A Future for Isabel Archer: Jamesian Feminism, Leo Bersani, and Aesthetic Subjectivity

Journal Article (Academic article)

This essay brings Leo Bersani’s theorization of aesthetic subjectivity to bear on Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady (1908) and its portrayal of Isabel Archer’s concept and embodiment of “independence.” Drawing upon a psychoanalytic understanding of sexuality as that which shatters and undoes the rigid contours of the self, Bersani argues for and attends to aesthetic experiences that model the values and pleasures of relinquishing power. I deploy these formulations from Bersani’s thought to read the transformation of Isabel’s perceptions, which becomes most evident in her aesthetic encounters with Rome’s historical landscape, and argue that Isabel’s betrayal at the hands Madame Merle and Gilbert Osmond opens her to a form of feminist engagement unhinged from a rigorous and definitive American identity.

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Lamm, KK

Published Date

  • 2011

Published In

  • The Henry James Review

Volume / Issue

  • 32 /


  • 1

Start / End Page

  • 249 - 258