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Henry James, an American no doubt, is an important name in the emergence of modern English fiction. The Portrait of a Lady is his first great novel,  published in 1881, and considered by some critics, and not very unreasonably,  as his best. 

The theme of the novel centres around the hard experience of a young, attractive American girl, Isabella Archer. She has the inspired idealism of freedom and nobleness in her life, but finds herself in uncongenial situations. She is a poor victim of a worthless and selfish dilettante, Gilbert Osmond, who marries her for her fortune and ruins her life. But she has enough steadiness and strength in her character to bear all injustice and misfortune and remains loyal to her husband in spite of her clear awareness of his vileness. 

The theme of The Portrait of a Lady is concerned with Henry James's favourite subject- the relation between the English and the Americans and the corruption of the innocent American by the sophisticated English. Isabella is the innocent, honourable American ruined by her English associates.

Henry James's    treatment of his heroin's fortune bears out the novelty of his technique which is modern, but through the engaging psychological revelation of a particular young women. To this are superadded the usual elements of the subject and the setting of a novel. Henry James is no official innovator of the stream-of-consciousness technique, although its germ is remarkably marked here.                                 



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