I approach The Portrait of a Lady with a decidedly romantic and masculine bias, empathizing with Isabel's aesthetic quest while realizing the futility of it, at least in her circumstances. The Romantic Identity Quest, defined by writers like William Wordsworth and Ralph Waldo Emerson and which has shaped much of Western culture, is based on a male model of personal development. While the quest may appeal to women, its results fulfill strictly masculine expectations of detachment from the Mother figure. Isabel Archer's quest exemplifies the feminine equivalent of the male's traditional romantic trek, but for Isabel there is no sense of identity or awareness waiting at the end of her search. Instead, her journey traces the consequences of rejecting the traditional feminine development based upon relationships and attachment. The question to be considered is not whether Isabel made the wrong choice in marrying Osmond, but whether she doomed herself to a life of misery even before that by selecting a goal that seems contrary to feminine psychological and emotional needs.
©1991 by the Board of Student Publications, University of Northern Iowa
"Isabel Archer's Romantic Identity Quest: Ruin and Realization,"
Draftings In: Vol. 6:
3, Article 12.
Available at: https://scholarworks.uni.edu/draftings/vol6/iss3/12