The Portrait of a Lady

by

Henry James

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Doorways Symbol Icon

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

The The Portrait of a Lady quotes below all refer to the symbol of Doorways. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Oxford edition of The Portrait of a Lady published in 2009.
Chapter 37 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Isabel Archer, Edward Rosier
Related Symbols: Doorways
Page Number: 366
Explanation and Analysis:
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Doorways Symbol Timeline in The Portrait of a Lady

The timeline below shows where the symbol Doorways appears in The Portrait of a Lady. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
...is unaware that a tall young woman in a black dress is standing in a doorway, observing him. He suddenly notices her because of his dog, who bounds over to her... (full context)
Chapter 37
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
...is dressed in a beautiful black velvet dress and framed in a gilded and “deep” doorway, creating a splendid image. Rosier also notices that she has developed a patience and sophistication... (full context)
Chapter 43
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
...the party, they pass a wholly dejected Edward Rosier who is watching Pansy from a doorway. Warburton comments on the other man’s miserable demeanor, with Isabel revealing that Rosier is deeply... (full context)
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
...their strange moment of studying one another. She finds Rosier still staged miserably in the doorway. She gives him hope for a union with Pansy. (full context)
Chapter 45
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
...stepdaughter is that Osmond expects her to marry a nobleman; Pansy, standing in an open doorway and drawing a curtain aside for Isabel to pass through, comments seriously that Edward Rosier... (full context)