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The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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The Portrait of a Lady (1881)

by Henry James

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7,95092411 (3.9)9 / 636
  1. 71
    Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (roby72)
  2. 60
    The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (carlym)
  3. 61
    Howards End by E. M. Forster (carlym)
  4. 50
    Daniel Deronda by George Eliot (ncgraham)
    ncgraham: Surprised this recommendation hasn't already been made ... scholars throughout the years have noted Gwendolen Harleth's influence upon James in creating Isabel Archer.
  5. 31
    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Nickelini)
  6. 10
    The Reef by Edith Wharton (noveltea)
  7. 10
    Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the making of an American masterpiece by Michael Gorra (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: Non-fiction work detailing the story behind the novel's writing.
  8. 01
    Indian Summer by William Dean Howells (Bjace)
    Bjace: Howells ventures into Henry James territory with this tale of an American expatriate in Florence who is caught between two women. Howells teases the reader by starting to write a Henry James ending and then doing something quite different.
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English (86)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  Hebrew (1)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  All (91)
Showing 1-5 of 86 (next | show all)
Am I the only one who was disappointed by the ending of this novel? I am left wanting and unsatisfied. Overall I enjoyed the book, although it did drag on in some parts, but I thought Isabel was a great character. I loved how she seemingly is this strong, independent individual at the beginning and then is duped by "love" and instead of admitting her choice was wrong, she lets her pride get the better of her and finds herself trapped in unhappiness. It was very reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice in regards to judging and being too prideful to back down or admit openly when you are wrong. At least Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy were able to set aside their pride and prejudice and find happiness with one another.

Now, I am off to watch the TV Movie and Movie inspired by the novel.
  jthao_02 | May 18, 2017 |
Alright, yes, this is slow-moving, detailed and introspective. Why does anyone read Henry James if that is not what they want?
But in addition to those qualities, it has wit and social satire involving real characters trying to work out their lives. Does it have less comic activity than that other wordy nineteenth century writer and satirist, Charles Dickens? Yes, but in place of Dickens’ comic caricatures, we have real characters, even the women. With James, I feel that I am exploring the complex choices of a variety of women characters who could be dealing with equally difficult choices today (unlike the one-dimensional ideals of Dickens’ women). The specifics of their choices may be different from contemporary conditions, but I can imagine these characters as people wrestling with modern issues.
The book looks at the unusual marriage choices of a number of women – Mrs. Touchett’s life separate from a husband she seems indifferent to; Mme Merle’s unhappy marriage which has left her in relative poverty, reliant on the generosity of friends; the Contessa’s sham of a marriage to a philandering man she despises; Henrietta’s unmarried relationship with her admiring Bantling, which she eventually transforms into a conventional marriage; and at the centre, Isobel’s initial choice to reject two attractive offers before finally accepting the worst of her options.
The first part of the book is taken up with Isobel’s background and character, focusing on her independence and unconventionality. She is a clever and thoughtful young woman who does not want to be tied into the restricted domestic life of most of the women she knows. Her observations are often sharp and witty. Drawn to her ambition and independence, and at the suggestion of her cousin Ralph Touchett, Ralph’s father leaves her a large inheritance.
In her naivety, or her attraction to an intelligent worldly woman, Isobel is drawn into the circle of the interesting Mme Merle as someone who seems to live a life outside of convention but still within respectable society. She is charmed by Mme Merle’s sophisticated friend Gilbert Osmond, and takes him at face value, although Mme Merle has manipulated the situation to marry Isobel to Gilbert so that he can take advantage of her money. It’s not really clear why she marries Osmond, although there is the pressure of convention, and it later appears that they deceived each other in their reliance on social conventions. Both put on their best appearances and fell for what they saw in the other.
When Isobel realizes that Gilbert has no feelings for her and intends only to keep her, like his daughter, as an attractive and useful addition to his chilling collection of beautiful objects, she concludes that her only choice is to live up to the marriage vow she made and live with Gilbert in misery. This seems an odd conclusion given the many different models among her friends and her willingness to reject convention. Her generosity of spirit perhaps impels her to stay in order to support Gilbert’s daughter, and fighting convention all the time is a hard choice, particularly when the unconventional relationships of her friends appears problematic and unattractive. Perhaps this is why she finally needs the excuse of Ralph Touchett’s illness to break with Gilbert.
The ending is, of course, ambiguous. After the very touching scene of Ralph’s death, Isobel returns to Rome, either to submit to Gilbert or to confront him. The strength of her connection to Ralph, and her rejection (again) of Caspar Goodwood’s demand that she go with him, lead me to believe that she is going to break finally with Gilbert. She is a strong figure, and she knows her mind. I take it that she will go her own way, as she always has, and accept the consequences.
As always, a fascinating, fully absorbing study by Henry James that rewards readers who are looking for thoughtful social and psychological insight. ( )
  rab1953 | May 11, 2017 |
Wonderfully thorough psychological novel, the thoroughness can drag at times. ( )
  kale.dyer | Apr 6, 2017 |
Shows clear influence from George Eliot, which is a compliment. Easily my favorite Henry James novel so far. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
Did anyone hear a long contented sigh at about 3:00pm central time on Tuesday afternoon?

That was me finishing Portait of a Lady. I do love me some Henry James. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 86 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (99 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry Jamesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Aiken, JoanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Anderson, Charles R.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cargill, OscarAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cohn, JanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Edel, LeonEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Krüger, LoreTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Luckhurst, RogerEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McGovern, ElizabethNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Millett, Fred B.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moore, GeoffreyEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Neilson, William AllanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Toibin, ColmAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Updike, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.
Dedication
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Quotations
Her reputation of reading a great deal hung about her like the cloudy envelope of a goddess in an epic.
It may be affirmed without delay that Isabel was probably very liable to the sin of self-esteem....
You are rich when you can meet the demands of your imagination.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141439637, Paperback)

When Isabel Archer, a beautiful, spirited American, is brought to Europe by her wealthy Aunt Touchett, it is expected that she will soon marry. But Isabel, resolved to determine her own fate, does not hesitate to turn down two eligible suitors. She then finds herself irresistibly drawn to Gilbert Osmond, who, beneath his veneer of charm and cultivation, is cruelty itself. A story of intense poignancy, Isabel's tale of love and betrayal still resonates with modern audiences.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:27 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Tells of the psychological impact of European culture upon a spirited young American girl named Isabel Archer when she becomes torn between three very different men and falls prey to the schemes of a sophisticated older woman.

» see all 26 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141441267, 0141199121

Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

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