This article argues that the protagonist of Henry James's first work of psychological realism, The Portrait of a Lady (1881), has an oblique relationship to its plot. In this novel, James constructs Isabel's subjectivity (her feeling, apperception, and psychological depth) to the side of narrative events, and the exfoliations whose synthesis constitutes the effect of fictional consciousness produce, in this novel, a mind at odds with, or oddly aloof from, the events and relationships that are presumed to shape it. While James's contribution to the history of the novel has traditionally been construed in terms of his granular representations of individual persons and the lavish interiorization—indeed, veneration—of what he calls “centers of consciousness,” a phenomenology of a character who will have nothing do with its narrative enhances our understanding not only of Isabel Archer, The Portrait of a Lady, and the longer arc of James's career but of psychological transparency within the nineteenth-century novel more broadly and, especially, the arrangement of what Alex Woloch calls its “character-space.”

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