself saying that, and it struck her as a ridiculous word.  But it was what stupidly came to her.

It’s okay, Isabel, it happens to the best of us – the author’s words begin to become our own.  You should hear how many times I use the ignominy now.

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Posted by on January 31, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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Isabel’s Well-Educated Mind

Isabel Archer could have joined our book club.

It had lately occurred to her that her mind was a good deal of a vagabond, and she had spent much ingenuity in training it to a military step and teaching it to advance, to halt, to retreat, to perform even more complicated manœuvers, at the word of command.  chapter 3


It sounds like Isabel’s mind is a little more well-trained than mine which occasionally goes AWOL.

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Posted by on January 24, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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What Isabel Wants

Well, just like in Return of the Native where it was rather spelled out for us what Eustacia wants, Portrait of a Lady seems to let us know quite clearly what Isabel wants in Chapter 4 – “She had a desire to leave the past behind her and, as she said to herself, to begin afresh.”    We get another clue in Chapter 12 with a direct quote from Isabel – “If there’s a thing in the world I’m fond of…it’s my personal independence.”   It seems as though these things are starting to jump out at me.   Practice makes perfect?    Or maybe Henry James is just misleading us.   Time will tell.  


Posted by on January 22, 2013 in The Blog, The Portrait of a Lady