This essay explores the function of the portrait in two texts, Balzac's La Maison du chat-qui-pelote and James's “Glasses.” I argue that in both texts the portrait plays a crucial role and that taking the portrait into account allows us to see differently the social dramas these works depict. In both texts the portrait raises the issue of the relation between identity and representation. Since in both stories the portrait is that of a woman and the painter is a man, they also deal with the way the power to represent (and thus determine or construct identity) relates to gender difference. As portrait stories that demonstrate the social function and power of the portrait as representation and show the painters' artistic production to be inseparable from their interests and desires, these texts also show the ways in which, and the conditions under which, the power to represent is gained and kept (or not).

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