Monday, April 30, 2007

Portrait of a Lady


Madame Merle: ‘When you’ve lived as long as I you’ll see that every human being has his shell and you must take the shell into account. By the shell I mean the whole envelope of circumstances. There’s no such thing as an isolated man or woman; we’re each of us made up of some cluster of appurtenances. What shall we call our ‘self?’ Where does it begin? Where does it end? It overflows into everything that belongs to us – and then it flows back again. I know a large part of myself is in the clothes choose to wear. I’ve a great respect for things! One’s self - for other people – is one’s expression of one’s self; and one’s house, one’s furniture, one’s garments, the books one reads, the company one keeps – these things are all expressive!’

Isabel: ‘I don’t agree with you. I think just the other way. I don’t know whether I succeed in expressing myself, but I know that nothing else expresses me. Nothing that belongs to me is any measure of me; everything’s on the contrary a limit, a barrier and a perfectly arbitrary one. Certainly the clothes which, as you say, I choose to wear, don’t express me, and heaven forbid that they should!

From chapter XIX of The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James.
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