Wednesday, April 1, 2009

In The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James is so skilled in his revelation of the minutiae of unhappiness that sometimes I have to read passages twice before I can believe they're really written language rather than undifferentiated thought. Here, for instance, is a discourse on the miseries of Isabel's marriage to Osmond--from Isabel's point of view, to be sure, yet at the same time a universal description of existential loneliness. And it does make me so sad.

"[Isabel] knew of no wrong that [her husband] had done; he was not violent, he was not cruel; she simply believed that he hated her. That was all she accused him of, and the miserable part of it was precisely that it was not a crime, for against a crime she might have found redress. He had discovered that she was so different, that she was not what he had believed she would prove herself to be. He had thought at first he could change her, and she had done her best to be what he would like. But she was, after all, herself--she couldn't help that; and now there was no use pretending, playing a part, for he knew her and had made up his mind."

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