Read Portret van een dame by Henry James Inge de Heer Johannes Jonkers Online


Isabel Archer is een toonbeeld van onafhankelijkheid. Ze is mooi, intelligent en rijk. Anders dan bijvoorbeeld Madame Bovary of Anna Karenina hoeft zij zich niet te bevrijden uit een maatschappelijk keurslijf. De wereld ligt aan haar voeten, en dat weet ze zelf al te goed.De aanbidders die zich aandienen worden door haar afgewezen. Maar als Gilbert Osmond op het toneel verIsabel Archer is een toonbeeld van onafhankelijkheid. Ze is mooi, intelligent en rijk. Anders dan bijvoorbeeld Madame Bovary of Anna Karenina hoeft zij zich niet te bevrijden uit een maatschappelijk keurslijf. De wereld ligt aan haar voeten, en dat weet ze zelf al te goed.De aanbidders die zich aandienen worden door haar afgewezen. Maar als Gilbert Osmond op het toneel verschijnt maakt Isabel een desastreuze vergissing. Ze trouwt met deze ogenschijnlijk verfijnde, briljante aristrocraat in wie zij haar eigen superioriteit weerspiegeld meent te zien. Hij ontpopt zich echter als een egoïstische, arrogante, ijskoude kunstverzamelaar die Isabel zijn wil probeert op te leggen om haar als object aan zijn collectie te kunnen toevoegen. Isabel heeft het ethische met het esthetische, het leven met de kunst verward.Henry James begint zijn meesterlijke roman uit 1882 in lichte tinten, maar gaandeweg brengt hij donkerder tonen aan op wat gaandeweg een aangrijpend, tragisch portret is van een heldin die haar ondergang tegemoet gaat.Portret van een dame wordt beschouwd als het hoogtepunt uit het ouevre van Henry James (1843-1916), dat naast korte verhalen, toneel en kritieken zo'n twintig romans bevat....

Title : Portret van een dame
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ISBN : 9789035117730
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 502 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Portret van een dame Reviews

  • K.D. Absolutely
    2019-05-18 08:16

    *SPOILER ALERT* (Read at your own risk)My first time to read a book by Henry James.Reading The Portrait of a Lady, said to be his finest novel, is like getting your workout at a gym.After a day’s work you are tired. You are already zapped of energy. You feel like going to a bar and have a couple of beer listening to a funky live band or the crooning of a lovely young lady. Or you want to go to a nearby mall and sit in the comfort of a dark movie house. Probably sleep to rest for a couple of hours if the movie turns out to be boring.But you decide to go as you planned at the start of the day. Your gym bag is in your car. You drag your heavy feet to the parking lot. To the gym. You know you have to do it your friend has been telling you that Henry James is good but you imagine the taste of cold beer quenching your thirst or the soft seat inside the theater or the pretty songbird wearing a plunging neckline or showing her slim smooth legs there are quick reads waiting for you like Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 or that Flowers for Argenon by Daniel Keyes. But you know your body needs exercise. You are becoming fatter, heavier and your waistline is expanding. You resisted the quick but empty lure of beer or sleep at the movie house. Your heart is telling you that Henry James is an author to read. Like a zombie, you continued sleepwalking to the gym.After changing to your gym attire. You step on the treadmill. The solitude of working out. In the gym, you rarely talk to anyone. Henry James used a style that was distinctively his: wordy yet illuminating You are by yourself. Most of your friends don’t care about Henry James. You begin to walk. Warm up. After a couple of minutes, you increase the speed. Chug. Chug. Chug. It goes on and on. His storytelling went on and on. His characters came from New York, to England, went to Paris, then to Rome and then went back to England and finally went back to Rome. After the treadmill, you lift some weights as you also need to tone some muscles. His characters were varied. There was Isabel Archer fighting for her independence by refusing marriage proposals like there was not tomorrow but in the end she found with the wrong man: conceited, two-timer, treacherous and condescending. Some muscles are not supposed to be exercised right after a neighboring one. They could be contradicting each other and not only you will not get the maximum benefit from your workout but you are in the danger of having an injury like some pulled muscles. Isabel’s cousin Ralph Touchett is the “conscience” of the novel, telling by instinct whether the person-character is good or bad. He is sick but he is the only character that has the purest heart.You came to the gym gloomy and dragged your feet as you did not have the energy even to go up a couple of stairs. Some people agonize reading this kind of 19th century Victorian English But when you came out to go back to your car, you felt energized and refreshed. You felt triumphant that Isabel Archer was going back to Rome for Pansy not necessarily for Oswald. But she decided whatever her heart was telling her. In the end, it was all that mattered: independence. She followed her heart: a personal triumph.In the end, you did not regret going to the gym. In the end, I am happy I read a Henry James.

  • Glenn Sumi
    2019-05-05 08:05

    10 Things I Love About Henry James’s The Portrait Of A Lady1. Isabel ArcherThe “lady” in the title. Beautiful, young, headstrong and spirited, the American woman visits her wealthy relatives in England, rejects marriage proposals by two worthy suitors, inherits a fortune and then is manipulated into marrying one of the most odious creatures on the planet, Gilbert Osmond. She’s utterly fascinating, and if I were back in university, I imagine having long conversations and arguments about her character. What does she want: Freedom? The ability to choose, even if it’s a bad choice? Is she a projection of James’s latent homosexuality? Is she a feminist or not? There are no simple answers. 2. The Prose and Psychological ComplexityDamn, James knew how to write long, luxuriant sentences that dig deep into his characters’ minds. Sometimes the effect can be claustrophobic – get me out of this person’s head! – but more often it’s utterly compelling and convincing. We partly read fiction to learn about other people’s lives, right? Well, James does that. (The exceptions: Isabel’s two wealthy, handsome suitors, Warburton and Goodwood, are less than believable, and remind me of eager (or horny?) dogs, their tails wagging whenever they’re around their love/lust object.)3. The StoryOkay, not much really happens. But as the book progressed, even though I sort of knew the outcome (it’s hard to avoid spoilers from a 135-year-old classic), I was increasingly curious to see how Isabel would act. In fact, I raced through the final chapters, breathlessly. Who knew: Henry James, page-turner! And have a theory about that ending? Take your turn...4. The HumourIt’s not a comedy, but there are lots of amusing bits. James’s narrator is genial and funny. Henrietta Stackpole, her gentleman friend, Mr. Bantling, and even Gilbert Osmond’s sister, the Countess Gemini, are all very colourful characters who elicit a chuckle or two. And Isabel’s aunt can be terribly cutting as well. I love Ralph (Isabel's cousin) and the dignified British Lord Warburton’s reactions to the enterprising, no-fuss American “lady journalist” Henrietta. 5. The SettingsEach one is significant: from the stately Gardencourt, home of Isabel’s relatives the Touchetts, to the bustle and anonymity of London, to the ruins of Rome, where Isabel finds herself stuck in a dead, fossilized marriage. James is a master at finding the right place to stage a scene. I could write an essay about interiors and exteriors in the book, but I’ll spare you.6. The VillainsMadame Merle and Gilbert Osmond: individually they’re sinister, but together they’re positively Machiavellian. In fact, in one scene, it’s revealed that they both like Machiavelli, and Isabel doesn’t get the clue! They totally play her. And yet they’re believable, too. Osmond’s scene in which he professes his love is brilliant in its manipulation; and the final turn of the screw (asking her to do him a favour!) is very clever. Madame Merle’s motivations always keep you guessing. Does she see herself in Isabel? Is she jealous? Does she just want to exert her power over her? The scene in which Isabel sees both in her home, conspiring (evident from their attitudes) is so powerful James refers to it a couple of times. And of course, it’s missing from the Jane Campion film (see below).7. The ThemesDoes money corrupt? What do you really know about someone before you marry? What is the true nature of freedom? What happens when New World (American) "innocence" meets Old World (European) "experience"? All these themes – and many others – come across naturally, and never feel shoe-horned into the story.8. The TechniqueI remember hearing people go on about the architecture of Henry James’s novels, and this one is sturdily, handsomely built. The book begins and ends in the same setting. And there are some ingenious sections in the middle, where time has passed and the reader discovers major information through conversations. Like any great writer, James knows what to leave out. He makes you do work to fill in the pieces, but the novel becomes more memorable because of that. And he bridges the Victorian and Modern eras, in the same way that Beethoven bridges the Classical and Romantic eras.9. Chapter 42After a huge blowup with Osmond, Isabel stays up all night, staring into the fireplace, and ponders her life, thinking: "How did I get here?" James considered it one of the best things he’d ever written, and although I haven’t read a lot of his work (which I will soon remedy), I’d have to agree. It’s right up there with Hamlet’s soliloquies.10. The Fact that the Book Doesn't Lend Itself Well To Adaptation A couple days after finishing the book, I watched the Campion film starring Nicole Kidman. Besides an evocative score and a brilliant performance by Barbara Hershey as Madame Merle and a suitably slimy one by John Malkovich (basically changing costumes from his Dangerous Liaisons character), it was dreadfully dull. There have been other James adaptations – The Wings Of The Dove, The Golden Bowl, The Bostonians – but none of these films has achieved the critical or popular success of an Age Of Innocence, Howards End or Room With A View. Maybe it's hard to get that psychological complexity onscreen? Read the books.***Conclusion: James is The Master. Up til now, I’d only read his shorter works, like the novellas “The Turn Of The Screw,” “Daisy Miller” (I still don’t quite know what killed her - sorry if that’s a spoiler) and “The Beast In The Jungle.” Now I’m eyeing his other major novels; perhaps I’ll even get through the notoriously difficult late period James. Can't wait to try!

