Miltonic Echo in the Novel The Portrait of a Lady

Also Read

      The world lay all before her”—this line occurs twice in The Portrait of a Lady and the question comes up whether it is coincidental or not. Galloway thinks that their echo of Miltonic line is not coincidental.

Isabel is like Eve

      Isabel resembles Eve, both in the pre-lapserian and in the later stage. Her innocence, her ignorance etc., which is also connected with the myth of Fall from Innocence is reminiscent of Eve, the heroine of Paradise Lost. In her innocence, she is time and again associated with gardens. We first meet her in a garden. At the start of her European journey she regards her inner world as a garden. When Isabel arrives in England, James describes her as having “a certain garden like quality, a suggestion of perfume and murmuring boughs of shady bowers and lengthening vistas which made her feel that introspection was, after all, an exercise in the open air, and that a visit, to the recesses of one’s spirit was harmless when one returned from it with a lapful of roses.” In the end, when Isabel decides to return to Rome and accept the consequences of her actions, we are reminded of Eve leaving paradise to enter a new world.

Osmond has affinities with Satan

      Osmond resembles Satan in many ways. He is the one who is all appearances and has no substance and in his false appearance, very much like Satan, entrances Isabel and deceives her. Osmond’s appearance suggests his affinities with Satan - “his face running a trifle to paints : an appearance to which the shape of the bore contributed not a little”. Caspar Goodwood feels that Osmond is the ‘deadliest of friends’. In her midnight meditative vigil Isabel realizes that ‘under all his culture, his cleverness, his amenity, under his good-nature, his facility, his egotism lay hidden like a serpent in a bank of flowers’.

Fall from Innocence and the Problem of Evil

      The echo of Miltonic sentence in The Portrait of a Lady is connected with the theme of fall from innocence and its problems. Leon Edel’s remarks in this connection are worth considering. He feels that inspite of the language of Emersonian transcendentalism, with which James’s Americans consider their goals, it is the unhealthy egotism which motivates them. Isabel herself is not far away from this unhealthy egotism. We are told that Isabel had an unquenchable desire to think well of herself. She had a theory that it was only under this provision that life was worth living... she spent her time in thinking of beauty and bravery and magnanimity; she had a fixed determination to regard the world as a place of brightness, of free expansion, or irresistible action’. Such pride which results from a belief in the possibility of unlimited emotional arid intellectual expansion is also a form of evil. One difference between the Americans and the Europeans is that Americans love to be possessive. Osmond and Isabel resemble each other, since both of them want to realize the possibilities of their imagination, without taking stock of what other people will lose and gain in the process. But it is also true that Isabel’s pride is free from any malice. Isabel’s strongest passion, at the time when she leaves America, has been to gain total knowledge and freedom. The tragic realization comes when she finds that she can not have both at the same time, they are mutually exclusive. Isabel is like Eve and James too stresses it but her innocence is ambiguous, since she, can understand and appreciate her notion of personal independence but is completely oblivious to evil. We can say that her innocence is tinged with pride.


      As far as the echo of Miltonic sentence in The Portrait of a Lady is concerned we can conclude that besides the literal echoes there is something more which demands a keen and a penetrating eye since it is fitted in the socio-psycho context of the novel.

University Questions

1. “The echo of Miltonic sentence is coincidental in The Portrait of a Lady” Discuss.

Previous Post Next Post