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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
7,59683450 (3.9)9 / 623
  1. 71
    Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (roby72)
  2. 51
    Howards End by E. M. Forster (carlym)
  3. 40
    The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (carlym)
  4. 40
    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. 10
    The Reef by Edith Wharton (noveltea)
  6. 21
    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Nickelini)
  7. 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 (77)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  Hebrew (1)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (82)
Showing 1-5 of 77 (next | show all)
Took the month of February to read this classic, considered the finest of Henry James. I enjoyed his portrait of Isabel Archer, the representation of the American spirit and independence. Being the benefactor of her Aunt Lydia who decides to show her Europe, we too get to experience that genteel English countryside, the meeting of the the local gentry and understand her reluctance to accept marriage proposals from two would be suitors. Isabel's cousin, Ralph loves her also and wants her to experience all her adventures. He sets in motion a change in his dying father's will so that Isabel becomes a rich women. This seemingly noble gesture sets her up for tragedy as her innocence is manipulated and she finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage where she is but one of the possessions of a Mr. Gilbert Osgood. I have to say it helped me to see the IMDB website which showed the cast of characters used for the film production of this story. Think Nicole Kidman as Isabel and most especially John Malkovich for Osmond. though I haven't seen the movie I can certainly picture him as the intelligent yet mentally cruel husband that binds Isabel to her fate. "It was because she had been under the extraordinary charm that he, on his side, had taken pains to put forth. He was not changed; he had not disguised himself, during the year of his courtship, any more than she. But she had seen only half his nature then, as one saw the disk of the moon when it was partly masked by the shadow of the earth. She saw the full moon now—she saw the whole man. She had kept still, as it were, so that he should have a free field, and yet in spite of this she had mistaken a part for the whole”
Though it takes awhile to develop the characters the ladder part of the novel produces some good plot development . ( )
  novelcommentary | Feb 28, 2016 |
I have books of this nature on my to read list because they are a part of 101 books every college bound student should read. Very few catch my interest, this one included. I gave it to page 55, chapter 7, but just couldn't get drawn in. I may just be too dull for college, even if I already have my Masters. ;) ( )
  MahanaU | Feb 26, 2016 |
Ugh. What is it is about Henry James that I simply can't read his books. I've started "Turn of the Screw" countless times and despite the fact that it has a theme I enjoy, I can't get through it. I listened to this on audio and had to listen to the entire first disk over again because I could not stay focused on the book. The Victorian-era story is of an American girl who goes to England, inherits a fortune, makes an unfortunate marriage and ends with a whimper. Horrid book. 1 very dark star. ( )
  Oodles | Feb 16, 2016 |
The first book of Henry James that I have enjoyed. A wonderful picture of the life of Americans of unearned incomes in Europe in the Victorian era.
Read Samoa Dec 2003 ( )
  mbmackay | Nov 28, 2015 |
American Henry James thought long and hard before putting pen to paper to write The Portrait of a Lady. He was determined to answer his critics by producing a literary masterpiece. He likened his process of writing this novel to the erection of a particularly fine building: a classical building of course. In his preface to the novel James was at pains to point out this process:

“So far I reasoned, and it took nothing less than that technical rigour. I now easily see, to inspire me with the right confidence for erecting on a plot of ground the neat and careful and proportioned pile of bricks that arches over it and that was thus to form, constructionally speaking a literary monument…………That solicitude was to be accordingly expressed in the artful patience with which as I have said I piled brick upon brick. The bricks for the whole counting over - putting for bricks little touches and inventions and enhancements by the way - affect me in truths well nigh innumerable and as ever so scrupulously fitted together and packed in.”

This extraordinary preface prepares the reader for the long haul, but it also confidently claims that the reader will be in the safe hands of a master craftsman and storyteller, one who is blessed with a gift that can reveal aspects of the human condition to the patient reader. Patience is perhaps the supreme virtue for Henry James as the last sentence of this monument of a novel is:

“She walked him away with her, however, as if she had given him now the key to patience.”

