The Portrait of a Lady

by: Henry James

Analytical Overview

Narratively, James uses many of his most characteristic techniques in Portrait of a Lady. In addition to his polished, elegant prose and his sedate, slow pacing, he utilizes a favorite technique of skipping over some of the novel's main events in telling the story. Instead of narrating moments such as Isabel's wedding with Osmond, James skips over them, relating that they have happened only after the fact, in peripheral conversations. This literary technique is known as ellipses. In the novel, James most often uses his elliptical technique in scenes when Isabel chooses to value social custom over her independence—her acceptance of Gilbert's proposal, their wedding, her decision to return to Rome after briefly leaving for Ralph's funeral at the end of the novel. James uses this method to create the sense that, in these moments, Isabel is no longer accessible to the reader; in a sense, by choosing to be with Gilbert Osmond, Isabel is lost.