Thursday 12 November 2015

The 2 Portraits

Others have moved on, I'm still writing about The Portrait of a Lady. As my loan expired, I returned my copy of the novel and got hold of another one, a Norton edition. The preface begins with:
"Although there is only 1 novel by Henry James called The Portrait of a Lady, we have what amounts to 2 separate Portraits. The 1st appeared in 1880- 81 and the other, with extensive retouching, was unveiled over a quarter century later in 1908."
This version includes in its appendix all the textual variants plus 3 essays discussing the 2 Portraits. Here are the key points:
1/ "The Painter's Sponge and Varnish Bottle" (F. O. Matthiessen):
- The 2 words "picturesque" and "romantic", used freely and loosely in the 1881 version, are struck out and replaced with others in the 1908 version.
- The word "vulgar" appears more often.
- More concrete. James endows "his dramatis personae with more characterising images".
- "From his initial description of her in the house at Albany, he wanted to emphasise that she was less mistress of her fate than she fondly believed". Changes "young girl" to "creature of conditions".
- The 1908 Isabel is "far less concerned about happiness than about enlightenment and freedom".
- Heightens Osmond's "thoroughly studied effect" and interrelates his character with his surroundings.
- Stresses Osmond's "utter dependence on art rather than on nature".
- Madame Merle's surface becomes less transparent to Isabel.
- Madame Merle's no longer endowed with "a certain nobleness" but with "a certain courage", not with "geniality" but with "grace". In 1881, she plays Beethoven; in 1908, she plays Schubert.
- The interplay between Isabel and Warburton, when he comes back after her marriage, is made more subtle.
- In 1908, suggests Pansy's trapped state from the outset. "Instead of saying that Pansy entertained Isabel 'like a little lady', James wrote that she 'rose to the occasion as the small, winged fairy in the pantomime soars by the aid of the dissimulated wire'."
- In the scene of Ralph's death, James deepens the emotional tones.
- The Countess becomes a more lively mixture, with the bird-motif.
- Nearly all the lines in which she tells Isabel of the liaison are rewritten. James also builds up the contrast between the 2.
- In the 1881 version, Countess Gemini also says that Madame Merle grows more ambitious (to explain why she doesn't marry Osmond). In 1908, she goes on "she had never had, what you might call any illusions of intelligence", meaning that Isabel has. "That gives the final twist to the knife".
- James sharpens Goodwood's "indomitable energy". 1 way is through the recurrent images of armour. He rewrites the final scene between Goodwood and Isabel, and makes us feel "her overpowering sensation of his physical presence".
"That conveys James' awareness of how Isabel, in spite of her marriage, has remained essentially virginal, and of how her resistance and her flight from Caspar are partly fear of sexual possession."
- The last scene is changed, but it doesn't mean James changes his mind. He only clarifies his meaning.
- "Isabel's link with humanity, if not through sin- unless her wilful spirit counts as such- is through her acceptance of suffering. The inevitability of her lot is made more binding in the revision."
- "Through Isabel Archer [James] gave 1 of his fullest and freshest expressions of inner reliance in the face of adversity".

2/ "The New Isabel" (Anthony J. Mazzella):
- "The Isabel Archer who faces her destiny is not the same young woman in both versions, nor is the quality of her destiny the same. She may travel the same road in each case, and meet people with the same names; but the road has different landmarks and the people are different travellers- more keenly felt, more sharply felt, more fully realised- and other than what they were." 
- "A major element in the refinement into another character is an emphasis on her freedom and vulnerability". James uses the images of the bird and the greyhound. 
[I have written that Countess Gemini and Madame Merle are birds. So is Isabel.
Caspar thinks about her: "He had never supposed she hadn't wings and the need of beautiful free movements..." 
Ralph says "Spread your wings; rise above the ground." 
Mrs Touchett says "Now, of course, you're completely your own mistress and are as free as the bird on the bough..."] 
- James stresses more strongly Isabel's fear of limitation.
- Stresses more strongly the freedom money can bring. "... Warburton remarks that Touchett should not chide him for being rich because, in the 1st version, 'you are so ridiculously wealthy', and in the revision, because 'you have- haven't you?- such unlimited means'." 
- A heightened sense of danger Isabel faces in the future. 
- "When Warburton proposes, the later Isabel, unlike the earlier one, has a sense of being trapped". Her relationship with each of her suitors in the 1908 version reinforces her sense of the danger surrounding marriage. Violent images. A sense of being trapped is also more emphatic in the later Isabel when she meets Osmond. 
1881: "There was something rather severe about the place; it looked somehow as if, once you were in in, it would not be easy to get out." 
1908: "There was something grave and strong in the place; it looked somehow as if, once you were in, you would need an act of energy to get out." 
- "The later Isabel is shown as being afraid of the erotic...". There is "a disturbing erotic ambience which pervades the revised novel"; the sexual connotation is reinforced. 
- In the 1881 version, when Isabel objects to Warburton's advances, he vows to remain silent. In the 1908 version, he says "I'll keep it down. I'll keep it down always." Sexual innuendo. 
- Many revisions show that Isabel's afraid of Warburton's masculinity. Goodwood also "represents a threat to her sense of freedom". 
"... the hidden basis of her concern: for the early Isabel it is a dislike of personal aggression; for the later Isabel it is a fear that her freedom will be lost through erotic possession. The later Isabel fears a limitation of her freedom in yielding to Goodwood because, as the revisions reveal, she feels that she would yield to him fully as she would to no one else." 
- The kissing scene is rewritten.
- "James suggests that, at heart, what Isabel fears is a loss through the erotic of a special freedom- the freedom of the mind to function unimpeded. [...] She is not afraid merely of the erotic experience itself but rather its tendency to diminish the life of the mind. [...] She exists supremely on the level of pure mind, and the erotic would destroy that existence." 
- The 1908 Isabel "experiences life through a significantly expanded consciousness". Also, "she is aware of nuances, she responds more fully, her mind is more striking, her range of interest more broad". Osmond "sets more chords of consciousness vibrating in the 2nd Isabel than in the 1st". 
- The response of the 2nd Isabel to Madame Merle is more finely intellectual, whilst her response to money becomes strangely sensuous.
- Isabel's love for Osmond is revised. "Thus, entering into the 2nd Isabel's consciousness is the awareness of being helpless when possessed by another and of losing one's freedom of mind when 'charmed' or bewitched." 

