In Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady, doorways are a significant architectural element that can cast characters as works of art framed within four edges. Besides reflecting the rendering of Isabel’s character as a work of art, doorways also symbolize Isabel’s various states of control throughout the novel. Isabel Archer’s first narrative appearance occurs in a doorway at Gardencourt, where she observes Mr. Touchett and Ralph Touchett for some time. The rectangular frame serves as a threshold by which she can retreat inside or move outside. Once her cousin and uncle spy her in the doorway, they are overcome by her beauty and unfamiliarity—she is literally framed as an artwork they are viewing for the first time. After her marriage to Gilbert Osmond, James repeats Isabel’s doorway scene. This time, Edward Rosier has come to find Isabel at the Roman house when he chances upon her standing in a gilded doorway. Significantly, the doorway scene at Gardencourt sees Isabel standing in the frame and looking outside, enjoying the chance to observe her relatives for the first time before they turn to observe her as a seemingly beautiful portrait. However, in Osmond’s Roman household, Isabel lacks agency: she is confined indoors and Rosier must come to her. Isabel’s framing in the doorways contrast her personal freedoms at the novel’s beginning compared to her marital entrapment at its end.
Doorways Quotes in The Portrait of a Lady
He took his course to the adjoining room and met Mrs. Osmond coming out of the deep doorway. She was dressed in black velvet; she looked high and splendid, as he had said, and yet oh so radiantly gentle! […] She had lost something of that quick eagerness to which her husband had privately taken exception—she had more the air of being able to wait. Now, at all events, framed in the gilded doorway, she struck our young man as the picture of a gracious lady.