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Isabel Archer was a joung person of many theories; her imagination was remarkably active. It had been her fortune to possess a finer mind than most of the persons among whom her lot was cast; to have a larger perception of surrounding facts and to care for knowledge that was tinged with the unfamiliar. It is true that among her contemporaries she passed for a young woman of extraordinary profundity; for these excellent  people never withheld their admiration from a reach of intellect of which they themselves were not conscious, and spoke of Isabel as a prodigy of learning, a creature reported to have read the classic authors…

Isabel Archer is an attractive, young woman who lives in Albany, in the state of New York. After her father’s death, she accepts an invitation from her aunt, Mrs Touchett, to go to England at Gardencourt, near London, where she lives in a big country house. At  Gardencourt  Isabel meets Ralph, Mrs Touchett’s son, Mr Touchett, her aunt’s husband and their friend Lord Warburton, an English aristocrat. They all feel an immediate attraction to Isabel.

Right from the beginning,  Isabel is a complex character endowed with admirable qualities but also flawed with noticeable faults. Among her qualities are her great imagination and sensitivity; an uncompromising love for her independence and a vital energy which makes her desire for a life of knowledge and fulfillment. She also appears, however, excessively proud and self-centred, affected by a feeling of superiority which doesn’t allow her to take into due consideration what more experienced people think or say. Isabel seems to embody most of the characteristic of the American character, that is, innocence, spontaneity, activity, genuineness. She is a young lady with high potentialities for self-development. And when she comes in contact with European culture and attitudes we follow her tormented life, the life of an American lady who, faced with the decision of whom to marry, chooses the man who in the long run makes her unhappy.

She is innocent, but also intelligent. In contrast to the European such as Madame Merle, she does not possess a great amount of experience, but she does have the capacity to appreciate any new experience.

Isabel has an expansive personality. Ralph Touchett and others are attracted to Isabel because she apparently has a great capacity for growth. This quality allows her to react spontaneously to any new experience. Her response indicates a depth of perception missing from other people. It is a compliment to Isabel’s combination of these qualities that she is able to attract so many divergent types of personalities to her. Isabel Archer is a self-possessed young lady with an independent mind. She has been comfortably living under her father’s protection, and her obsession is seeing more of the world and how people live across from where she has been living.

She is a smart woman, she has her own ideas, and she is eager to express it but ,in her innocence, Isabel can not see behind people’s masks. And when she makes a mistake, her pride prevents her to admit anything at all to her friends and she prefers to swallow the bitterness by herself.

Isabel’s stubbornness shows itself in not following others’ persuasive suggestions. In all occasions, when her friends persuade her to do or choose something, Isabel always does the contrary. This is in lline with her desire for complete independence. In her determination to follow only her own evaluation, she refused to listen to her many friends who caution her against the marriage with Gilbert Osmond, a Europeanised American. Consequently, her highest quality also becomes her downfall.

Isabel also possesses a rather over-strong sense of pride. Even after she recognizes that she made a mistake in her marriage, she cannot admit this publicly. It takes a great effort to confess her error to Ralph, and at the end of the novel, she has too much pride to confess her mistake to the whole world. Thus, partly for this reason, she returns to Rome to continue her life with Osmond.

Isabel, therefore, represents the innocent young American who is deceived by the superior cunning and deceit of Osmond and Madame Merle, the woman with whom Osmond had had a love affair years before. They are both representatives of the old order of European thinking in contrast with the American qualities  embodied by Isabel.

Isabel is capable of great potential and of great development — she has a large capacity for growth and for life. Her tragedy is in her mistaken judgment of Madame Merle and Gilbert Osmond. While indulging in sad reflections on her marriage, Isabel has just had a conversation with her husband which has confirmed her distrust of him. Isabel’s self-analysis is thorough and honest, and she admits that Osmond too has been deceived, in a sense. At the beginning of their relationship Isabel was so taken by his charms that she completely effaced herself. Gilbert Osmond had told her that he had lived a dull life, but Isabel’s imagination took flight to create for him a very interesting life. In her imagination, she filled in the vacant spots and saw him as a much more interesting person than he actually was.

Now that her own personality is reasserting itself she appears to him to be another person. She, in her turn, sees him for the first time for what he really is, not as a partial idealization.

For this reason, once she has recognized her mistake, she is determined to try to make the best of it. Now she is ready to face life from a different point of view thanks to her new knowledge and experience.




 Isabel Archer,  a woman in her early twenties,  lives a secluded life in Albany, provincial America in the late 1860s. After her mother’s death when she was a young girl, her father raised her in a haphazard manner, allowing her to educate herself and encouraging her independence. As a result, the adult Isabel is widely, imaginative, confident in her own mind, and slightly narcissistic. She has had few suitors, but one of them is Caspar Goodwood, the powerful, charismatic son of a wealthy Boston mill owner. Isabel is drawn to Caspar, but her commitment to her independence makes her fear him as well, for she feels that to marry him would be to sacrifice her freedom. Shortly after Isabel’s father dies, she receives a visit from her indomitable aunt, Mrs. Touchett, an American who lives in Europe. Mrs. Touchett offers to take Isabel on a trip to Europe, and Isabel eagerly agrees, In London Isabel strikes everybody with her candour and freedom, typical of a well-to-do American girls of the period, as well as for her intelligence and vitality. She refuses two very good offers of marriage,: one from Lord Warburton, an English aristocrat, and one from Caspar Goodwood, an American industrialist. Her cousin, Ralph Touchett, is deeply in love with her but he dares not propose to her since he is slowly dying of tuberculosis. His disinterested love for Isabel, though, shows when he convinces his dying father to leave half of his estate to Isabel. Now rich and independent, Isabel  arouses  the interest of Madame Merle, Mrs. Touchett’s polished, elegant friend who begins to lavish attention on Isabel, and the two women become close friends. Unfortunately, Isabel gets carried away by her good and credulous nature so she decides to use her fortune to help an American artist who lives in Rome, Gilbert Osmond, whom Madame Merle describes as one of the finest gentlemen in Europe, wholly devoted to art and aesthetics. In secret, Osmond and Merle have a mysterious relationship; Merle is attempting to manipulate Isabel into marrying Osmond so that he will have access to her fortune. Osmond is pleased to marry Isabel, not only for her money, but also because she makes a fine addition to his collection of art objects. Everyone in Isabel’s world disapproves of Osmond, especially Ralph, but Isabel chooses to marry him anyway . Three years into their marriage, Isabel and Osmond have come to despise one another; she has finally realized  that Osmond is a cynical and self-centred man only interested in her money.

They live in a palazzo in Rome, together with Pansy, Osmond’s daughter, where Osmond treats Isabel as barely a member of the family: to him, she is a social hostess and a source of wealth, and he is annoyed by her independence and her insistence on having her own opinions.

Isabel only confesses her failure to her cousin Ralph on his deathbed, thanking him for his generosity.

After Ralph’s death, Isabel struggles to decide whether to return to her husband or not.  Her commitment to social propriety impels her to go back and honor her marriage, but her independent spirit urges her to flee from Osmond and find happiness elsewhere. In London she meets Goodwood , who again proposes to her but, though she realizes that he really loves her and would take care of her, her Puritanical background prevails and she goes back to Osmond.

by Valentina C.

Un pensiero su “ISABEL ARCHER’S BAG


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