Publications and Research

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2013


This essay offers a reading of Henry James's Portrait of a Lady that examines Isabel Archer's choices through a Lacanian lens. This reading traces Isabel's consistent turning away from, even against, the very postulates she claims to live by. Isabel’s discovery of love through the ideal image of herself she finds mirrored in Gilbert Osmond’s gaze leads to a reversal of her most noble impulses. Her choice of a suitor also points to something that would seem the opposite of desire, but which is, in fact, its foundation. In choosing Gilbert Osmond, Isabel seeks to experience, however unconsciously, what Jacques Lacan defines as jouissance, or “painful pleasure."


This article was originally published in American Imago: Psychoanalysis and the Human, available at



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