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THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY.1
Miss Varians. Practically, Mrs. VI.
Varian's acquaintance with literature ISABEL ARCHER was a young person was confined to the New York Interof many theories; her imagination viewer ; as she very justly said, after was remarkably active. It had been
you had read the Interviewer, you had her fortune to possess a finer mind no time for anything else. Her than most of the persons among whom tendency, however, was rather to her lot was cast; to have a larger keep the Interviewer out of the way perception of surrounding facts, and of her daughters; she was determined to care for knowledge that was tinged to bring them up seriously, and they with the unfamiliar. It is true that read nothing at all. Her impression among her contemporaries she passed with regard to Isabel's labours was for a young woman of extraordinary quite illusory; the girl never attempted profundity; for these excellent people to write a book, and had no desire to never withheld their admiration from
She had no talent for expresa reach of intellect of which they sion, and had none of the consciousthemselves were not conscious, and ness of genius; she only had a general spoke of Isabel as a prodigy of learn- idea that people were right when they ing, a young lady reputed to have treated her as if she were rather read the classic authors—in transla- superior. Whether or no she were tions. Her paternal aunt, Mrs. Varian, superior, people were right in admironce spread the rumour that Isabeling her if they thought her so; for it was writing a book—Mrs. Varian seemed to her often that her mind having a reverence for books—and
moved more quickly than theirs, and averred that Isabel would distinguish this encouraged an impatience that herself in print. Mrs. Varian thought might easily be confounded with highly of literature, for which she superiority. It may be affirmed, withentertained that esteem that is con- out delay, that Isabel was probably nected with a of privation. very liable to the sin of self-esteem; Her own large house, remarkable for she often surveyed with complacency its assortment of mosaic tables and the field of her own nature ; she was decorated ceilings, was unfurnished in the habit of taking for granted, on with a library, and in the way of scanty evidence, that she was right; printed volumes contained nothing impulsively, she often admired herself. but half a dozen novels in paper, on a Meanwhile her errors and delusions shelf in the apartment of one of the were frequently such as a biographer
I Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1880, by Henry James, jun., in the office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.
No. 253,- VOL. XLIII.
interested in preserving the dignity of that could happen to one.
On the his heroine must shrink from specify- whole, reflectively, she was in no uning. Her head was full of premature certainty about the things that were convictions and unproportioned images, wrong. She had no taste for thinkwhich had never been corrected by the ing of them, but whenever she looked judgment of people who seemed to her at them fixedly she recognised them. to speak with authority. Intellectu- It was wrong to be mean, to be ally, morally, she had had her own jealous, to be false, to be cruel ; she way, and it had led her into a thousand had seen very little of the evil of the ridiculous zigzags. Every now and world, but she had seen women who then she found out she was wrong, lied and who tried to hurt each other. and then she treated herself to a week Seeing such things had quickened her of passionate humility. After this high spirit; it seemed right to scorn she held her head higher than ever them. Of course the danger of a again ; for it was of no use, she had high spirit is the danger of inconan unquenchable desire to think well sistency—the danger of keeping up the of herself. She had a theory that it flag after the place has surrendered ; was only on this condition that life a sort of behaviour so anomalous as was worth living; that one should be to be almost a dishonour to the flag. one of the best, should be conscious But Isabel, who knew nothing of the of a fine organisation (she could not forces that life might bring against help knowing her organisation was her, flattered herself that such contrafine), should move in a realm of light, dictions would never be observed in of natural wisdom, of happy impulse, her own conduct. Her life should of inspiration gracefully chronic. It always be in harmony with the most was almost as unnecessary to cultivate pleasing impression she should prodoubt of oneself as to cultivate duce; she would be what she appeared, doubt of one's best friend ; one should and she would appear what she was. try to be one's own best friend, and Sometimes she went so far as to wish to give oneself, in this manner, dis- that she should find herself some day tinguished company. The girl had a in a difficult position, so that she certain nobleness of imagination which might have the pleasure of being as rendered her a good many services, largely heroic as the occasion deand played her a great many tricks. manded. Altogether, with her meagre She spent half her time in thinking of knowledge, her inflated ideals, her conbeauty, and bravery, and magna- fidence at once innocent and dogmatic, nimity; she had a fixed determination her temper at once exacting and into regard the world as a place of dulgent, her mixture of curiosity and brightness, of free expansion, of irre- fastidiousness, of vivacity and indiffersistible action ; she thought it would ence, her desire to look very well and be detestable to be afraid or ashamed. to be, if possible, even better; her She had an infinite hope that she determination to see, to try, to know ; should never do anything wrong. She her combination of the delicate, dehad resented so strongly, after dis- sultory, flame-like spirit and the covering them, her mere errors of eager and personal young girl, she feeling (the discovery always made would be an easy victim of scientific her tremble, as if she had escaped criticism, if she were not intended to from a trap which might have caught awaken on the reader's part an imher and smothered her), that the pulse more tender and more purely chance of inflicting a sensible injury expectant. upon another person, presented only It was one of her theories that as a contingency, caused her at mo- Isabel Archer was very fortunate in monts to hold her breath. That being independent, and that she ought always seemed to her the worst thing to make some very enlightened