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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
8,53099555 (3.89)9 / 675
  1. 71
    Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (roby72)
  2. 60
    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.
  3. 60
    The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (carlym)
  4. 61
    Howards End by E. M. Forster (carlym)
  5. 31
    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Nickelini)
  6. 20
    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.
  7. 10
    The Reef by Edith Wharton (noveltea)
  8. 00
    The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (Crypto-Willobie)
  9. 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 (89)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  Italian (1)  Portuguese (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (96)
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
Many regard Portrait as James’ greatest novel. What they mean by this, of course, is that it’s the easiest to read. Written before James went off on the subordinate clause bender that was only derailed by his death, this is in fact a sensitive if somewhat contradictory portrayal of Isabel Archer, a young woman who, choosing freedom, finds that the ties of tradition are inescapable.

The contradiction I’m referring to is, for me, the most unsatisfactory aspect of the work and spoiled the novel for me. In rejecting the early proposals of marriage in the novel, Isabel is kicking against the goads. Add the epithet of wealthy heiress to those of already being young, free and single and you have a character set up to defy all the Victorian mores that can be thrown at her.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, she accepts a proposal of marriage which every reader knows is completely inappropriate. While James has her famously ruminating later on the mistake this is, it seems strange that he gives such scant regard to her motivations either for this or the earlier rejections of two far superior suitors.

In all three proposals we are, of course, party to information that Isabel isn’t. What we don’t get is any deep insight into her own thoughts in each instance. It’s not until the marriage becomes the cage that we all thought it would that we get an extended run of her meditations on the position she finds herself in. Had we seen this all along, I think the novel would have been stronger for it.

There’s a twist towards the end which anyone who is a well-read Dickens fan will probably see coming, and the novel ends ambiguously so that the told-you-so traditionalists can’t laud it over those who feel like Isabel might still make some desperate bid for her long-cherished freedom. ( )
  arukiyomi | Sep 8, 2018 |
recommended by Susan
  margaretfield | Jun 1, 2018 |
**Update**
After analyzing this book in class, and writing a seminar paper about it, I can rightly say that my previous review no longer holds true. I've come to really appreciate Henry James's writing, and concept, and execution. So 4 stars.



Okay. So this was the last classic I had to read for class this year. And in one word (or two), it was pretty weird. Especially the ending, which was astoundingly abrupt. I did enjoy the wordy writing style and throughout the book I found myself intrigued by what was going to happen, which was why the ending kind of left me hanging. But there was something almost fitting about it. I'm not sure how to explain. So I'm just going to wait for class discussion and after I'll hopefully understand better what this book was all about. ( )
  UDT | May 1, 2018 |
This was the first book I read by Henry James. I wasn't blown away but I liked it. The mix of American & British characters drew me in to the story. The timeframe was never really established. I would have liked to have known more about that to get a better sense of placement. ( )
  godmotherx5 | Apr 5, 2018 |
This was an great piece of literature. I appreciate how James didn't add too much details about the characters. We were left to come to our own conclusions regarding their minds and hearts. For example, the lack of details surrounding the characters of Merle and Osmond still left an impression that there were secrets to be learned. The same with Isabel, the way James described her and transitioned her throughout the story the reader (myself) was left to conclude (on my accord) that there was a major lesson she had to learn. Some might feel a bit bummed out by the ending (I certainly was at first). However, after further reflection I came to believe that the ending is extremely hopeful. Hopeful that Isabel would make the right choice for herself and her future.
  LiteraryW | Mar 19, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 89 (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 RobertsIntroductionsecondary 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
Millett, Fred B.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moore, GeoffreyEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Neilson, William AllanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stallman, R. W.Introductionsecondary 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
First words
Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.
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)

Explores the perilous allure of the older European civilization and its impact on the American character through the person of Isabel Archer.

» see all 38 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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