  • Lizzy
    2019-05-14 03:22

    For my dear friend Jeffrey Keeten: I would not have read it if it were not for you. Thanks! Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady touched me deeply. Since I finished this novel a few days ago, I could not seem to stop thinking about it as I tried to organize my feelings. That I was mesmerized by it, there is no doubt. So much that the search for its understanding has occupied practically all my free moments. And to fully grasp it I could not do without Henry James masterful help, so forgive me if you find I quote him too often. Oh, but this is a work in progress, so forgive me again for any inaccuracy or inconsistency. 1. The complexity of Isabel Archer"Millions of presumptuous girls, intelligent or not intelligent, daily affront their destiny, and what is it open to their destiny to be, at the most, that we should make an ado about it? The novel is of its very nature an ado, an ado about something, and the larger the form it takes the greater of course the ado. Therefore, consciously, that was what one was in for—for positively organising an ado about Isabel Archer."Portrait of a Lady is the story of a young American woman, Isabel Archer, and her voyage of self-discovery. I loved getting into Isabel's conflicted mind, her doubts and her confidence, her wishes and her choices. I went even further and identified thoroughly with Isabel Archer. I could relate to her conflicted mind, her dreams and ultimate choices. She was a pleasure to know, because she is so extraordinarily complex, complex in a way that fictional people seldom are.From the first we learn how Isabel valued her freedom, in a dialogue with her cousin Ralph:"‘Adopted me?’ The girl stared, and her blush came back to her, together with a momentary look of pain...‘Oh no; she has not adopted me. I’m not a candidate for adoption.’‘I beg a thousand pardons,’ Ralph murmured. ‘I meant... ‘You meant she has taken me up. Yes; she likes to take people up... but,’ she added with a certain visible eagerness of desire to be explicit, ‘I’m very fond of my liberty.’"The secondary characters are there to explain Isabel Archer, as Henry James tells us “they are there, for what they are worth… the definite array of contributions to Isabel Archer’s history. I recognized them, I knew them, they were numbered pieces of my puzzle, the concrete term of my ‘plot’.”Mrs. Touchett, her aunt, brings Isabel to Europe but is indifferent and unfeeling; Ralph is initially amused by her and helps her to inherit a fortune, only to guarantee her choices and the freedom to follow them (he probably is the only one that thoroughly loved Isabel); Madam Merle manages her meeting with Osmond and makes sure they end up married; Osmond thinks of her as one more item for his collection; Mr. Goodwood is persistent and never loses interest in her life (coming back again and again to see how she is), but seems to offer nothing more; Lord Warburton is a fair aristocratic friend to Isabel, but was he truly in love with her or merely looking for a trophy wife?; Henrietta Stackpole, is a true friend and probably an antithesis to Isabel; and Pansy, the artless creation of her husband, depends on Isabel as the only person who throughly loves her. So everyone, including the reader, look upon her, judge her decisions and contemplate as she takes each of her fateful steps into her destiny.Oh, there is much more about Isabel, and I hope I will be able to know her better once I am finished.2. The images and metaphors of Isabel Archer’s lifeTo discuss this I first I want to tell you about a recurrent dream I had for a very long time. Sometimes, I dreamed that I was walking down the corridor on my home and discovered a door I had never realized existed; deciding to explore I would open it and it led me to a new, endless row of rooms, all grand with high windows and sunny, overlooking majestic gardens that I had never observed existed before. As I opened each door amazing new discoveries were revealed to me. My feelings were of exuberance, of happiness to have discovered so much beauty inside my home. But there was a variation to these recurrent dreams, or worst, there were also nightmares. In these I also discovered new places never visited before, however they would be dark and looked nowhere. As a result of this oppressive atmosphere I used to feel like I was in an endless prison inside my own home. I rejoiced in the first and feared to revisit those nightmares.So, when I started reading The Portrait of a Lady, it was fascinating to read how Henry James uses symbolic or metaphorical architectural spaces and places to tell us about Isabel Archer and her life. This was something I knew and it remitted directly to my dreams and my deepest self. "Her imagination was by habit ridiculously active; when the door was not open it jumped out of the window. She was not accustomed indeed to keep it behind bolts; and at important moments, when she would have been thankful to make use of her judgement alone, she paid the penalty of having given undue encouragement to the faculty of seeing without judging."We first meet Isabel at Gardencourt,"Her uncle’s house seemed a picture made real; no refinement of the agreeable was lost upon Isabel; the rich perfection of Gardencourt at once revealed a world and gratified a need. The large, low rooms, the deep greenness outside, that seemed always peeping in, the sense of well-ordered privacy in the centre of a ‘property’—...much to the taste of our young lady, whose taste played a considerable part in her emotions"By marrying Osmond Isabel ends up enveloped in a palace dark and suffocating:"She could live it over again, the incredulous terror with which she had taken the measure of her dwelling. Between those four walls she had lived ever since; they were to surround her for the rest of her life. It was the house of darkness, the house of dumbness, the house of suffocation. Osmond’s beautiful mind gave it neither light nor air; Osmond’s beautiful mind indeed seemed to peep down from a small high window and mock at her."There, she seeks refuge or consolation on the ruins of Rome, for her a symbol of hope for despite their long sufferings they are still standing."She had long before this taken old Rome into her confidence, for in a world of ruins the ruin of her happiness seemed a less unnatural catastrophe. She rested her weariness upon things that had crumbled for centuries and yet still were upright; she dropped her secret sadness into the silence of lonely places, so that as she sat in a sun-warmed angle on a winter’s day, she could smile at it and think of its smallness."But, ultimately, she seeks refuge once more at Gardencourt."All purpose, all intention, was suspended; all desire too save the single desire to reach her much-embracing refuge. Gardencourt had been her starting-point, and to those muffled chambers it was at least a temporary solution to return. She had gone forth in her strength; she would come back in her weakness, and if the place had been a rest to her before, it would be a sanctuary now."3. Isabel’s choices and freedomIsabel's ability to choose, and the choices she makes are the thread that is carefully woven throughout the novel, and it raises her stature as a fictional heroine, in my opinion, to the level of that of an Anna Karenina or an Emma Bovary. For better or for worse. "‘I’m not bent on a life of misery,’ said Isabel. ‘I’ve always been intensely determined to be happy, and I’ve often believed I should be. I’ve told people that. But it comes over me every now and then that I can never be happy in any extraordinary way; not by turning away, by separating myself.’‘By separating yourself from what?’‘From life. From the usual chances and dangers, from what most people know and suffer.’"The moment Isabel inherits starts the process whereupon she loses some of her freedom…"There’s one remarkable clause in my husband’s will,’ Mrs Touchett added. ‘He has left my niece a fortune.’‘A fortune!’ Madame Merle softly repeated.‘Isabel steps into something like seventy thousand pounds.’Madame Merle’s hands were clasped in her lap; at this she raised them, still clasped, and held them a moment against her bosom while her eyes, a little dilated... ‘Ah,’ she cried, ‘the clever creature!’"And around Isabel there is always a sense of danger: "‘I try to care more about the world than about myself––but I always come back to myself. It’s because I’m afraid.’ She stopped; her voice had trembled a little. ‘Yes, I’m afraid; I can’t tell you. A large fortune means freedom, and I’m afraid of that. It’s such a fine thing, and one should make such a good use of it. If one shouldn’t one would be ashamed... I’m not sure it’s not a greater happiness to be powerless.’"But was she really free or were her choices not as free as she dreamed? Or was it all inevitable to some degree? It seems that Isabel Archer's life was to some extend inescapable and this fact was not totally unknown to her. However, she thoroughly recongnizes how misguided she had been in her choice of husband. "It was as if he had had the evil eye; as if his presence were a blight and his favour a misfortune. Was the fault in himself, or only in the deep mistrust she had conceived for him? This mistrust was now the clearest result of their short married life; a gulf had opened between them over which they looked at each other with eyes that were on either side a declaration of the deception suffered."Subsequentely, Isabel remains too proud to show it to the her friends. But despite all her efforts to conceal her misery, she cannot camouflage it from Ralph and Caspar: "‘Watching her?’‘Trying to make out if she's happy.’‘That's easy to make out,’ said Ralph. ‘She’s the most visibly happy woman I know.’‘Exactly so; I’m satisfied,’ Goodwood answered dryly. For all his dryness, however, he had more to say. ‘I’ve been watching her. She pretends to be happy; that was what she undertook to be; and I thought I should like to see for myself what it amounts to. I’ve seen,’ he continued with a harsh ring in his voice, ‘and I don’t want to see any more. I’m now quite ready to go.’"Sorrowful and heartbroken, that's how this passage made me feel. But she is never to be pitied, she always stands upright despite doomed adversity. Yes, I suspect there is a sense of inevitability (what choices did she have, where her other suitors conductive of real happiness? I think not!) which could have made Isabel Archer’s into a tragedy. But she is far from it, she still has choices. Nevertheless, James’ work is not merely that. It is a reflection upon the ideal of a relative freedom and a play with its execution in a woman’s life; the actions, its struggles and the consequent decisions taken by choice. This is what James has achieved with this work; that liberty is not only an ideal but a responsibility too. Though the reader may not approve of all her choices at the end, keeping in mind the betrayal of trust brought about by Madam Merle and Osmond, they were all freely taken or the result of her own will. A will which comes not merely from the limitations imposed by society, but by a newfound maturity, result of all her suffering, and above all from the vow to remain true to oneself. 4. Henry James gives the reader plenty of room to imagineThere’s something about Henry James’ work, and here in particular, that flares, tosses back and forth with unspoken frustration and desire. James’ art, the one thing that makes him stand out for me, is in how he somehow implies, suggests, hints, but never outright tells the reader the ins and outs of his story. He even skips years, and it only adds to its enjoyment. If you want to live along with Isabel Archer, and I felt like I did, is to be conquered by infinite possibilities. Here we are not mere spectator or bystanders but may live everything along with her, if we want to. It is a hard reading that requires effort, but if we invest in it we can grasp the possibilities the whole world that exists beneath the surface of his work.5. Her ultimate choiceIsabel falls for Gilbert Osmond, to my mind, partly because he does not mindlessly adore her, does not fawn over her. He takes his time in the courtship, he (with the help of Madame Merle) has a clear strategy and it works. He is mysterious, indolent; and there is the hint of a darker side. He appears to be tired of everything, simply bored, so Isabel feels like for once she is helping somebody. That her inheritance has a meaning, a destiny. She seems to feel recompensated and fulfilled."...‘What has he ever done?’ he added abruptly.‘That I should marry him? Nothing at all,’ Isabel replied while her patience helped itself by turning a little to hardness. ‘If he had done great things would you forgive me any better? Give me up, Mr Goodwood; I’m marrying a perfect nonentity. Don’t try to take an interest in him. You can’t.’"And we are not the only ones to be surprised by her choice to marry Gilbert Osmond. Ralph was appalled:"‘I think I’ve hardly got over my surprise,’ he went on at last. ‘You were the last person I expected to see caught.’‘I don’t know why you call it caught.’‘Because you’re going to be put into a cage.’‘If I like my cage, that needn’t trouble you,’ she answered....‘You must have changed immensely. A year ago you valued your liberty beyond everything. You wanted only to see life.’"But she still has another choice ahead of her. Her ultimate choice is whether or not to return to Osmond after she goes to Gardencourt to visit her dying cousin. Again Henry James gifts us with a superb image that could not translate better the pervading dread of what she is about to do:"There was a penetrating chill in the image, and she drew back into the deepest shade of Gardencourt. She lived from day to day, postponing, closing her eyes, trying not to think. She knew she must decide, but she decided nothing; her coming itself had not been a decision. On that occasion she had simply started."And at last we understand her ultimate decision, although such resolution is not easily reached. "There were lights in the windows of the house; they shone far across the lawn. In an extraordinarily short time—for the distance was considerable—she had moved through the darkness (for she saw nothing) and reached the door. Here only she paused. She looked all about her; she listened a little; then she put her hand on the latch. She had not known where to turn; but she knew now. There was a very straight path."In the end I recognized a worthier and more mature Isabel Archer, and I think that she comes out of her sufferings stronger. I would like to imagine Osmond would be surprised by her when she gets back to Rome, and that she would be able to change her standing. Their roles perhaps altered. Although there should certainly be more anguish ahead of her, given what she is going back to, I imagine there is always the possibility of happiness.______

