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The impressionism of The portrait of a lady: knowledge and freedom

Scholar, J. ORCID: (2023) The impressionism of The portrait of a lady: knowledge and freedom. CUSP: Late 19th-/Early20th-Century Cultures, 1 (2). pp. 192-212. ISSN 2768-6361

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1353/cusp.2023.a902867


This article argues that in the 1880s Henry James began to develop his own art of impressions both fictionally, in The Portrait of a Lady (1881), and theoretically, in essays colllected in Partial Portraits (1888). In James’s hands, the impression becomes a metaphor for perception in which knowledge and freedom are in a complex symbiosis. Like the novelists James discusses in Partial Portraits, the novel’s protagonist, Isabel Archer, must consider how different sources of knowledge, such as impressions and ideas, might help or hinder her pursuit of freedom. But the novel finds an added ethical dimension to the impression, missing from accounts of the impressionism of James and other authors. While James’s essays argue that impressions can combine the moral and the aesthetic in their commitment to unblinking perception, the novel goes further by showing how the aesthetic aspects of impressions can temper the vengeance that such perception might provoke.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Literature
ID Code:111966
Publisher:Johns Hopkins University Press


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