Patience is what a modern reader will need for the first three quarters of this novel, but as Henry James says it will have it’s rewards. He moves his readers crablike through the first chapters where he introduces some of the main characters and sets them in a beautiful old Country House in England. His writing is delicate and fine and when we meet his central character: Miss Isabel Archer we are soon lost in admiration for her independence and wit, expressed in some splendid conversation exchanges with her hosts at Gardencourt. Miss Archer is a young American lady of exceptional talent who values her independence above all things and one can’t help feeling that Henry James imbued much of his own character in the portrait of this lady. Fine, splendid, delicate are words that we could use to describe the society that James is portraying here. These are people with independent incomes living in mid nineteenth century England, who have impeccable manners and who can call on titled individuals as their friends. Miss Archer from America can fit into this society through her intelligence and wit and because of her good American breeding. This book is about upstairs people, nobody from downstairs gets a look in.

The story line of the novel follows the career of Miss Archer. She dazzles almost everybody she meets. She has offers of marriage from Lord Warburton a fine Englishman with radical ideas who is forging a career as a diplomat and also from Casper Goodwood a leading American industrialist. She rejects them both in pursuit of something finer for herself. When her protector old Mr Touchett dies, on the advice of his invalid son Ralph he leaves Miss Archer a fortune and so suddenly she is even more attractive on the marriage market. She travels to the Italian home of Mrs Touchett, where under guidance from Madame Merle she meets Gilbert Osmond, the embodiment of fine taste and culture. After a courtship she decides to accept Gilbert Osmond waiving away Lord Warburton and Casper Goodwood who have followed her to Italy. Osmond has been married before and has a young daughter Pansy who has just left the convent to live with him and his new wife. It doesn't work well for Isabel Archer, who after the first year of marriage becomes estranged from her traditionalist husband, but she soon grows to love his young daughter. It is Pansy’s prospects on the marriage market that bring Isabel Archer’s big mistake to a head and the novel’s main theme then becomes how Isabel can come to terms with her future.

The novel was originally serialised in Atlantic Monthly and Macmillan’s magazine before being released as a novel a year later in 1881. The novel gains both power and depth as you read through; the almost painstaking preparatory work in the first sections of the novel reap rewards once the story starts to unfold. It is the quality of James’s writing that kept me reading; his descriptions, conversations and character building are first class and once the story gets rolling the groundwork provides an excellent reference for the characters and their actions. Henry James valued his own independence and so one feels he is speaking from the heart when he is describing Isabel Archers point of view. He never married himself and it is therefore no surprise to learn of Isabel Archer’s mistake once she falls into that trap. There may be some evidence for thinking that the author of The portrait of a lady was a misogynist. For example his heroine for all her intelligence, manners and charm has an inherent character fault: it is her pride that in the end leads her into a miserable existence. Most of the other female characters are shown as manipulative and uncaring or dull and it is only the young virginal Pansy that can claim to be good. By contrast there are plenty of good and upstanding male characters; Lord Warburton, Casper Goodwood, Ralph and old Mr Touchett, although the most evil characterisation is reserved for Gilbert Osmond.

This is a slow moving novel whose storyline can be pretty well predicted, but this is not why we read Henry James. We read him for his characterisation, his brilliant descriptions and his observations on the human condition as well as his skill as a novel writer. There is no evidence of his rather mannered and tortured sentence structures that he favoured in his later novels. An added bonus for readers today is the depiction of life in mid nineteenth century England, even if it is reserved for the top tier of society. Yes James can sound snobbish and a little prissy at times and this in the end makes me think that his excellent novel is not a great novel. 4.5 stars ( )
10 vote baswood | Oct 17, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 77 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (183 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry Jamesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Anderson, Charles R.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cohn, JanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Edel, LeonEditorsecondary 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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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 25 descriptions

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14 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141441267, 0141199121

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