  • Petra X
    2019-04-29 03:23

    I've been reading a lot of Anthony Trollope's books recently and the stories, characters and writing is so much superior to this that I just can't get into it. "Frothy" is a word that comes to mind, also "was he paid by the word?" like Dickens. I finished the book, finally. It was a chore. I did not find James' portrayal of a woman's personality convincing. That even though she had the financial power which was the reason why her husband had married her, she would still allow herself to be physically and emotionally abused and humiliated. It seemed to be a very conventional view of a woman, that eventually she would give in to her Lord and Master. A woman with an ounce of independence (she did have an ounce, maybe even two) at the beginning would not be the sad creature she was at the end. Marriages were made in light of money and status in those times, in this book, she had both, he had neither, there had to be some sort of mental shift that that would allow her to pretend that these were her husband's and she was in the lower and grateful position. But James didn't write it, so 'Portrait' really didn't make sense.None of the characters, evil, good or milk-water gained my sympathy. Pansy, the daughter, nearly did, but I wanted to shake her and say 'how could you have lived all these years and not suspected who your mother is? Your father has palmed you off on the nuns all these years, what's with this unquestioning obedience? Its your step-mother has the money, not him, she's the one who can help you, would help you,not your daddy who just wants you to achieve his own social-climbing ambitions'. I just don't see James as a man who understood women enough to write about them from any but a man's perspective.I watched the Nichole Kidman film of the book and although Kidman did her best to flesh out the character she was no more rounded than in the book. And Poppy's submissiveness and ignorance were even more unbelievable. Obviously, to James, the main characteristic he associated with women and interpreted thusly by the director, was submissiveness.Henry James may have deserved his reputation as a Grand Old Man of (American) letters, but not through this book, it just didn't do it for me.

  • Fionnuala
    2019-05-19 05:18

    I had many wonderful moments while reading this book, moments when the writing halted the reading, when I had to pause and admire and wonder. Moments when the book seemed to speak to my own experience as if it were written expressly for the girl who was me at twenty-two, causing me to wonder how Henry James could have guessed so well the presumptuous ideas I had about life and love at that early stage. All of that is very personal, of course, and not necessarily of interest to other readers, but there were other moments in my reading of The Portrait of a Lady that better merit mention in a review. I had read this book before, about twenty years ago, so although I knew the bare bones of the story, I remembered few of the details. I certainly had no recollection of the early scene in which Isabel Archer walks in on an unknown guest in her aunt’s house. And yet there was something about the lead-up to that scene that caught my attention this time: the house is very still because Isabel’s uncle is dying. Out of the silence comes the sound of someone playing the piano. Wonderingly, Isabel makes her way toward the source of the harmony. Those six words were like a bell ringing in my mind. I felt a sharpening of interest, an awareness of how pivotal this moment would be in the story. I remember thinking: I've been reading this book with all senses on alert and this is my reward; I've sensed the author’s excitement at the turn his story is about to take. There was another scene later in the book when I had a similar feeling of change about to happen: Isabel sits up late one night in Rome pondering a difficult decision, indeed pondering all the decisions in her life so far. The reader watches with her and wonders how she will act. And wonders again when she finally does.There are other major shifts in the narrative but none stood out for me quite the way those two did. In fact, Henry James purposely avoids describing the most significant shift of all, skipping a three-year section of Isabel’s life completely - which is a very effective narrative device of course, introducing both surprise and suspense in a story that has only a six-year span in total. As a reader I appreciated both strategies: the emphasis he seemed to place on some scenes and the complete omission he allowed to others. It was all very wonderful. In fact this book has revised my idea of what ‘wonderful’ means. 'The Portrait of a Lady' is vying for a place as the highlight of my Henry James reading year even though The Ambassadors was already firmly camped in that position. I've decided they can be the joint highlight - they have a lot of wonderfulness in common.When I finished 'The Portrait', I turned to HJ’s 1906 appendix and found a paragraph about his concerns for the reader. He writes that he has purposely piled brick upon brick for our benefit, carefully including the details that will enable us to grasp the totality of his creation. And among those details, he mentions two in particular, keystones in the building of the story as it were. The first is the piano scene I described earlier. He speaks of the rare chemistry of that scene in which Isabel recognizes that a huge change is about to happen in her life. I felt really validated as a reader to have been aware in advance of the significance of what I was about to read, and so I wasn't surprised when his other pivotal scene turned out to be the one where Isabel sits up late into the Roman night, pondering her decisions. This is the sixteenth Henry James book I've read in six months. Perhaps I've learnt something of the way his writer’s mind works!More confirmation of that possibility came when he began to discuss the shape of this novel. He continues to speak in terms of bricks and architecture and proportions, and he says that of all his novels, 'The Portrait' is the best proportioned with the exception of a novel he was to write twenty-two years later: The Ambassadors. Alongside a certain ‘roundness’ in shape which they share, he finds they also share a kind of supporting beam or rib that runs through them. This rib is made from two minor but key characters, Henrietta Stackpole and Maria Gostrey. Both seem extraneous to each story at first glance yet both are central to the architecture of their particular story. I remember noting that Maria Gostrey was the thread that allowed me to find my way through the labyrinth that was 'The Ambassadors' so it was wonderful to hear Henry James confirm that, and underline the links between the two books as well. I was also reminded that I had begun to look at his books in terms of architecture while reading The Wings of the Dove, so I really appreciated his architectural metaphors.In fact the appendix left me amazed and wondering at every turn. In the updates, I quoted part of a paragraph on his theories about the ‘house of fiction’. I'd like to quote the whole thing here because it is really worth reading - and it provided me with huge insights into some Gerald Murnane books I've puzzled over in the past, The Plains and Inland, and offered a strong desire to read his Million Windows:The house of fiction has in short not one window, but a million - a number of possible windows not to be reckoned, rather; every one of which has been pierced, or is still pierceable, in its vast front, by the need of the individual vision and by the pressure of the individual will. These apertures, of dissimilar shape and size, hang so, all together, over the human scene that we might have expected of them a greater sameness of report than we find. They are but windows at the best, mere holes in a dead wall, disconnected, perched aloft; they are not hinged doors opening straight upon life. But they have this mark of their own that at each of them stands a figure with a pair of eyes, or at least with a field-glass, which forms, again and again, for observation, a unique instrument, insuring to the person making use of it an impression distinct from every other. He and his neighbors are watching the same show, but one seeing more where the other sees less, one seeing black where the other sees white, one seeing big where the other sees small, one seeing coarse where the other sees fine. And so on, and so on; there is fortunately no saying on what, for the particular pair of eyes, the window may NOT open; “fortunately” by reason, precisely, of this incalculability of range. The spreading field, the human scene, is the “choice of subject”; the pierced aperture, either broad or balconied or slit-like and low-browed, is the “literary form”; but they are, singly or together, as nothing without the posted presence of the watcher without, in other words, the consciousness of the artist. Tell me what the artist is, and I will tell you of what he has BEEN conscious. Thereby I shall express to you at once his boundless freedom and his “moral” reference.………This book is the final one in my 2017 Henry James season and I can't think of a better title to finish on. But in every ending there are beginnings - 'The Portrait' has led me to another book: Henry James says he took the slight ‘personality’, the mere slim shade of an intelligent but presumptuous girl and created what he called ‘an ado about Isabel Archer’. That reference has prompted me to go back to Shakespeare and read Much Ado About Nothing. I do love when one book leads to another!