use of her independence. She never called therefore to conclude that one had no it loneliness; she thought that weak; vocation, no beneficent aptitude of and besides, her sister Lily constantly any sort, and resign oneself to being urged her to come and stay with her. trivial and superficial. Isabel was She had a friend whose acquaintance resolutely determined not to be supershe had made shortly before her ficial. If one should wait expectantly father's death, who offered so laud- and trustfully, one would find some able an example of useful activity happy work to his hand. Of course, that Isabel always thought of her as among her theories, this young lady a model. Henrietta Stack pole had the was not without a collection of opinadvantage of a remarkable talent; she ions on the question of marriage. The was thoroughly launched in journal- first on the list was a conviction that ism, and her letters to the Interviewer, it was very vulgar to think too much from Washington, Newport, the White about it. From lapsing into a state of Mountains, and other places, were eagerness on this point, she earnestly universally admired. Isabel did not prayed that she might be delivered; accept them unrestrictedly, but she sbe held that a woman ought to be esteemed the courage, energy, and able to make up her life in singleness, good-humour of her friend, who,
her friend, who, and that it was perfectly possible to be without parents and without property, happy without the society of a more or had adopted three of the children of less coarse-minded person of another an infirm and widowed sister, and was sex. The girl's prayer was very suffipaying their school-bills out of the ciently answered; something pure and proceeds of her literary labour. Hen- proud that there was in her-somerietta was a great radical, and had thing cold and stiff, an unappreciated clear-cut views on most subjects ; her suitor with a taste for analysis might cherished desire had long been to have called it—had hitherto kept her come to Europe and write a series of from any great vanity of conjecture letters to the Interviewer, from the on the subject of possible husbands. radical point of view-an enterprise Few of the men she saw seemed worth the less difficult as she knew per- an expenditure of imagination, and it fectly in advance what her opinions made her smile to think that one of would be, and to how many objections them should present himself as an most European institutions lay open. incentive to hope and a reward of When she heard that Isabel was com- patience. Deep in her soul-it was the ing, she wished to start at once ; deepest thing there-lay a belief that thinking, naturally, that it would be if a certain impulse should be stirred, delightful that they should travel she could give herself completely ; together. She had been obliged, how- but this image, on the whole, was too ever, to postpone this enterprise. She formidable to be attractive. Isabel's thought Isabel a glorious creature, and thoughts hovered about it, but they had spoken of her, covertly, in some seldom rested on it long; after a little of her letters, though she never men- it ended by frightening her. It often tioned the fact to her friend, who seemed to her that she thought too would not have taken pleasure in it, much about herself ; you could have and was not a regular reader of the made her blush, any day in the year, Interviewer. Henrietta, for Isabel, by telling her that she was selfish. was chiefly a proof that a woman She was always planning out her own might suffice to herself and be happy. development, desiring her own perHer resources
were of the obvious fection, observing her own progress. kind; but even if one had not the Her nature had for her own imaginajournalistic talent and a genius for tion a certain garden-like quality, a guessing, as Henrietta said, what the suggestion of perfume and murmuring public was going to want, one was not boughs, of shady bowers and length
ening vistas, which made her feel that gratified her as a sensation. The introspection was after all an exercise large, low rooms, with brown ceilings in the open air, and that a visit to the and dusky corners, the deep embrarecesses of one's mind was harmless sures and curious casements, the quiet when ore returned from it with a light on dark, polished panels, the lapful of roses. But she was often deep greenness outside, that seemed reminded that there were other gar always peeping in, the sense of welldens in the world than those of her ordered privacy, in the centre of a virginal soul, and that there were "property”-a place where sounds moreover a great many places that were felicitously accidental, where the were not gardens at all-only dusky, tread was muffled by the earth itself, pestiferous tracts, planted thick with and in the thick mild air all shrillness ugliness and misery. In the current dropped out of conversation — these of that easy eagerness on which she things were much to the taste of our had lately been floating, which had young lady, whose taste played a conveyed her to this beautiful old considerable part in her emotions. England and might carry her much She formed a fast friendship with her further still, she often checked herself uncle, and often sat by his chair when with the thought of the thousands of he had had it moved out to the lawn. people who were less happy than her- He passed hours in the open air, sitting self-a thought which for the moment placidly with folded hands, like a good made her absorbing happiness appear old man who had done his work and to her a kind of immodesty. What received his wages, and was trying to should one do with the misery of the grow used to weeks and months made world in a scheme of the agreeable up only of off-days. Isabel amused for oneself ? It must be confessed him more than she suspected — the that this question never held her long. effect she produced upon people was She was too young, too impatient to often different from what she suplive, too unacquainted with pain. She posed—and he frequently gave himalways returned to her theory that a self the pleasure of making her chatter. young woman whom, after all, every It was by this term that he qualified one thought clever should begin by her conversation, which had much of getting a general impression of life. the vivacity observable in that of the This was necessary to prevent mis- young ladies of her country, to whom takes, and after it should be secured, the ear of the world is more directly she might make the unfortunate con- presented than to their sisters in other dition of others an object of special lands. Like the majority of American attention.
