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Article

Abstract

Few issues in the Jamesian corpus have been more controversial than Isabel Archer’s decision to return to her cruel husband Gilbert Osmond at the end of The Portrait of a Lady. While critics have often thought of Isabel’s decision as either unrealistic, unjustifiable, or misguided, her choice becomes more rational when viewed within the context of a Bakhtinian polyphonic novel. By seeing the novel as a free-flowing novel of voices about the nature of freedom, Isabel’s choice can be explained as holding true to her belief that “freedom” means holding steadfast to one’s responsibilities, a conclusion she reaches by synthesizing other ideas about freedom she has learned from other female characters in the novel. Portrait therefore is a “novel of voice”, where characters like Isabel reach self-actualization by interacting with speech, unrestrained and unprivileged, and creating a new, autonomous, unified self out of it.

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