  • Paul Bryant
    2019-05-03 03:20

    Ugh, ech, the elitism that breeds in readers! We think we're such nicey cosy bookworms and wouldn't harm a fly but we seethe, we do. Of course, readers of books just naturally look down on those who don't read at all. In fact they try not to think of those people (nine tenths of the human race I suppose, but a tenth of the human race is still a big number) because it makes them shudder. (How lovely it would be to go riding in a carriage through some dreadful council estate flinging free copies of Ulysses and Mrs Dalloway right and left (although Ulysses might catch some of those urchins a hefty blow on the temple (which might cause a shift in their brain landscape and evoke a sudden craving for modernist novels, like when people are struck by a bus and wake up talking in a French accent, that can happen))). So that's one obvious kind of reader elitism. But then, some readers think that what the majority of readers actually read is appalling (Hungervinciboneskitehelpslappery Twilit Shades of Pottery doo dah). It's not that you read, it's what you read. Of course. And then, amongst those elevated readers, some literary authors are considered greater than some others (why are you wasting your time with William Gaddis when you could be knee-deep in Proust, dwarling? I simply don't understand it). And then, even when you scale the heights and find yourself munching down some Henry James like he was the last well-done steak (with Chateau Lafleur) you were going to get before your solo trek (no huskies) to the south pole, you still get it - oh dwarling, why are you still dillydallying in the Middle Period when you still haven't read The Golden Bowl you naughty Jamesian you!Thus it is that I say - oh no, not The Portrait of a Lady. Too too obvious. Try The Awkward Age or The Ambassadors. Much better.

  • Renato Magalhães Rocha
    2019-05-13 09:11

    Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady is considered to be one of the first American novels to make full use of social and psychological realism as European authors - such as Flaubert, Balzac and George Eliot - were already practicing in their works. Considered to be his biggest accomplishment along with The Ambassadors, Portrait added Isabel Archer to the company of great fictional heroines - as the likes of Elizabeth Bennet, Becky Sharp and Jane Eyre - and, in a century marked by unsatisfied bourgeois wives and adultery in fiction - Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina come to mind -, it was a breath of fresh air to accompany and delve into James' protagonist's thoughts and inner feelings.Starting with a very slow pace, the narrative contains long and elaborate descriptions. It feels James is painting a richly detailed picture for every scene. As we arrive in Gardencourt - the Touchett's English country estate where our story opens and closes -, we encounter Mr. Touchett, his son Ralph and a family friend called Lord Warburton. Among other things, they discuss how Mrs. Lydia Touchett is in America and will bring along her niece called Isabel Archer to visit Europe.Isabel is a young woman, from Albany, New York, who accepts her aunt's offer to initially stay with her in Gardencourt and then later travel through the continent, eager to explore and be enriched by the places she's never been before and experience life at its fullest. Upon her arrival, we begin to learn what her ideals and plans are, along with her hopes and dreams.Since the beginning, her cousin Ralph seems to have been as curious as we were to see what Isabel would make of her life. In a way, we almost could say Ralph was conducting an experiment: Isabel had an independent mind, she was emotionally and psychologically self-sufficient - didn't seem inclined to get married for the time being, which was different for a girl of her age at the time. She was thirsty for knowledge first and foremost: “I don’t want to begin life by marrying”, Isabel asserts to Ralph. “There are other things a woman can do." But without money, how far could she go with her unattached ways? She was probably bound to eventually getting married. Her cousin, then, arranged it and she became financially independent as well. Certain that he was doing Isabel a good deed, Ralph convinced his father - who was very fond of Isabel - at his deathbed to leave her an impressive amount of money. Now she had all that was necessary to decide her destiny without any barriers or anyone to hold her back. The experiment was on.After traveling for over a year, the now wealthy Isabel Archer is in Florence, where her aunt lives. A friend she greatly admired, Madame Merle - Mrs. Touchett's close friend who Isabel got acquainted with some time after she arrived in Gardencourt - skillfully introduces her to Gilbert Osmond: an American expatriate widower who's lived in Italy for years. Isabel is very impressed with his refinement and intelligence and thinks of him as having a beautiful mind. Despite her family and friends complaints about this relationship, Isabel - after having declined two previous suitors - accepts Osmond's marriage proposal.The story then jumps in time and there's a narrative shift: for a bit, James leaves Isabel and Osmond in the background while he focuses on Pansy Osmond - Osmond's young daughter - and Edward Rosier - Isabel's childhood friend who's in love with Miss Osmond and is trying to get Madame Merle to help him marry his darling girl. Through their story, we still have glimpses of Isabel's life and we learn that she's been now married for two years and that she lost a son who died six months after his birth. Isabel and her husband seems to disagree about everything and we learn she's unhappy.Henry James, who once conducted a very slow paced - almost contemplative - narrative, gradually started to accelerate it, adding drama and a sense of urgency to his words. Right after an unsettling argument with Osmond one evening, Isabel, now feeling more distraught than ever, starts pondering and analyzing the many circumstances she finds herself in. The author immerses us in a deeply personal and intensely psychological account of her thoughts and emotions. Among the things Isabel reflected upon for a long time were the conclusion that her husband must hate her and the realization that Osmond had gained total control of her - the once independent and strong witted woman was now a subjugated spirit; the woman who once seemed to be against doing what was expected of her was now conforming to her husband's decisions. "When the clock struck four she got up; she was going to bed at last, for the lamp had long since gone out and the candles burned down to their sockets."Complicating things even further is the revelation Countess Gemini - Osmond's sister - makes to Isabel of a long time secret, that leaves her completely shaken. This only comes to deteriorate even more her relationship with Gilbert. Now, fully aware of the situation she was put in through manipulations and schemes, Isabel is faced with a big decision: her cousin Ralph is dying in Gardencourt and her dictatorial husband is completely against her visiting England. Showing the old Isabel may still be somewhere locked inside of herself, she confronts her husband and leaves to be with her cousin.The Portrait of a Lady, through its length, presents a number of opposites, but the most striking ones are the battles between freedom vs. destiny and affection vs. betrayal. In the book's final moments, we witness that Isabel is offered a way to go back to where and to whom she was when she first came to Europe: "The world's all before us - and the world's very big", she is told. She could once again explore life and fill herself with hopes - but declined the opportunity: "The world's very small", she answered. With a much talked about conclusion that has both fascinated and infuriated - another battle of opposites? - readers, James' ending remains open to a lot of interpretations.It's disturbing to watch an unhappily married woman with an opportunity to leave it all behind - and the means to do it - simply not choosing freedom. Did Osmond finally accomplish to shatter her spirit? Another theory is that maybe marriage was an unbreakable vow and she felt she had a moral duty to her husband. Or was she trying to be protective of Pansy - who was mirroring Isabel's unhappiness and was another example of a woman who seemed to think that she was obliged to follow other's decisions even if it made her unhappy - and determined to stand by her side and not let the same happen to her step daughter? Innumerable possibilities...James has been known for structuring his novels with a series of circles surrounding a center. With that in mind, a hopeful interpretation of the book's ending is that, in order to complete that circle, Isabel must return to her husband, properly end her marriage so she could once again be able to start anew and free her spirit once and for all.Rating: for such an interesting and comprehensive analysis of freedom, human consciousness and ultimately, existentialism: 4 stars.

  • James
    2019-05-09 10:17

    Book Review3+ out of 5 stars for The Portrait of a Lady, a classic story called the "Great American Novel," written by Henry James in 1881. I adore Henry James and found great enjoyment in his literary works when I began reading him in my freshmen year at college. As an English major, I was exposed to many different authors, but I felt a strong connection with him and this literary period. American realistic works spoke to me above any of the other "classic" books I had been reading. As a result, I chose Henry James as the primary focus of an independent study course I'd taken in my senior year. I read 6 or 7 of his books during those 3 months and am going back now to provide quick reviews, as not everyone finds him as enjoyable as I do. I also don't want to bore everyone with a lengthy review on how to interpret him or his books.The Portrait of a Lady tells the story of a young woman who years to have her own life and make her own mark on the world. She doesn't want to be contained by marriage or the structure in place at the time in the late 19th century. She has different characteristics coming from American, English and continental European female archetypes. She has strong moral and ethical values. She knows who she is, yet she does not know all. As she moves through life, she makes choices that are not easy for her to execute. What I loved about this work is its deep exploratory view points, beautiful language and unparalleled characters. Though I only give it a 3, when compared to some of this other works, I would recommend you read a few chapters or sections, just to see if it is something you could find yourself getting lost in.The impact you feel upon reading this book is questioning what is the true view of a lady, how is she different from generation to generate, location to location and societal class to societal class. James knows women. He is very accurate on many levels... wrong on a few, too. But to put out his thoughts, in a huge tome, at a time when women were beginning to get more rights... and be able to cross genres and genders... is amazing. It's less about what he says and more about how he says it. And that's why I enjoy reading him... but even I admit, I can only take 1 book every few years! :)About MeFor those new to me or my reviews... here's the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at, where you'll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I've visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Duane
    2019-05-07 03:05

    **spoilers**Portrait is a beautifully written novel that exhibits Henry James unique writing style and addresses the social customs and differences in Americans, the English, and continental Europeans. Isabel Archer is a young American lady, for whom the novel is titled, who is adventurous and very independent. She turns down two marriage proposals in the 1st half of the book to preserve her independence, one from Casper Goodwood, a young wealthy American, and one from Lord Warburton, a wealthy English aristocrat. When her English uncle dies, she inherits a large sum of money and travels with her aunt, Mrs. Touchett, to her Italian villa where she eventually meets, falls in love with, and marries Gilbert Osmond. All of her family and friends try to dissuade her from this, but to no avail, and she finally learns that Osmond doesn't love her, married her for her money, and to own her as another of his possessions. Obviously there is a lot more intrigue to the story and the enjoyment for me came from the wonderful writing of James.

