Stories featuring ill-fated heroines are not uncommon--take Sophocles' Antigone, Shakespeare's Juliet, or Hawthorne's Hester, for example, all well embedded as worldwide classics. Or just take any one of Henry James' many heroines--most of whom find themselves confronted with rather tragic destinies. Enter Miss Daisy Miller and Miss Isabel Archer. Though a good-natured girl, Daisy Miller does not possess the capability to see beyond her own needs and is thus fatally flawed. Isabel Archer, however, possesses the ability to see beyond herself and is therefore capable of owning up to her mistakes and avoiding personal ruin.
Daisy Miller, in James' novella Daisy Miller, A Case Study is a very young, very "American"ÃÂ lady traveling around Europe with her timid mother, unruly younger brother, and all-too-familiar courier. The little group embraces Europe with an entirely American point of view, much to the Europeanized Americans' dismay. Perhaps this novel achieved such high success in America because the heroine so directly represents the free spirit of America.
Also an American, Isabel Archer, in James' The Portrait of a Lady is an intelligent, beautiful girl brought to Europe with the intention that one might "make something out of her."ÃÂ Because of her confident individuality, Isabel ends up victimized by less candid characters. This novel, though written quite before James' Major Phase, retains its popularity for its meticulous look at the deep dissent into the heartbreak that life can bring.
It is not unfitting to begin by discussing European society. It has been speculated that James worked so frequently with female heroines because he was homosexual, but the personal reasons he so often chose to center his stories around women is not as important as the social ones. American-born Henry James is said to have thought that the social structure in his homeland wasn't...