Isabel Archer and Self Awareness

I’ve moved on from the McCullough speech and returned to Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady. I’ve got to admit, this was a really hard book to read – but now after hundreds of pages, I’ve grown rather fond of Isabel Archer.  For anyone out there who has read it, turn to page 191, Volume II.

I had no idea that she had made herself small so many pages back. It makes me wonder how often we do that, whether we should do it, and what the consequences are. Is it because of how “big” her personality was relative to the other characters in the book? We know she is not as overwhelming as Ms. Stackpole, who is truly obnoxious for so much of the book. Or is it her being American? We know that Henry James had a certain obsession with comparing American upper middle class culture to the European standard.

In any event, poor Ms. Archer pays dearly for her self-effacement. I wonder how many of us could stand to learn from her mistake?


About Dana Carmichael

Dana has a professional interest in Authentic Intellectual Work. This means focusing on improving intellectual quality in the classroom and increasing student engagement. By day, she does this work with a passion. By night, she is a thematic reader, examining a random essential question for the year through fiction, nonfiction, film and general random conversations.
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