  • Mike Puma
    2019-04-26 03:11

    Exquisite, cozy, at times funny, at times sad, and unforgettable. I won’t bore readers with another summary of the story; they’re abundant on this site. I will say that with Isabel Archer, James earns his place in the canon with a proto-feminist (yes, I said it, proto-feminist) novel of a remarkable, if hard to describe heroine, who is faithful to her idea(l)s, rejects the affections of strong (but good) men, and suffers unnecessarily at the hands of a Machiavellian cad and an equally manipulative woman. If you don’t like long novels—avoid this one like a plague. If you don’t like novels written in style from another era, get thee hence! If wordy, complicated sentences are anathema to you, you’ve probably already stopped reading this mini-review.If I were to advise a reader at all, I’d suggest reading it in as short a period as you can. Bite the bullet, finish it off keeping as much in mind as you can. I’d also advise reading it on a Kindle (for the built-in dictionary) or, at the very least, keep a dictionary at hand. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have; and if you don’t—if you read the wrong book for you (this one), please, please, don’t say James is an idiot (or some equivalent) or that the book is just boring (or some equivalent)—instead, face the fact, you read the wrong book.

  • Eric
    2019-04-25 09:17

    This is my first James (not counting his little book on Hawthorne and scattered essays on French novelists), and I started it out of a sense of dutiful curiosity. I was not prepared for it to be such an engrossing masterpiece. There so much good stuff here: the psychological portraiture, the descriptive scene painting, the simple human energy of the plot. James is such an odd bird because he was so steeped in the 19th century French fiction, was a social intimate of such Continental wellsprings of modern fiction as Flaubert and the Goncourts, but he doesn't really resemble them. The need to nimbly and precisely render the meaningful trifles of physical appearance and gesture that you find in Flaubert, and in his faithful heirs Joyce and Nabokov, is nowhere in James. He can evoke and scene-paint with the best of them (Osmond's Florentine villa, Isabel's melancholy wandering around Rome), but it's not his obsession. In his essay on Turgenev, James spends many pages almost chuckling at the energy and time Turgenev spends visually distinguishing and individuating his characters. James is, in that way, backward: by which I mean that his fictional aesthetic is very 18th century, aiming not at visual peculiarity and novelty, but at what Johnson called "the grandeur of generality." The style too is very redolent of Johnson and Gibbon in its rounded, formal pomp, in the pageantry of its circumlocutions. This backwardness may be one significantly "American" trait of James. Henry Adams, George Santayana and Van Wyck Brooks in various places point out that New England intellectual life remained firmly fixed in the 18th century well into the 19th. Johnson, Gibbon and Pope were the household gods of the colonial elite circa 1776, and they remained so long after the American Revolution. In Hawthorne, James actually singles out Hawthorne's vestigially "Augustan" style for special praise. In a book so mindful of American deficiency, the preservation of Britain's 18th century literary aesthetics is viewed as one of the new country's few cultural strengths. So James's descriptive forbearance makes the vividness of the characters all the more spooky. I can't put my finger the device that does it. It's certainly well hidden (as Walpole said in praise of Gibbon, he is strong but doesn't show off his muscles). Maybe it's the close attention to how a voice quavers or modulates in emotionally significant ways throughout the course of conversation, or the pictorially vague but atmosphere-altering metaphors. I'm impatient to reread this novel, to become acutely conscious of its magic. I can count on one hand the number of times James tells you what Madame Merle is wearing or how she's moving, but she's as alive and embodied as the more closely drawn Emma Bovary or Anna Karenina. I mention Merle in connection with Flaubert's and Tolstoy's heroines and not Isabel because, after this reading at least, I prefer Isabel as a foil for the more interesting Merle, with her deceptively amiable social masks (Merle is a very 18th century figure as well--her scenes always made me think of Lytton Strachey's descriptions of the ready wit, the tact, the armored poise and smooth sociability of ancien regime manners). My interest in the book actually lagged for a month, after Isabel's marriage to Osmond--that is, when Merle was out of the picture. Not that I'd want Merle as the heroine--no, she's a secondary character, and like Ralph Touchett, like Pansy, she goes away having but insinuated or at most only partially revealed her private history. Poignantly mysterious is how I like it.

  • Natalia
    2019-05-17 09:17

    Ugh.If I could describe this book in one word it would be "Laborious." If I were allowed more space, which apparently I am, I would go on to say that in addition to being deathly slow and horrifically boring it is also a little brilliant, a little impressive, and, if you have the patience to look for it, more than a little interesting. There's a LOT in here. James wanted this novel to be the antidote to the Jane Austen romance. He wanted to show life as it is- money as a burden, marriage as a trap, and people as egotistic, petty, manipulative, and kind.If I told you how disappointing the ending is, though, you wouldn't want to read it, so I won't mention that. If you have the patience, it's worth reading, but not unless you read it closely. I recommend a Norton Critical Edition.

  • Jasmine
    2019-04-25 05:20

    The ancient Greek tragedian Euripides popped up in my mind while reading Henry James' (1843-1916) masterpieces Daisy Miller and The Portrait of a Lady. (*) Readers of Euripides’ work have to ask themselves whether Euripides was a misogynist or if he showed true sympathy for the Athenian women who suffered from the rigorous patriarchy in Athenian society. I, on my part, was astonished by Euripides’ portrayal of women and their oppression and I came to the conclusion that Euripides indirectly criticised Athenian male society. Having read the mentioned two works by James, I’ve had the exact same feeling. The way he describes Isabel Archer’s succumbing to moral and social conventions is compelling and leaves the reader with an uneasiness that I have seldom encountered in Victorian Literature. In James’ notebooks from probably late December 1880, early January 1881 he writes: “The idea of the whole thing is that the poor girl, who has dreamed of freedom and nobleness, who has done, as she believes, a generous, natural, clear-sighted thing, finds herself in reality ground in the very mill of the conventional.”The Portrait of a Lady is first and foremost a psychological portrayal of an "intelligent but presumptuous girl” (p. 634) of the 19th century whose decisions differ greatly from what the reader (at least the modern reader) would expect from a lady with such characteristics. Even though the romantic settings in Florence and Rome are inspiring and enthralling they are not really important to the story and the plot itself is far from being spell binding. James notes in his preface to the New York Edition of 1908: "The result is that I’m often accused of not having a “story” enough. I seem to myself to have as much as I need – to show my people, to exhibit their relations with each other; for that is all my measure.”Having said that, it requires the mastery of one Henry James to make his readers stick to the more than 600 pages without hesitation. The omniscient narrator carefully describes Isabel’s marriage without being melodramatic and its presentation is therefore much more realistic and modern than in other Victorian novels, such as those by Charles Dickens for example. I was deeply touched by James’ awareness of women’s struggle in those days. When I mention ‘women’s struggle’ I have to point out, however, that Henry James’ portrays exclusively women of his social class (at least in the two books I read) and I can imagine why: One cannot describe a social and cultural milieu with such perfection without observing meticulously the immediate environment one lives in. In my opinion he knew exactly what he was writing about (James apparently took his inspiration for Isabel’s character from his cousin Milly Temple) and he showed immense respect and sensibility towards his literary characters, not only towards Isabel, but also towards minor characters who are all portrayed with care. This work goes straightforward to my ‘favourites shelf’ and deserves my highest rating. It is an outstanding masterpiece by an outstanding author and I am eager to read more by him. (*) I choose the Penguin Classics Edition for my reading ofThe Portrait of a Lady edited and with an Introduction and Notes by Philip Horne. The text reprinted in this edition is the book edition of 1882 and not that of the revised 1908 New York edition.

  • Rakhi Dalal
    2019-05-17 08:12

    "Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it." ----- G.B.Shaw With no offence to men at all, I quoted the above because of its relevance with this work by Henry James.Essentially written about the idea of freedom / liberty, its assertion and realization, in the wake of limits imposed by conventions or moral ideals, specifically in case of women, is at the heart of this work. A beautiful Portrait, a work of art. An art work not because the protagonist is looked upon as an object by other characters, but also because one can look upon the portrait, marvel at the depth of her character and contemplate what her final gesture meant. While Ralph, her cousin, is amused by her and helps her to inherit a fortune, if only to witness what the liberal woman would make of it, a reader looks upon her, empathetically. While Madam Merle orchestrates (arranges) her meeting with Osmond and make sure that she marries him, the reader is appalled at the apparent innocence on her face. While Osmond thinks of her as a material to work with, thereby decorating his house with her, the reader is apprehensive about her next step. While Mr. Goodwood never looses interest in her life and come back again and again to see how she is living, the reader is curiously stirred by mere thought of a passion. So everyone, including the reader, look upon her, judge her decisions and contemplate her steps. But this work by James is not mere that. It is a reflection upon the ideal of freedom and its execution in a woman’s life; an action, struggle and the consequent decisions taken, by choice. This is what James has achieved with this work; that liberty is not only an ideal but a responsibility too. Though the reader may not approve of her step at the end, keeping in mind the betrayal of trust brought about by Madam Merle and Osmond, but it is to kept in mind that her decision at the end is her own will too. A will which comes not merely from the limitations imposed but also from the vow to remain true to oneself. In Isabel’s case, it must be attributed to her choice to remain present in Pansy’s life. P.S.A star less because of the apparent infatuation of H.James with aristocracy; big houses, paintings, idle ways, travels and interestingly, no one seemed to be doing anything of importance whatsoever other than taking an interest in Isabel’s life.

  • Helene Jeppesen
    2019-04-19 06:33

    This is the story of Isabel, an American who goes to England to meet new people and see more of the world. Isabel is very curious of nature, and when she gradually starts receiving different proposals from various men, she declines them all - that is because she wants to maintain her freedom which is very important to her. I really liked this story. I felt like it was very easy to read and connect with the main character as well as a lot of the other characters. The first pages of the story were deeply descriptive of the English landscape and the house where Isabel goes to at first, and I instantly felt at ease with reading about this peaceful setting. I was a bit reluctant when going into this novel because I'd heard that Henry James was rather derogative towards women. While I did see glimpses of that here and there, I also felt like Henry James really came through with the protagonist, Isabel, who is a carefree woman who lusts for adventure. She is the opposite of the women of those days and I loved her for that. All in all, I really enjoyed my reading of this story, and the ending was surprising but very suitable to the narrative.

