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The Portrait of a Lady

Henry James
Writing Help

Suggested Essay Topics

Writing Help Suggested Essay Topics

Compare and contrast Isabel's three suitors, Gilbert Osmond, Caspar Goodwood, and Lord Warburton. How are they alike? What are their important differences? What ideas do they each symbolize? How does Isabel respond to each of them, and why does she respond to them as she does? What light do they cast on Isabel's relation to the idea of romance?

With particular attention to the characters of Henrietta Stackpole and Mrs. Touchett, what does the novel's position seem to be with regard to feminism? Is Portrait of a Lady a feminist book in any way or ultimately a conservative novel?

Describe the character of Madame Merle. What role does she play in the novel? Where does she seem to fit on the spectrum between personal independence and social conformity? Is she ultimately a villain, or does she have qualities that enable the reader to sympathize with her behavior?

Discuss James's use of geography as an object of symbolism in the novel. How do particular places take on thematic qualities? What symbolic trajectory does James chart by having Isabel travel from Albany to London to Florence to Rome?

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