The Portrait of a Ghost: Isabel Archer in “The Portrait of a Lady”

            Isabel Archer’s life, or better, what we get to know about her through her peculiar biographer, is a struggle between possibility and limitation, insight and blindness, art and life. Two discreet turning points, two uncanny lighthouses, mark her quest: the two moments when a ghost is mentioned in the text. For from the very beginning of the story we know that Isabel is, because of her personality, upbringing and sense of destiny, ready and awaiting her path to open up before her, her quest to be displayed. At first, she sets out beautifully, even fairytale-like, full of possibilities, and yet blind. Then a desire orientates her: she wants to see the ghost of Gardencourt –with all that this implies: as her cousin Ralph tells her, knowledge is necessary, in particular, experience of suffering, and of having made to suffer, to see it-. Eventually, nearing the end of the story and four years later, she indeed sees the ghost. A new direction is pointed out to her by this vision and the new, revealing knowledge it brings to her. However, as to where this direction points at, the reader is left blank. We can only hint at what her outcome will be, depending on Isabel’s double-fold nature: her opposing but in fact not contradictory tendencies, a positive desire for happiness, and a negative one for suffering. Which will be the leading force from now on? Because, which eye sees further? For Isabel has set out as if on man’s universal voyage. Her eyes are fixed both on herself and on the distant line of her horizon. As some critics have mentioned, hers is the quest for a meaningful life, for the enlargement of consciousness, for knowledge, understanding, and experience.  Sigue leyendo