Intellectual women in the early novels of Henry James



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The most artistically challenging fictional character for Henry James was the intelligent young woman, presumptuously seeking her destiny. James created a spectrum of these heroines in his novels, and his technique of characterization follows a consistent pattern. Isolated by circumstance and her own weaknesses, the heroine compensates by pursuing an intellectual destiny in learning, politics, or public service. She seeks in an ill-chosen loved one the support or opportunity for her ambitions. Her self-willed, idealistic, and aggressive traits are accented by foil and ancillary characters who, though less intelligent, are practical and successful. Although the spectrum includes Kate Croy (Wings of the Dove), Maria Gostrey (The Ambassadors), Maggie Verver and Charlotte Stant (The Golden Bowl), this study focuses on the early heroines in the pattern, Isabel Archer (The Portrait of a Lady), Christina Light (Roderick Hudson and The Princess Casamassima), Olive Chancellor (The Bostonians), and Julia Dallow (The Tragic Muse).