I Have a Theory


Like Miss Archer herself, I am filled with useless theories and baseless speculations. But it occurred to me, while reading The Portrait of a Lady that Henry James himself resides within the novel in the skin of Henrietta Stackpole.

Ms. Stackpole tells Isabel that she has no affinity for inanimate objects and she doesn't care to write home about places and mere scenery. Her interest is in people and how they interact and what they are. She sees, of course, with her own blinders in place. However, she does see.

Henry James, for all of his skill with character, lacks any sense of place or time. You read through the book not knowing what people are dressed in, where they are standing, what the scenery is like. Isabel Archer's entire trip trough London is summed up in a short paragraph of about three sentences. We have no opportunity to visit with her the British Museum, much less to sit a moment under those grand trees of Kensington Gardens.

Yes indeed, James makes short shrift of scenery and, indeed, almost any form of set decoration. And we have characters who wander about in a largely and mysteriously featureless world. It amazes me how bereft of this sort of detail the book is.

On the other hand, it simply isn't required for what Mr. James wishes to divulge to us. And so, in that sense, it is handled perfectly.

However, I have theory. . .

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 17, 2008 8:11 AM.

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