“The Portrait of a Lady” by Henry James (Quotations and Ideas)


  • “Never mind what they call you. When you do suffer they call you an idiot. The great point’s to be as happy as possible.” – Ralph Touchett (p. 74)
  • “[…] one should be one of the best, should be conscious of a fine organisation, […] move in a realm of light, of natural wisdom, of happy impulse, of inspiration gracefully chronic. […] one should try to be one’s own best friend and to give one’s self, in this manner, distinguished company.” – Isabel Archer’s theory (p. 76-77)

  • Isabel: “What good do you expect to get by insisting?”

     Goodwood: “The good of not losing you.”

     Isabel: “You’ve no right to talk of losing what’s not yours. And even from your own point of view, you ought  to know when to let someone alone.”

     Goodwood: “I disgust you very much.” (p. 201)

  • “Experience, however, might supply us with very creditable imitations of it (friendship), and the part of wisdom was to make the best of these.” (p. 240)
  • Madam Merle: “What’s your idea of success?”

     Isabel: “It’s to see some dream of one’s youth come true.” (p. 256)

  • “There’s no such thing as an isolated man or woman; we’re each of us made up of some cluster of appurtenances. What shall we call our ‘self’? Where does it begin? Where does it end? It overflows into everything that belongs to us – and then it flows back again.” – Madam Merle (p. 257)
  • “My clothes may express the dressmaker, but they don’t express me. To begin with it’s not my own choice that I wear them; they’re imposed upon me by society.” – Isabel Archer (p. 257)
  • “Take things more easily. Don’t ask yourself so much whether this or that is good for you. Don’t question your conscience so much – it will get out of tune like a strummed piano. Keep it for great occasions. Don’t try so much to form your character – it’s like trying to pull open a tight, tender young rose. Live as you like best, and your character will take care of itself. […] It’s all out of reason, the number of things you think wrong. Put back your watch. Diet your fever. Spread your wings; rise above the ground. It’s never wrong to do that.” – Ralph Touchett (p. 282)
  • “The more you know the more unhappy you are.” – Countess Gemini (p. 322)


  • “One should like a thing or one shouldn’t; one can’t like everything , of course. But one shouldn’t attempt to reason it out – you never know where it may lead you. There are some very god feelings that may have bad reasons, don’t you know? And then there are very bad feelings, sometimes, that have good reasons.” – Countess Gemini (p. 322)
  • Osmond: “A woman’s natural mission is to be where she’s most appreciated.”

      Isabel: “The point’s to find where that is.” (p. 331)


  • “Changing the form of one’s mission’s almost as difficult as changing the shape of one’s nose: there they are, each, in the middle of one’s face and one’s character – one has to begin to far back.” – Madam Merle (p. 346)



  • Goodwood: “I’d rather think of you as dead than as married to another man.”

Isabel: “That’s very selfish of you! If you’re not happy yourself others have yet a right to be.” (p. 409)


  • “I’ve seen that one can’t do anything so general. One must choose a corner and cultivate that.” – Isabel Archer (p. 426)


  • “It was the tragic part of happiness; one’s right was always made of the wrong of someone else.” (p. 436)


  • “Money’s a horrid thing to follow, but a charming thing to meet.” – Gilbert Osmond (p. 438)


  • “A little’s harm very soon done; a mistake’s made before one knows it.” – Madam Merle (p. 500)


  • “A girl in love was doubtless not a free agent; but the sole source of her mistake had been within herself. There had been no plot, no snare; she had looked and considered and chosen. When a woman had made such a mistake, there was only one way to repair it – just immensely (oh, with the highest grandeur!) to accept it. (p. 503)


  • “He (Osmond) had told her once that the best thing in the world was to have it, but if one was so unfortunate as not to have it one must immediately proceed to make it.” (p. 534)


  • “Nothing was a pleasure to her now; how could anything be a pleasure to a woman who knew that she had thrown away her life? There was an everlasting weight on her heart – there was livid light on everything.” (p. 573)


  • “One never said the things one wanted – one remembered them all an hour afterwards. On the other hand one usually said a lot of things one shouldn’t, simply from a sense that one had to say something. Such a sense was upsetting; it muddled one’s wits.” (p. 588)


  • “There’s nothing new, unfortunately, in ignorance and stupidity. We see plenty of that in forms that offer themselves as a revelation of progress, of light. A revelation of vulgarity!” – Gilbert Osmond (p.620)


  • Osmond: “Don’t you know the soul is an immortal principle? How can it suffer alteration?”

M. Merle: “I don’t believe at all that it’s an immortal principle. I believed it can perfectly be destroyed.”(p.641)


  • “What does it matter if I’m tired and I’ve all eternity to rest? There’s no harm in making an effort when it’s the very last of all.” – Ralph Touchett (p. 703)


  • “There’s nothing makes us feel so much alive as to see others die. That’s the sensation of life – the sense that we remain.” – Ralph Touchett (p.704)


  • Dear Isabel, life is better; for in life there’s love. Death is good; for in death there’s no love.” – Ralph Touchett (p. 705)


  • “Why should there be pain-? In such hours as this what have we to do with pain? That’s not the deepest thing; there’s something deeper.” – Isabel Osmond (p. 706)


  • “And remember this… that’s if you’ve been hated you’ve also been loved. Ah but, Isabel – ADORED!” – Ralph Touchett (p. 707)


NOTE: I used the reference content of the same book cover of the picture above.


Author: Danica Aquino

Tied the knot with performing arts since fourth grade; is an amateur writer (currently on her quest to writing her first novel); book and animal lover; always entranced by nature.

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