Henry James’ Rebel Without a Cause

“Her life should always be in harmony with the most pleasing impression she should produce; she would be what she appeared, and she would appear what she was. Sometimes she went so far as to wish that she might find herself some day in a difficult position, so that she should have the pleasure of being as heroic as the occasion demanded.”

Henry James, born on this day in 1843, created the indomitably original female character of Isabel Archer, who, like many of the greatest Victorian heroines, was idealistic to the extent that it was her defining quality, and yet did not have particularly defined ideals. Just as Middlemarch‘s Dorothea was a revolutionary without a revolution, a Theresa who never had the opportunity to manifest her lofty ambitions into independent action, Isabel Archer was a highly moral woman who was never expected to develop any specific morals, an idealist without any ideals.

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