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London in The Portrait of a Lady By John Kimmey, University of South Carolina Isabel Archer's experiences in London have largely been ignored by critics. Yet an examination of them is basic to an understanding of what happens to her. James suggests as much in his Preface. He speaks of the "'international' light" in which "so much of the picture hung" (AN 58) and associates that light, "thick and rich upon the scene," with Isabel's impressions of "the thick detail of London, which had always loomed large and rich to her" (PLNYE 114). As he notes in the 1881 edition, it is the "city of her imagination" (PL 117) and in effect represents for her as for James himself "the most complete compendium of the world" (NB 28).1 There are three London scenes, each one marking a crucial stage in Isabel's life. The first, in chapters 15 and 16, covers a day and part of a night and depicts her surveying the world and testing her freedom. It is the most expansive and carefree. The second, in chapter 31, concerns a late afternoon stroll and shows her participating in the world and enjoying her new freedom. The third, in chapter 53, involves her return to England from Italy and reveals her submitting to the strictures of the world and acknowledging the limits, if not the loss, of her independence. It is the most intense and the most disturbing. The first two take place in early and late fall respectively and find Isabel in a happy frame of mind, buoyant , bold, and naive. The last takes place in the spring and finds her in an introspective mood, weary, depressed, and disillusioned. In each instance the season has a paradoxical effect on her and this strategy accords with James's use of contradiction to dramatize the conflicts of her divided self. The initial London scene is Isabel's first excursion into the Old World outside of Gardencourt and consists of three episodes: her tour of the city with Ralph Touchett and Henrietta Stackpole, her conversation with Ralph, and her confrontation with Caspar Goodwood. Before leaving the sanctuary on the Thames, she has "visions of aesthetic hours" spent sightseeing and imagines herself staying at some "picturesque old inn . .. described by Dickens" (PL 117). It is literary London that stimulates her, the London not only of the nineteenthcentury novelist but also of Dr. Johnson, Goldsmith, and Addison. She is the romantic tourist, curious, eager, and interested in "local colour." In all this she resembles James, whose enthusiasm for the British capital began in childhood with reading Dickens and Punch and who felt when he established himself in the metropolis in 1876 that it was the great world to explore. But Isabel not only visits famous landmarks such as the British Museum and the Tower; she also wanders through Kensington Gardens talking to children, "mainly of the poorer sort," giving them money, kissing the most attractive. The whole picture is one of self-indulgent innocence. Later, when she and Ralph retreat to the Touchett's house on Winchester Square and sit outside in the twilight to discuss her rejection of Lord Warburton's marriage proposal, she announces her intentions in life. For her the present and future are here, the past is "across the water." She does not want to marry until she sees Europe, and, as Ralph remarks, throws herself into the world. Such determination to seek her own fate contrasts with the melancholy spectatorship of her cousin and, more significantly, with the English past that lies all around her at the moment. The Southwark quadrangle was once the site of a twelfth-century manor house and courtyard , built by Bishop William Gifford, where Thomas a Becket stopped to visit before his fatal journey to Canterbury and where Lancelot Andrew died in 1626. Of course, Isabel, who in Albany told her aunt that she liked "'places in which things have happened —even if they are sad things'" (PL 26), is unaware of this history. She is also unaware of the urban decay that has overtaken the area and of the slum children poking their faces through the fence of the...


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