3/ "Revision and Thematic Change in The Portrait of a Lady" (Nina Baym): 
- The writing becomes more complex, mannered and metaphorical. 
- James gives the 1908 Isabel acute, subtle consciousness and a rich mental life but "effaces the original main quality of her character, emotional responsiveness", makes her life intensely in the mind rather than her feelings and thereby "deprives her of some of the appealing spontaneity, vivacity and activity in the 1881 character". 
- "Early Isabel is trapped by her simplicity; late Isabel must be the dupe of her subtlety". She is exalted, less a fool than a saint. 
- 1908 Isabel: more observant, less active, more intellectual, less emotional. 
- As Isabel is made more acute and subtle, "Madame Merle and Osmond lose such good qualities as they possess in the original, and are turned into wholly devious and shallow people". Their characters are blackened. They become more complete performers. The revisions "deprive them of substance and transform them into empty shells". The 1908 Isabel is "a worse judge of people", at the same time, "she is more stiff and self-righteous in her mistake". 
- Ralph isn't played down, but other characters are flattened. 
- Grotesque exaggerations destroy Countess Gemini's humanity. 
Before she tells Isabel about the liaison: 
1881: Isabel thinks she's going to say something "important". 
1908: Isabel thinks, for the 1st time, she's going to say something "really human". 
- Henrietta: sillier, harsher, more unpleasant, more vulgar, more stupid. 
- "The point of the 1881 description is to demonstrate that Henrietta is not a stereotyped female journalist, unsexed and unkempt. She is pretty, decorous, and ladylike. The later images stress her modernity and brashness, turning her into a different cliché- the tough, efficient career girl. Removing the element of softness and personal understatement of Henrietta's character, James makes her loud, overbearing, and obnoxious." Cheapens the character. 
- "Since both Warburton and Goodwood are highly eligible as husbands, the reader may feel that Isabel's solution would have been a different marriage rather than none at all. Critics have mostly believed that Isabel ought to have married and take her severely to task for failing to fall in love with 1 or the other, dividing into camps according to whom they favour. But the formula proposes love as invariably saving by making young women invariably love wisely, and this is 1 falsehood James is exposing. [...] Many of the critics have just the attitude that disturbs Isabel in her suitors: the presumption that because an offer has been made, she is obligated to accept it or to have an excellent reason for turning it down. Neither Warburton nor Goodwood can accept the idea that she refuses them because she is unwilling to accept any mode of existence that is not self-expressive." 
- "It does not matter that the forms of Goodwood's and Warburton's lives are good, and that a woman might live happily and usefully within them. They require the woman to be a satellite in someone else's solar system, and Isabel claims the right to be her own sun". 
However, "brought up female, she has no idea what she might 'do' to be independent. The word does not translate into action." Protected and insulated background, lack of training and discipline, romantic temperament encouraged by circumstances. 
- Isabel thinks Osmond more free because he's "less obviously a product of environment than Goodwood and Warburton". 
- "Since Isabel did not freely choose him but was manipulated into the marriage, she is absolved from the moral obligation to suffer the results of her own decision." She "increasingly realises the groundlessness of all the reasons she can advance to stay with him". 
- The loss of the child is plotted to give her free reins to leave Osmond. 
- Henrietta is evidence that "James does not want to say that independence is metaphysically incompatible with love and marriage [...] Isabel's disappointment in her friend for showing such weakness is only an extension of her own disillusionment. James's idea, however, seems almost to be that the real possibilities of love and marriage are to be experienced only by those who do not depend on them to give life meaning." 
- "James sympathises with Isabel's ideals, deplores the external obstacles that thwart them, and still objectively shows how much the obstacles are internal, in Isabel's inadequate preparation for and understanding of the life she thinks she has chosen". 
- "The matrix of values which radiates out from 'independence' in 1881 centres in 'awareness' in 1908, with attendant dislocations of emphasis. Awareness in 1881 is a means towards the end of an independent life; in 1908 the independent life is attained only in awareness- the 2 things are almost identical. The only possible independence is the independence of perfect enlightenment. Consequently, Isabel is no longer perceived as having failed, and, not having failed, she has no limitations or shortcomings of thematic consequence." 

1 comment:

  1. The different emphases by the three scholars are interesting. Next time I am reading the 1908 edition!


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