Husbands and Portrait of a Lady

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James is one of my favorite books not because it is an exciting page-turner (it’s not), but because it runs so long and so thoroughly through the life of Isabel Archer. It doesn’t stop at her refusal to marry two eligible men. It doesn’t stop at her marriage to Gilbert Osmond. It doesn’t stop at the death of her baby. It doesn’t stop when she finds out who Madame Merle really is. It doesn’t even seem to stop at the ending. Isabel’s life and thoughts and emotions and motives are examined closely. They are honored, not condemned. Even when the reader realizes that Isabel realizes that her husband is not the best husband for her, even then the book does not allow us to despise or even pity Isabel. She is upheld as a lady throughout.

I think all us wives could present our husbands in such a way that they are unsuitable. We could. I am tempted to do so right now because his character has not been very shining lately. I’d like to go into detail under the pretense that I need prayers, or I don’t want to be alone in really knowing him.

But that would be me wanting pity. Not very ladylike. Not very Christian, either.

The thing to do is go on living, quietly doing my best to be godly in character. If I am honorable in all things, even in how I relate to my husband, then my husband’s character will either rise (which would be good) or fall (unaided by me). My own name might fall with him. My children’s name might fall with him. But those things are beyond my control, and a true lady or gentleman (like several of Isabel’s friends) would know that and would honor my life all the same. Even more importantly, God would know that, and He judges perfectly every time.

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