Figures in the carpet: Unitarianism, Henry James, Sr., and Henry James's "The Portrait of a Lady"
This dissertation is structured around three philosophical issues of particular interest to nineteenth century thinkers and writers---identity formation; language and truth; and unity. These three ideas prove to be central to two distinct bodies of thought developed in the early to middle nineteenth century: the widely disseminated theology of the Harvard Unitarians and the much less influential philosophical/religious beliefs of Henry James, Sr. As dissimilar as the two systems may be in some respects, both are animated by an intense engagement with these three areas of thought. It is in this regard that both become important to the fiction of Henry James, Jr., whose own engagement with these issues, although not systematic, nevertheless evinces a level of scrutiny and nuance often lacking in the other two systems. The purpose of this study, therefore, is threefold: to examine the positions of Unitarianism and Henry James, Sr. on the three philosophical issues; to explore the presence of these ideas in various Jamesian tales written between 1864 and 1884; and to look closely at their presence in the 1881 version of The Portrait of a Lady, a novel that has been regarded as difficult, contradictory, and even incoherent in certain aspects. Reading The Portrait in light of these two influences---Unitarianism and the senior James's philosophical system---places those contradictions in a larger sphere, alongside the enduring questions addressed by theology and philosophy, and in so doing, sheds new light on the novel and its much discussed heroine, Isabel Archer