From Isabel Archer to Maisie to Daisy Miller, female characters dominate the work of Henry James - and, often, critical discussion of James's work. Donatella Izzo shifts that discussion to a different, more revealing plane in this original, extensive, and persuasive interpretation of James's short fiction. By redirecting criticism from a biographical emphasis to a focus on James's engagement with the very issues of representation, Izzo shows how these short stories actually question and investigate the cultural and ideological practices producing women, both in literature and in society. Portraying the Lady brings to light the experimental quality and inherent consistency of stories that have received little critical attention, all of which revolve around ideas at the core of the cultural representation of femininity at the time. Izzo shows how James, by testing and stretching these ideas in his imagery and plots, exposed and exploded the perverse logic and the ultimate implications of such culturally shared versions of femininity - thus revealing their oppressive quality for women and laying bare literature's complicity in reproducing and circulating them.
Exposing James's texts as sensitive registers of women's roles during the Victorian-Edwardian era, this book absolves him of complicity in perpetuating such gender stereotypes, while it demonstrates that his texts make readers aware of how those stereotypes operated to control women's roles and activities. Blending literary, art, and feminist criticism with postmodern theory in a unique and challenging way, this groundbreaking work restores a formal awareness to James studies within (rather than opposed to) the wider theoretical concerns of feminist, gender, and cultural critiques. Donatella Izzo is an associate professor of American language and literature at the Istituto Universitario Orientale in Naples. She is the editor of four volumes of criticism and the author of three scholarly books including Henry James.