Today is

   "A word to the wise ain't necessary --  
          it's the stupid ones that need the advice."
					-Bill Cosby

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Portrait of a Lady

Her portrait hangs in the great gallery of the world's fiction. We can see Isabel as we saw her when she first stepped into the garden of the Touchett's, at Gardencourt; her clasped hands are in repose, they rest in the lap of her black dress. She looks at us with her light grey eyes, and her face, framed by its black hair, possesses a distinctive American beauty. She holds her head high; she possesses a great pride, and there is something arrogant in her steady gaze. The gallery in which Henry placed her was remarkable. On its walls were the portraits of many other women who, like Isabel, had never literally "lived." All of them were tissued out of the minds of their authors, mere figments of the literary imagination, creatures of the printed word. And yet they all had taken on a life of their own -- Becky Sharp, or Dorothea Brooke, the Lady of the Camellias or Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina or Emma Bovary. And Isabel Archer, who partakes of this reality, and who actually seems to have resided in Albany, and ultimately in a palace in Rome, retains her uniqueness among her European sisters. Theirs had been largely dramas of love, often of physical passion. Isabel's had been a drama of suppressed passion, passion converted into high ideals and driven by a need for power that reckoned little with the world's harsh realities.

The painting is exquisite. Every touch of the artist's brush has been lovingly applied to his subject who, though not a daughter of the Puritans, has something of their rigidity in her bearing and not a little of their hardness of surface. She looks down at us always in the freshness of her youth -- and the strength of her innocence and her egotism.

-- Leon Edel, in The Conquest of London: 1870-1881


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