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The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

The Portrait of a Lady (1881)

by Henry James, Henry James

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7,29178486 (3.9)9 / 605
  1. 61
    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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Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
Charming and elegant. ( )
  smiley0905 | Sep 3, 2015 |
I have just finished reading Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. I had read it about 8 years back, and in this my second reading, I am as much affected by the beauty of the writing and the charm of the protagonist, as I was then.

This novel is about a young and attractive American whose life takes an unexpected turn when her Aunt decides to' bring her out'' in England. Isabel is young and idealistic, with all the exuberance and vitality of youth. She bubbles with optimism, and lays stake to a higher moral ground. At the same time, she has that sense of infallibility and invulnerability that only youth enjoys.

The novel shows her growth from youth to adulthood. On this road of life, Isabel's ideals and ideas collide with the reality of life. A higher moral consciousness is not enough to stop one from making wrong decisions because of poor judgement.Though she hangs on to her ideals, the world is not what she expected it to be, and she suffers" the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune".. She suffers the pain of realising that God is not in His heaven, and all is not right with the world. Early in the book, with all the nonchalance and insouscance of the young, she has blithely declared that people suffer too easily. She has to eat her words in the course of the story.

Well, that is what growing up is about. When we realise that we too are of the common mould, and not special enough to be protected from suffering or martyrdom.

I read somewhere that Isabel is one of the great fictional heroines of classical literature, belonging to the category of Elizebeth Bennett and Jane Eyre. But whereas their romances end with a happy ever after touch, Isabel's is ambiguous. She is not of the Anna Karenina or Emma Bovary variety, those bored housewives who seek excitement in extra marital affairs that eventually lead to their downfall. Isabel is made of sterner metal, and she lives up to the homily that with great freedom comes great responsibility.

I recommend this book to every reader. ( )
  dragon178 | Aug 24, 2015 |
Give the book its deserved five stars, but Isabel is boring. In fact, everybody in the book is boring except Ralph. Isabel and Ralph are the yin and yang of good and truth; Merle and Osmond the yin and yang of evil and deception. And who cares about little Pansy? She is simply the vapid cement bonding together the evil duo, as the blood tie bonds together the hero and heroine.

James mercifully kills off the narrative ten pages after Ralph's demise, as if he knows who the main character really is. The best part of the whole book is when Ralph calls Osmond a "sterile dillettante." You go, Ralph.

James rewards the reader's perserverance with plenty of depth. The novel is a psychological gold mine. It's only flaws are:

1. a superfluity of suitors. There is a veritable swarm of them. They come out of the woodwork; lurk in every bush. The women in the book can't sit down in the park without lighting on a hopeless suitor. It gets really old.

2. a gross, unforgiveable scarcity of Ralph. ( )
  JMlibrarian | Mar 3, 2015 |
I haven't read much Henry James before (I might possible have read The Europeans previously but I couldn't swear to it, and to be honest if The Portrait of a Lady is representative then I'm not sure if I'm going to be reading much in the future. I had great difficulty maintaining any interest at all in any of the characters, even in the heroine Isabel Archer (who is supposedly a remarkable woman) and I couldn't get a sense that the characters could ever have been real people.

Isabel Archer is a young American woman who is invited by her aunt to spend some time with her in Europe. Mrs Touchett has her permanent home in Florence, only visiting her husband at his house of Gardencourt, overlooking the Thames Valley in England, for a month or so each year. But it is to Gardencourt that she initially takes Isabel, to meet her husband and her invalid son Ralph. Appreciating Isabel's determination that she must do something with her life, which has caused her to reject two offers of marriage during her stay in England, he is instrumental in obtaining for her the legacy which allows her to pursue the true freedom that she craves. But Isabel's new independence takes her to Paris, Florence and Rome the freedom which she craves remains elusive...

To be honest I've never come across an account of the grand European tour that has just come across as so boring! The lives that are being led just seem so stultifyingly dull. I had hoped that when the novel reached Florence it would catch my attention as I've spent a lot of time there in the past, but no! According to the blurb on the back this is 'one of the finest novels in the English language' but do fine novels have to be so dull? It's not just that nothing seems to happen for long stretches, that I can cope with, but I can't cope with the artificiality of the characters.

I'm giving this three stars because it seems too well written to give it less but I can't say that I enjoyed it. ( )
  SandDune | Jan 29, 2015 |
This book took me about two months to read! I read it at my son's urging. Happily, in the end, I thought it was worthwhile. I enjoyed a number of good moments and, in comparison to other "epics" (e.g. "One Hundred Years of Solitude") which I have recently tackled, the gain was worth the pain. It was quite a story!

I really enjoyed the way in which James sketched the characters in terms of their motives and attitudes within the context of societal norms (both prevalent and evolving). It was too bad that the goodies were buried in tons of 19C bloated verbiage and, surely, hundreds of impossibly long (and yet so exquisitely constructed) paragraphs, And despite all of the palpable passion, the total absence of steamy sex scenes was a bitter pill to swallow. Throw us a bone, Henry James! In sum,however, the book was worth reading, and parts of the story are bound to stick with me.

As an aside: I am looking forward to renting the movie version (1996) of the novel, in which Nicole Kidman plays Isabel. (Sadly, the preview looks awful!) I hope the protagonists -- for their own sake and that of the novel's dramatic integrity as a 20C interpretation --- will share at least a few moments of lust. Because that's what most people are and do. But my expectations are low. ( )
1 vote EpicTale | Dec 16, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (80 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry Jamesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
James, Henrymain 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
Toibin, ColmAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Updike, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. There are circumstances in which, whether you partake of the tea or not—some people of course never do,—the situation is in itself delightful. Those that I have in mind in beginning to unfold this simple history offered an admirable setting to an innocent pastime. The implements of the little feast had been disposed upon the lawn of an old English country-house, in what I should call the perfect middle of a splendid summer afternoon. Part of the afternoon had waned, but much of it was left, and what was left was of the finest and rarest quality. Real dusk would not arrive for many hours; but the flood of summer light had begun to ebb, the air had grown mellow, the shadows were long upon the smooth, dense turf. They lengthened slowly, however, and the scene expressed that sense of leisure still to come which is perhaps the chief source of one’s enjoyment of such a scene at such an hour. From five o’clock to eight is on certain occasions a little eternity; but on such an occasion as this the interval could be only an eternity of pleasure. The persons concerned in it were taking their pleasure quietly, and they were not of the sex which is supposed to furnish the regular votaries of the ceremony I have mentioned. The shadows on the perfect lawn were straight and angular; they were the shadows of an old man sitting in a deep wicker-chair near the low table on which the tea had been served, and of two younger men strolling to and fro, in desultory talk, in front of him. The old man had his cup in his hand; it was an unusually large cup, of a different pattern from the rest of the set and painted in brilliant colours. He disposed of its contents with much circumspection, holding it for a long time close to his chin, with his face turned to the house. His companions had either finished their tea or were indifferent to their privilege; they smoked cigarettes as they continued to stroll. One of them, from time to time, as he passed, looked with a certain attention at the elder man, who, unconscious of observation, rested his eyes upon the rich red front of his dwelling. The house that rose beyond the lawn was a structure to repay such consideration and was the most characteristic object in the peculiarly English picture I have attempted to sketch.
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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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.

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

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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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