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Isabel's Growth in the Portrait of a Lady:a Spatial Perspective

Author: ChengShiZuo
Tutor: ChenBing
School: Anhui University
Course: English Language and Literature
Keywords: Henry James The Portrait of a Lady the topographical space thesocial space the psychological space
CLC: I712.074
Type: Master's thesis
Year: 2014
Downloads: 1
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As one of the greatest novelists, critics and artists, Henry James created a large number of valuable literary legacies. And his representative work The Portrait of a Lady has always remained as a research hotspot for its rich content, vivid description and subtle character portrayal. Related studies mainly focus on its international theme, the protagonist Isabel and the narrative features which have laid the foundations for later researches. However, when it comes to the reviews on the protagonist Isabel, critics often analyze from the following perspectives:her personality and psychology, the surrounding circumstances where she lives, as well as her tragic marriage and her quest for freedom. But the "space" factor in this novel is scarcely studied, therefore the author here tries to analyze the protagonist’s growth from the spatial narrative perspective, hoping to provide a new approach to the understanding of the novel.In this thesis, the author attempts to combine the spatial theories of Gabriel Zoran and Henri Lefebvre with exhaustive textual analysis to comprehensively indicate Isabel’s growth in three aspects:the topographical space, the social space and the psychological space. The part of topographical space gives an analysis of the houses in the novel to show the places that witness Isabel’s growth. Starting from her grandmother’s old house in the US, she moves to Europe and ends her journey in Rome where she determines to lead a brand new life. James juxtaposes and compares those topographical spaces in Europe and America to show the different environment and the gaps between the topographical spaces and their symbolized significance. This level of space is the base and stage of Isabel’s activities and the idiographic content of the fiction’s space, and the interpretation of those places proves that the topographical space constitutes both the background information of Isabel’s growth and the sources of narration and plot-arrangement. As to the social space, the cultural differences with different places and hidden social space gaps are shown, so the author attempts to explain not only how Isabel integrates the two diverse civilizations and values of the world but also how she deals with different kinds of people, which forces her to be mature. And the psychological space concerns Isabel’s mental development from an innocent girl to a mature lady who has eventually gained the true meaning of growth after her exploration and awakening. In this way, the maturing process of the protagonist is manifested comprehensively from the perspective of spatial narrative so that readers can obtain a newer and better understanding of the novel.

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