  • Apatt
    2019-05-18 04:27

    Henry James would probably get all well with Thomas Hardy The Portrait of a Lady is a tragedy almost ofTess of the d'Urbervilles proportions.Character study novels are extraordinary things, the plot is mostly fairly mundane but when you get to really know the characters, when they resonate with you, the personal crises they go through become fascinating because they are like people you know. It has that lovely fly on the wall appeal for nosey parkers like myself. However, it takes an immense talent to create vivid and vibrant characters that the readers would care about; this is a gift Henry James seems to have in abundance. The story, in a nutshell, concerns a young American lady, Isabel Archer (the subject of the titular portrait), comes to England to stay with her aunt, she soon receives a vast amount of inheritance from her uncle, is proposed to by three men, and proceed to chooses the absolute worst of the three. From then on her life is a 24/7 misery. If anybody shows me this micro-synopsis and ask me if I would want to read the book I’d probably tell them to eff off (in the nicest possible way of course). However, the simple storyline belies a psychologically complex and endlessly fascinating book.Nicole Kidman Isabel ArcherAt the beginning of the book, Isabel is described as “a young woman of extraordinary profundity”. Certainly she seems to be an intelligent, lively and charismatic young lady with a strong sense of independence and seemingly indomitable will. She also has an infectious enthusiasm to experience what the world (which is her oyster) has to offer. That several men fall at her feet and practically worship her is not hard to believe. What is harder to believe is how—in spite of her wit and intelligence—she allows herself to be manipulated into marrying a total poseur. The book is an account of how her vibrant sense of independence seeps away during the course of her awful marriage. We follow Isabel’s thought processes, feeling swept along with her enthusiasm for life and crash-land with her when things go south. As Henry James puts it in his intro:“The idea of the whole thing is that the poor girl, who has dreamed of freedom and nobleness, who has done, as she believes, a generous, natural, clear-sighted thing, finds herself in reality ground in the very mill of the conventional.”The ending is a little too ambiguous for my taste, James seems to like this kind of WTF ending, his novellaThe Turn of the Screw has an even more infuriatingly ambiguous ending which I found so aggravating I wanted to write him for a refund (hampered by the fact that I got the book for free, and James is pushing up the daisies). The ending of The Portrait of a Lady is ambiguous to a lesser degree and leaves an interestingly melancholic aftertaste.So, yeah, read it, it’s pretty great!__________________________NotesRead mostly in audiobook format, narrated by the extremely wonderful Elizabeth Klett in her melodious and expressive voice (download link). I often wondered why so talented a reader would only read free Librivox books, it turns out that she has also narrated many contemporary books for the decidedly not free Still, that she has read so many books gratis, for the public domain is amazing.__________________________The following footnotes are inspired by my dear friend Cecily. I find it very difficult to review a character novel, because I want to talk about the characters and why they are interesting. The trouble is I feel like I would have to introduce each of the character I mention, and that would be a drag for me and— I imagine—the review reader. If you have an opinion on this issue please let me know in the comments section. Anyway, Cecily has suggested several ways to integrate the character bits, which I will do in future reviews but for this one I can’t think of a suitable entry point so I’ll just shove them here in the footnotes, and I won’t introduce any of them!Thoughts on some of the main charactersGilbert Osmond: I wonder if he has big, bright teeth like most of the Osmonds I have seen. In the 1996 film he is portrayed by John Malkovich who doesn’t look much like an Osmond. I reckon Gilbert is not deliberately evil, I am not even sure he misrepresented himself to Isabel, she just saw some nobility in him that is not there. Silly cow.Ralph Touchett: Capital fellow, he is the only one who loves Isabel selflessly. He is very wise, observant and witty. Shame about his health.Lord Warburton: Nice bloke, a bit of a snob. Looking for a trophy wife I suspect.Caspar Goodwood: Hate him, stupid stalker bastard. I don’t think leaving Osmond for him would be much of an improvement.Madame Merle: Awesome kickass villainess who doesn’t even kick any ass and is not really all that bad. It’s not actually her fault that Isabel decides to marry that poseur, she only introduced them, she did not force the girl to marry the cad at gunpoint.Pansy Osmond: Tragic silly kid, a total doormat.

  • Whitaker
    2019-05-18 05:29

    Four Portraits of a NovelAn Interview with Sigmund Freud circa 1911Vell, zis book by zis man--vhat vas his name? Henry James--vas very very interesting. He is obviously a deeply conflicted individual. Quite clearly an invert filled mit self-loathzing, desiring ze men und at ze zame time hating himself for doing zo. Ve haf ze heroine of ze novel, Isabel Archer, who is pursued by two men: both of zem handsome, manly (vun of zem is efen called Goodwood) and very rich. Both of zem prepared to gif her her freedom after she marries zem. Zis kind uf man, he does not exist in ze 19th century. Zey are razther ze product of James’s fantasies of ze men zat he desires but cannot haf. Zo she rejects zem for an artiste, Gilbert Osmond. But vat does she find? Zis artiste is effete und in love mit all zings beautiful und artistic. He is not a real man, but only a simulacrum of vun. James vud haf us see zis effete artiste (so very like James, no?) as evil. He seeks to destroy Isabel, zis woman who can attract zese beautiful men, by crushing her under ze veight of convention. He vants her to be ze perfect vife, to behave exactly as ze rules of society demand. He is ze superego crushing her id. She tries to escape him but ven her suitor comes for her, ven he embraces her and kisses her, she fears him, or rath-zer Goodwood’s “hard manhood”. Of course, James’s inverted desire cannot be fulfilled, zo, completing ze zircle of self-loathzing desire, she runs back to her effete husband. An Interview with Bruno Bettleheim circa 1977Well, this novel is quite clearly a fairy tale, and has all its classic hallmarks. We see the young heroine, Isabel Archer: the youngest of three sisters, and the prettiest and cleverest of the lot. Her father dies and so she sets off on a journey to find her fortune. She is assisted in this by her aunt, Mrs Touchett (playing the role of the fairy godmother). On her journey, she meets a witch, Madame Merle (it is no surprise that her name sounds like that great wizard of legend, Merlin). She also meets three suitors: Caspar Goodwood (On one level, he is bronze for he is described as brown. On another, he represents money: “Caspar” means treasurer or keeper of the treasure), Lord Warburton (Both silver, and power-–“burton” meaning “fortified tower”), and Gilbert Osmond (Gold--he is described as a gold coin; while poor, as an artistic soul he is able to see beyond surface appearance). Like all fairy tale heroines, Isabel has to make a choice among the three, and as in all classic fairy tales, she chooses the gold. As in all classic morality tales, she chooses that which is the least superficial. However, in her choice, she is influenced by Madame Merle, our witch, who helps Osmond to appear more attractive to Isabel.All fairy tales are, as I discuss in my book, The Uses of Enchantment The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, to teach children valuable life lessons. James himself refers to his novel as a fable in his preface. But what is the lesson to be learnt? The ending certainly makes us think that it is not that Isabel’s desire for flight, for independence is a good thing, since flying too close to the hot Caspar Goodwood, she feels herself burnt. Is the lesson then not to want too much independence? To accept the strictures of the upper class? Is this why James says that it is after all her suffering, she finally becomes a lady?An Interview with Robin Leech circa 1985Welcome to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Today, we visit the lovely Italian home of rich American heiress, Isabel Archer. Located in sunny, fabulous Rome, Isabel’s home is decorated with only the most stylish and tasteful of things. Isabel and her husband, Gilbert, host the most sought after soirées among the rich set. Paris Hilton eat your heart out. And what does it take to live like this? A stunning US$7 million! An Interview with yours truly circa 2009Meh. When all’s said and done, while this portrait of a lady may certainly have depicted Isabel in all her enigmatic glory, like a Carravaggio or a Rembrant, the background landscape is so dark and blurred with smufato that she seems to exist in a vacuum. The other characters are practically caricatures, and the patriarchal society of the 19th century is completely absent. Ultimately, this depiction of an heiress was just airless. Wharton’s The Age of Innocence does a far better job of depicting the marriage market and the corrupting and stifling effects of rigid social convention at the fin de siècle. So, yeah, meh. (And, yes, no need to point out that Paris Hilton was no celebrity in 1985. It's called artistic licence. LOL!I'd give it two stars, but the depiction of Isabel's thoughts was a true tour de force, especially considering how innovative this was when it was written. So, that brings it up a notch to three.)

  • Megan Baxter
    2019-05-04 04:05

    I just...I don't know. I have now read The Portrait of a Lady and I'm just feeling a little flat. Like I stubbed my toe on something invisible, and I'm not quite sure what. I'm not sure why this book didn't grab me, I only know it didn't. Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook

