Scholars have examinied James's depiction of matrimonial misery in The Portrait of a Lady, but they have generally overlooked the novel's treatment of divorce. In this essay, I read the novel in the context of the divorce debates that raged in America in the 1860s and '70s, examining James's ambivalent feelings about the permanence of the conjugal bond. At the same time that the novel insists upon the sanctity of marriage, it highlights the costs of remaining in a miserable union and it reaches toward a remedy for Isabel. At many moments the novel imagines the possiblity—indeed, desirability—of dissolving the marriage tie. Although the novel ultimately backs away fromt eh idea that Isabel leave Osmond, it articulates some of hte central arguments in favor of liberal divorce. In close examination of both sides of the divorce debates, Portrait occupies an important place in the tradition of American divorce fiction.


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pp. 156-174
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