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The Narrative Space in The Portrait of a Lady

Author: LiJing
Tutor: ShuQiZhi
School: Xiangtan University
Course: English Language and Literature
Keywords: Henry James The Portrait of a Lady narrative space realistic space imaginative space the third and mixed space
Type: Master's thesis
Year: 2011
Downloads: 32
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As one of the representative novelists in the transitional period from the western realism to the modernism, Henry James(1843-1916)and his works received a commentary attention in the world. His creative practice and his theory about novels represent a perfect union of“canonicity”and“modernity”, and he developed“the psychological realism”in the literature domain. His works fully demonstrate the transformational process from the traditional western literature to the modern literature, showing the rich and complex cultural connotation and manifesting the social change and the human nature change at the turn of the 20th century.The Portrait of a Lady (1881) is generally regarded as the best of the early works of James, and is also praised to be one of the greatest novels in English. Many critics have launched a thorough research on this work from the perspectives like feminism, cultural research, psycho-analysis, discussing the international subject, the morals, the artistic subject, and the narrative skill as well as language style in the work. In narrative criticism, the research model usually concentrates excessively much on the narrative discourse, while less on the narrative voice and the narrative space of the novels. This thesis, through the analysis of the heroine’s experience in the outside realistic space and the inside imaginative space, tries to explore the meaning of the heroine’s quest for self-control and self-surmounting in a conflicting modern world.In the light of the spatial narratology and Edward W. Soja’s three kinds of the space epistemologies, this thesis divides the narrative spaces in the novel into three stratification plane,“realistic space”,“imaginative space”, and“the third and mixed space”, from which the paper focus on Isabel’s different experience and discoveries in the three spaces respectively and tries to analyse Isabel’s puzzled innermost feelings and her road toward self-promotion. The first chapter seeks to discuss the aesthetic collision and the recognition conflicts Isabel meets in the realistic space, pointing out that the physical spaces in the text contain different social and cultural significance, reveal the aesthetic and cultural conflict, and also provide metaphorical meaning that indicate Isabel’s tragic marriage and her road toward freedom. The second chapter focuses on the imaginative space, pointing out Isabel’s false admiration and her illusive expectation in the conceived space. Isabel’s naive and romantic nature contributes much to her conceit and ignorance. Her fascination gives her fantasy as well as misreading of Europe and those feeling and initial judgments of people and things which are gained after her stepping on the European continent may give a hint of her tragic marriage. The third chapter puts emphasis on Isabel’s awareness and self-promotion in the third and mixed space. After the meditation and reflections out of the confusion, Isabel continuously enhances her mind, to gather herself so as to continue her road towards knowledge and freedom.To conclude, Isabel’s marriage has not ended in tragedy, on the contrary, after her brief loss in physical and emotional world, her freedom of choice retains in her own hands. Having released her inner spiritual freedom, and enhanced her insight, Isabel ultimately entered a more open world. The ending indicates that space has practical significance for the exploration of the complex relationship of modern society. The space-based reading on the process of character’s development provides a new perspective for the interpretation of the novel and broadens the aesthetic space of narrative works. The perspective also provides a new way of thinking for people in the transforming society to combine the realistic world and the imaginative world, to understand the inner world and the outside world by enhancing their insights, so as to keep open minds and step on roads toward a new world, thus it contains some practical significance.

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