  • [P]
    2019-05-13 09:19

    This is the sexiest novel of all time. You’re screwing up your face right now, I can tell. It is though, it’s sexy as fuck. People often want to tell you that Henry James’ greatest flaw was his lack of passion. Nabokov, if I recall correctly, labelled his work blonde. I don’t think he meant that in the way that modern readers would understand it i.e. as a synonym for dumb, but rather as one for bland. Katherine Mansfield once said of E.M. Forster that he was like a lukewarm teapot [ha!], and that description also seems to nicely sum up the prevailing attitude towards James. It’s wrong though, that attitude; I’ve read numerous Henry James novels and I am of the opinion that he was a firecracker, a sexual viper.Read the first 100 pages of Portrait of a Lady and then try and convince me that the male characters don’t all want to bash Isabel’s doors in; and that she, likewise, wants them to, or enjoys giving the impression that she wants them to. You won’t succeed. I’m serious. If you can’t see it then I conclude that you can’t recognise extreme sexual tension when it’s under your nose. The flirting is outrageous! You might think all this is cute, like 'oh [P]’s being theatrical.' I say again: I’m serious. It’s not as though I consider all so-called button-down and stuffy lit to be, in reality, hot shit; I mean, I’ve never claimed that Pride & Prejudice is really all about rimjobs and teabagging. There’s something about Henry James’ work, and this novel in particular, that seethes, writhes with unspoken frustration and desire. James’ art, the one thing that makes him stand out for me, is in how he somehow suggests, hints, implies but never outright tells you the juiciest bits of his story. It’s pretty magical really. I don’t know how to explain it; there’s a whole world beneath the surface of his work. In Portrait of a Lady I believe that world to be a sexual one. Why do all the male characters fall for Isabel? Because she is charming and pretty? Is she really all that? No, it’s because she gives the impression of being up for it; she’s, to put it more politely, sensual. She has great sex appeal, which is why she was not right for Lord Warburton, who is a bit of a sop and would make a conventional woman of her; by conventional I do not mean that he will not allow her to be herself, that he wishes to clip her emotional and intellectual wings, but that the match he is offering is conventional i.e. he is rich and handsome and terribly nice, and only a fool would turn him down.Some people say that Portrait of a Lady is about freedom, and I agree, it is. But I think that involves sexual freedom also, although, of course, as stated, that is not made explicit. There’s a lot written in the beginning of the novel about Isabel’s independent spirit, about how she does not want to be tied down. Before she takes up with Gilbert Osmond the novel is strongly feminist in tone. This is because Isabel regards marriage as an impediment to her freedom, she rejects marriage [literally, she receives two proposals early on] as a barrier to her gaining experience [what kind of experience, huh? Huh?] and knowledge of the world. However, I would argue [as I am sure many would argue to the contrary] that the second half of the book, and by extension the whole book obviously, is feminist, because Isabel makes her choice, the one to marry Osmond, freely. It does not matter that it may be a bad choice, the important thing is that she rejected more beneficial matches in favour of the one that most pleased her. In fact Isabel says at one stage ‘to judge wrong is more honourable than to not judge at all.’Isabel is one of the most fascinating characters I have ever encountered, because she is so extraordinarily complex, complex in a way that fictional people seldom are. She is strong-willed, arrogant, and yet thoroughly nice; she is perceptive and yet makes poor choices; she is warm and charming and yet sometimes stunningly cold. Indeed, her rejections of Lord Warburton are flawless examples of smiling iciness, of jovial dismissiveness. Isabel falls for Gilbert Osmond, to my mind, partly because he does not mindlessly adore her, does not fawn over her. He is mysterious, indolent; there is the hint of a darker side. He appears to be tired of everything, bored of everything, and so that he is interested in Isabel seems like a huge coup; it speaks to her ego. It’s pretty straightforward psychology to want most the thing that appears to be able to live without you with the least trouble. Isabel also credits herself with an original intelligence, therefore one could perhaps say that she likes Osmond, sees something great in him, precisely because others do not. However, the irony, the tragedy of their union is that Osmond is himself utterly conventional and tries to force Isabel to be so; Osmond, out of an anti-conventionality sentiment, demands that she be the most conventional wife.Madame Merle, who first earmarks Isabel for Osmond, is often regarded as one of literature’s great villains, which is not really the case, because James’ novels don’t contain true villains. Having said that, however, there is something vile about her, despite her never really doing anything to deserve the charge. It’s James’ great art again; he makes Madame Merle a masterpiece of quiet menace. 'You are dangerous,' the Countess Gemini declares, as they chat together about the prospect of Osmond and Isabel uniting, and you quite well believe it, even without the accompanying evidence. Her entrance into the novel, her unannounced [to Isabel] presence in the Touchett’s home is strangely chilling. She is first encountered, sat with her back to Isabel, playing the piano; she strikes you as almost girlish, initially, despite her age. It made me shudder, and I don’t think I can express why that is. Ralph describes his aversion to her as being due to her having no 'black specks', no faults, and one understands that what he means by this is that only bad people appear to be perfectly good.If Portrait of a Lady does not have a true villain, in the Dickensian sense of that word, it does at least have someone who it is very easy to hate [which is, of course, not quite the same thing]. As Isabel herself admits, Gilbert Osmond does not do a hell of a lot wrong – he does not beat her, for example – but there is certainly something disquieting about him, something not right. One only has to look to how he treats his daughter Pansy; he sees her as a kind of doll, one that is absolutely submissive to his will. She is entirely artless, which is interesting because Osmond approaches her like a work of art, as something that he has created, has formed out of his imagination; it is not a coincidence that Osmond is both an artist and a collector [he creates Pansy; he collects Isabel]. Pansy is, for me anyway, a little creepy; she is so in the way that dolls themselves are, in that they give the impression of being human, of being alive, and yet are lifeless. It is fair to say that while he may not be a wife-beater, Osmond’s attitudes towards women are suspect; he is a kind of passive-aggressive bully, a subtle misogynist.Amongst other things Portrait of a Lady is a classic bad marriage[s] novel. The earliest indication of this is the relationship between Isabel’s Aunt and Uncle; the Uncle lives in England, and the Aunt in Florence. What kind of a marriage is that? Then there is, of course, Isabel and Gilbert. Isabel, as stated, marries Osmond, I believe, because she thrills to think that such a man might pay court to her, might be interested in her, when he takes so little interest in the world at large; she finds his attitude heroic, and his interest in her, therefore, as a boon to her sense of self-worth. Osmond, on the other hand, sees in her something that will do him credit, both financially and socially. He appreciates her, for all that she will benefit him, rather than truly loves her. This appreciation does involve admiring certain qualities she possesses, but he wants those qualities to work on other people, not on himself; for himself he would like her to be another Pansy [i.e. entirely submissive] and appears to think he can train her to be so. He enters the marriage, in a way that a lot of people do even now, believing that he can smooth her rough edges, make her perfect for him, instead of accepting and cherishing what she is. Finally, there is the courting of Pansy by Rosier and Warburton; Warburton as a Lord is, obviously, favoured by the girl’s father, but Pansy does not love him, she loves Rosier. While I won’t give away the outcome of this little love triangle, what is most interesting about it is that it again raises the question of whether one should marry to make the best match, or for love; should one use one’s head or heart when making the decision? Isabel used her heart, and came a cropper, but perhaps that was still for the best; it is better to choose with your heart and fail, than to choose with your head and benefit from it.

  • Juliana
    2019-04-23 10:23

    When I finished this book, I threw it down on the table in anger and walked away muttering. I guess we all want books to end like.. well, books! Not like real life. We have enough real life around us. Aren't books for escaping all that?Maybe. This book is probably a classic because it is complex enough to actually resemble the real world. People make mistakes. Small mistakes. Big mistakes. Life-changing mistakes. They also show a lot of spirit and charisma, which is also real. None of the characters are simplified into "good" or "evil" exactly. They're ... REAL. They have good points. They have bad points. They make you angry while you're reading so you want to slap them and tell them to "cut it out!!" But then you learn for them to find love and fulfillment and happiness. That's real life. It's not simple and easy to read like most books, with a happy or predictable ending. I HATED the ending because it left so many things unresolved.But, despite all that... I have to admit it was an amazing read.

  • Lara Amber
    2019-05-07 04:30

    I made it 40% of the way through this monstrosity before I had to finally throw in the towel. Apparently no one ever told James "show don't tell" judging by the complete lack of action in this book. In fact nothing ever happens. It just drags on and on in an annoying narrative voice that is too fond of metaphor and long descriptive phrases that frequently cloud more then they illuminate. The characters are complete twits, without a single redeeming quality among them. Judging by the way he writes his female characters, Henry James either was never actually exposed to women, or the ones he met were given lobotomies at age 7. There is no sympathy for the main female character or any of her cohorts, not even amusement at their foibles. In fact if you were stranded in a life raft, you'd be chucking them overboard within minutes, the whole useless pile of them. You would see the rescue ship as a dot on the horizon and pray you could drown them in time. Save yourself the agony and go read something else.

  • Joudy
    2019-05-09 09:20

    “It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance…” The picture he attempted to sketch could be only an eternity of pleasure, a wonderful blessing.It is September , it's hot . I wish I could be on a beach, sipping a drink, instead, I have to study , the deathly habit of doing the same thing in the same way every day.there are a few things I can do to alleviate the pain. Recently I found myself on the sofa , luxuriating in the portrait of a lady for the first time. This book made me feel better, all the other ailments of discouragement and boredom disappear, a sweeter book at this moment could not have been imagined. I sought fit words to paint the review, it is so beautifully written that it makes me feel it's hopeless for me to try to write a review. if words would flow ,efforts stand before me, eventually muse shows up , words came halting forth...Mrs Touchett's niece , an independent young lady who seemed to have a great deal of confidence, both in herself and in others, she was critical herself - it was incidental to her age , her sex, and her nationality but she was very sentimental as wellA character like that , a real passionate force to see at play, is the finest thing in nature. It is finer that the finest work of art.What was she ,what was she that she should hold herself superior?What view of life , what design upon fate, what large conception of happiness, has she pretended to be larger than these large, these fabulous occasions?She was at all times a keenly-glancing, quickly-moving, completely animated young woman .Isabel seemed to be soaring up in the blue , to be sailing in the bright light , over the heads of men . Suddenly some one tosses up a faded rose-bud a missile that should never have reached her and straight she drops to the ground.But she is not satisfied. she doesn’t know what to do with the money she inherited, so she accepts Osmond's proposal of marriage.Had she married on a factitious theory, in order to do something finely appreciable with her money?but she had acted with her eyes open, the sole source of her mistake had been within herself.she had not been simple when she refused Lord Warburton; that operation had been as complicated as, later , her acceptance of Osmond had been.Why doesn’t she leave him forever? Why does she refuse to make a real choice and instead for an ambiguous compromise? One possibility is to reach into James biography to see if any of the events of his life could possibly have influenced him in his character’s non-choice.James concentrates on the psychological study of the character with precision and accuracy, showing the destruction of one’s existence within one’s mind. Isabel instantly becomes transparent to us as we learn all about her feelings, dreams and fears . Thus, the reader is tied to her’s psychology as she is unable to hide anything from us, and is therefore vulnerably exposed to our judgement. It presents events , the development of ideas and the succession of images . It is indeed, can be said to be in where psychological development is described purely in terms of behavior and where the reader's subjective response is elicited by descriptions of physical reality, and that reveal his abiding awareness of ambiguity in human motivesA good book manifests human excellence , In other words, it is not the case that any ordinary writer could create a book like this , its creation required enormous skill, it impresses , it earns admiration.Paraphrasing Henry James, To read such a book was, to hold to your ear all day a shell of the sea of the past , this vague eternal rumor kept my imagination awake.I immerse myself in it, its ability to remove us for moment from the world of thought action we live in , and bring us a state of pure feeling. A state where we remember how beautiful is to feel and, possibly, how luck we are to have the ability to feel at all."To arrive at these things is to arrive at my 'story', he said, " and that's the way I look for it. The result is that I'm often accused of not having ' story' enough . I seem to myself to have as much as I need-to show my people, to exhibit their relations with each other; for that is my measure. If I watch them long enough I see them come together, I see them placed, I see them engaged in this or that act and in this or that difficulty. How they look and move and speak and behave, always in setting I have found for them, is my account of them- of which I dare say,alas, Que cela manque souvent d'architecture.But I would rather, I think, have too little architecture than to much-when there's danger of its interfering with my measure of truth... They are breath of life-by which I mean that life , in its own way , breathes them up upon us. They are so, in a manner prescribed and imposed- floated into our minds by the current of life. "by Henry James