girls, Isabel had been encouraged to England was a revelation to her, express herself; her remarks had been and she found herself as entertained attended to; she had been expected as a child at a pantomime. In her to have emotions and opinions. Many infantine excursions to Europe she had of her opinions had doubtless but a seen only the Continent, and seen it slender value, many of her emotions from the nursery window; Paris, not passed away in the utterance; but London, was her father's Mecca. The they had left a trace in giving her impressions of that time, moreover, the habit of seeming at least to feel had become faint and remote, and the and think, and in imparting moreover old-world quality in everything that to her words, when she was really she now saw had all the charm of moved, that maidenly eloquence which strangeness. Her uncle's house seemed so many people had regarded as a sign a picture made real; no refinement of of superiority. Mr. Touchett used to the agreeable was lost upon Isabel; think that she reminded him of his the rich perfection of Gardencourt wife when his wife was in her teens. appealed to her as a spectacle, and It was because she was fresh and
natural and quick to understand, to a very fine country on the wholespeak—so many characteristics of her finer perhaps than what we give it niece--that he had fallen in love with credit for on the other side. There Mrs. Touchett. He never expressed are several improvements that I should this analogy to the girl herself, how- like to see introduced ; but the neever; for if Mrs. Touchett had once cessity of them doesn't seem to be been like Isabel, Isabel was not at generally felt as yet. When the all like Mrs. Touchett. The old man necessity of a thing is generally felt, was full of kindness for her; it was a they usually manage to accomplish it; long time, as he said, since they had but they seem to feel pretty comhad any young
life in the house; and fortable about waiting till then. I our rustling, quickly - moving, clear certainly feel more at home among voiced heroine was as agreeable to his them than I expected to when I first sense as the sound of flowing water. came over ; I suppose it's because I He wished to do something for her, he have had a considerable degree of wished she would ask something of success. When you are successful, him. But Isabel asked nothing but you naturally feel more at home.” questions ; it is true that of these “Do you suppose that if I am she asked a great many.
Her uncle successful I shall feel at home ?" had a great fund of answers, though Isabel asked. interrogation sometimes came in forms “I should think it very probable, that puzzled him. She questioned him and you certainly will be successful. immensely about England, about the They like American young ladies very British constitution, the English much over here; they show them a character, the state of politics, the great deal of kindness. manners and customs of the royal mustn't feel too much at home, you family, the peculiarities of the aris- know.” tocracy, the way of living and thinking “Oh, I am by no means
sure I of his neighbours; and in asking to shall like it,” said Isabel, somewhat be enlightened on these points she judicially. “I like the place very usually inquired whether they corre- much, but I am not sure I shall like spond with the descriptions in all the the people." books. The old man always looked at “The people are very good people ; her a little, with his fine dry smile, especially if you like them.” while he smoothed down the shawl “I have no doubt they are good," that was spread across his legs. Isabel rejoined ; “ but are they pleasant
“ The books ?” he once said ; “well, in society? They won't rob me nor I don't know much about the books. beat me; but will they make themYou must ask Ralph about that. I selves agreeable to me? Thut's what have always ascertained for myself- I like people to do. I don't hesitate got my information in the natural to say so, because I always appreciate form. I never asked many questions it. I don't believe they are very nice even ; I just kept quiet and took to girls ; they are not nice to them in notice. Of course, I have had very the novels.” good opportunities--better than what “I don't know about the novels,” a young lady would naturally have. said Mr. Touchett. “I believe the I am of an inquisitive disposition, novels have a great deal of ability, though you mightn't think it if you but I don't suppose they are very acwere to watch me; however much you curate. We once had a lady who might watch me, I should be watching wrote novels staying here; she was a you more. I have been watching these friend of Ralph's and he asked her people for upwards of thirty-five years,
down. She was very positive, very and I don't hesitate to say that I have positive; but she was not the sort of acquired considerable information. It's
person that you could depend on her