  • Teresa Proença
    2019-05-13 09:13

    Todos querem casar com a Isabelinha que é rica e bonitinha...Lord Warburton: — Isabel, quer casar comigo?Isabel Archer: — Não. Eu quero ser independente.Caspar Goodwood: — Isabel, case-se comigo.Isabel Archer: — Não. Eu quero ser livre.Ralph Touchett: — Eu gostava de me casar com a Isabel, mas não lhe vou dizer nada porque sei que ela não quer.Gilbert Osmond: — Isabel, tem de casar comigo.Isabel Archer: — Hum... agora que já passeei um pouco bem que podia casar...É assim o Retrato de Uma Senhora. Quem quer casar. Quem não quer casar. Quem casa. Quem não casa. Quem queria casar e não casou. Quem casou e não gostou. 650 páginas disto...e estou a pensar que me casaria com Henry James: um chato do piorio mas extraordinariamente fascinante e envolvente. A história não vale um caracol; as personagens (muito bem caracterizadas) são umas criaturinhas muito insípidas; o prazer da leitura reside totalmente na narrativa. Tiro uma estrelinha para fazer dois parzinhos...(Knut Ekwall, Proposal)

  • Malia
    2019-05-08 05:25

    While reading The Portrait of A Lady, I kept thinking, this is a book that should be illustrated by John Singer Sargent. There is an opulence, a lushness and attention to detail here so in tune with the painter's work, and, too, there is a distance, a slight chasm between the subject and the audience.I won't summarize the plot, but for such a long book, I have to say, I was engaged and interested the whole time. Despite several characters' slight frostiness, the scenery was almost a character in itself, and I was fascinated to read about the expats in Italy and England, and enjoyed James' descriptively fluent language. Ralph was by far my favorite character, and I definitely think James did his best work in developing him and fleshing him out. I heard that in this novel, James was trying to accurately portray the way a woman felt, really considering her psyche and not just her veneer. In this, I am not certain he succeeded, as Isabelle never truly felt developed to me. Complex, yes, but somehow not quite like a real person. This book really raises interesting questions about the roles of women, cultural differences, and significantly, distinctions between the classes, particularly for women. He does a nice job in showing us characters from different generations and backgrounds and pushing them all together on one stage. It's one of those books I think will stay with me for a long time. The way everything was described, the nuances and attention to details just painted such an intense image.This was only my second book by Henry James, but I have already bought The Europeans and The Wings of the Dove, which is probably the most telling testament regarding my reception of this novel. Like Edith Wharton, it's sort of a slow burn, but one I won't be quick to forget.Find more reviews and bookish fun at

  • Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
    2019-05-12 03:29

    One of the most enthralling and enchanting novels that I've read in a long, long time. The Portrait of a Lady is early Henry James (written in 1881), and as cliche as it may sound, it is a veritable masterpiece. There is simply so much going on within the covers of this elegantly crafted and sophisticated novel that it will take me a while to sort out my swirling thoughts and emotions upon finishing it. Simply put though, this is the story of the young American woman, Isabel Archer, and her voyage of self-discovery among the staid and traditional landscape of British and European society. Isabel's ability to 'choose', and the 'choices' she makes are the thread that is carefully woven throughout the novel, and it raises her stature as a fictional heroine, in my opinion, to the level of that of an Anna Karenina or Dorothea Brooke. The novel's Chapter Forty-Two--with Isabel, by herself, sitting in the darkened room thinking for most of the night--is perhaps the greatest psychological tour-de-force I've encountered in fiction. I reread that chapter probably four times in a row, and simply marveled at the creative genius that is Henry James in writing this novel and creating the character of Isabel Archer. Stunning stuff!This is an immensely powerful and profound novel that I am going to reread again very soon. I want to reread it in conjunction with a reading of Michael Gorra's recent book, Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece, a runner-up for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for biography and autobiography. Give me a couple of weeks to reread The Portrait of a Lady and Gorra's book, and I'll be back in an effort to provide a more comprehensive review that will do justice to what just may be the 'Great American Novel'.

  • Beth
    2019-05-03 06:08

    I expected to like this more than I did. I found it needlessly long, occasionally pompous, and ultimately unsatisfying. Still, there's a lot of good stuff in here: the exciting independence of Isabel in the early chapters, her palpable misery in her marriage, the vivid and memorable secondary characters, and above all (for me, at least) the set pieces. James was always able to make me feel like I knew just what a room or garden looked and felt like -- though he also frequently made me feel as though I was observing it from behind a glass wall.I read somewhere that Edith Wharton was always striving to be as good a writer as Henry James; frankly, I think she's much better. Wharton's work is far more elegant, focused, economical, and empathetic. There were moments in this book when James convinced me that he understood what it's like to be a human, but for the most part his prose seemed strangely removed and difficult to penetrate -- and therefore kind of annoying. I got used to it, but I never fully warmed to it.It took me the entire month to get through this; on some days I avoided it like a chore, but on others I couldn't wait to curl up in bed with it. I'm glad to have read it, but I don't feel like I *needed* to have read it.

  • Sketchbook
    2019-04-20 05:23

    Henry James was a bottom.With thisapercuin mind, you needn't get fussed up as to why Isabel Archer returns to Osmond. ~~ With the exception of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's illuminating criticism ("Epistemology of the Closet," 1990) there hasn't been any fresh Jamesian crit in over 50 years.As the French would say, he's "de trop."

  • Alex
    2019-04-20 06:03

    "I'm so tired of old books about tea," said my friend Lauren recently, and I hope she stays the hell away from snobby constipated Henry James. Here he is with the least engaging first sentence in literature:"Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea."Many of the other sentences are also about tea. But it's not all tea; while they drink tea they talk! And talk, and talk. James reminds me of your shitty coworker who makes a lot of excuses. He spins words upon words explaining what's going on, what he's thinking, what his plans are, how his personal affairs have affected his performance, and it all sounds very convincing but at a certain point you're like but what have you done?It's an apt title because it's a portrait. A beautiful one, full of detail and shading - "recessed and deferred complexities," James Woods calls it - but it doesn't move much. Henry James himself was aware, when he wrote its preface, that it "consisted not at all in any conceit of a 'plot'." And he makes this bizarre decision: when plot arrives - when Isabel chooses a husband, and again when she marries him, and at a momentous later decision - he skips ahead. We don't get to be there for the crucial moments of her life. It feels like looking at a mountain range wreathed in clouds; we see them going up, and we see them coming down, but we never get to see the peaks themselves. He writes between the lines, and omits the lines.This is frustrating, and yet: I feel like this is one of those books that will be closer in the rearview mirror. It has a distinctive voice and feel. James has insight into how people work. In Colm Toibin's fictionalized biography The Master, he quietly suggests that James benefited from his closetization: he carefully pretended to be someone else throughout his life, and he got very good at pretending to be someone else. He certainly does get deep into Archer's head, and several others. Not that he shows you everything. He shows you some things in great detail; others stay shrouded. In a way it's a psychological novel; in another way it's more like a mystery, where the crime is her life. The experience of being mystified by Isabel is frustrating; with time, though, I suspect the mystery of Isabel will stick in my head. So, four stars. Three stars for the experience of reading it; five stars, I'm predicting, for having read it. Full of recessed and deferred complexities it is. It might also be one of those books that get better with re-reading. But the question is, how much tea can I stomach?

  • Adam
    2019-05-19 02:06

    Honestly? Isabel Archer isn't extraordinary at all. So I take this book as kind of a comedy about how a bunch of English pranksters messed with a bland American girl, pretending she was amazing to see what would happen, and then felt pretty bad about it when it turned out wrong. Which is actually pretty close to the real plot, too. The "honest simple faithful guy" found here was way too similar to the farmer guy in "Far From The Madding Crowd" to me, and I guess that's just a stock character. I don't really like this time period in literature at all. If you do you'll probably like it.

  • Mariel
    2019-05-05 03:29

    I loved getting into Isabel's conflicted mind, her persuasions and her light switches turning on and off for reason. I can relate to that. I get goosebumps, or the shivers, when I can get that feeling outside. Like a soullish thing rubbing up against my skin. Ever feel like there could be ghosts? The freedom in already having lost feelings. Don't know what to do and need to get out, like Isabelle. I don't know what I think about the ending. Henry James could give judgementaly prickish endings to his stories. That gives me a panic attack. Oh well. I'm in it for the long haul-ass with Isabelle. Henry James is a terrific writer and also bad for my soul sometimes. Wanting something and finding out it is wrong. Turning over the new leaf and there's a big ass roach underneath it. Hatefulness...