The Portrait of a Lady (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

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Overview

The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

Widely regarded as Henry James’s greatest masterpiece, The Portrait of a Lady features one of the author’s most magnificent heroines: Isabel Archer, a beautiful, spirited American who becomes a victim of her provincialism during her travels in Europe.

As the story begins, Isabel, resolved to determine her own fate, has turned down two eligible suitors. Her cousin, who is dying of tuberculosis, secretly gives her an inheritance so that she can remain independent and fulfill a grand destiny, but the fortune only leads her to make a tragic choice and marry Gilbert Osmond, an American expatriate who lives in Florence. Outwardly charming and cultivated, but fundamentally cold and cruel, Osmond only brings heartbreak and ruin to Isabel’s life. Yet she survives as she begins to realize that true freedom means living with her choices and their consequences.

Richly complex and nearly aesthetically perfect, The Portrait of a Lady brilliantly portrays the clash between the innocence and exuberance of the New World and the corruption and wisdom of the Old.

Gabriel Brownstein is the author of a collection of stories—The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Apt 3W—which won the 2002 PEN/Hemingway Award. His essays, reviews, and criticism have appeared in the Boston Globe, the New Leader, Scribner’s British Writers, and on Nerve.com.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593080969
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble
  • Publication date: 2/1/2004
  • Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
  • Pages: 672
  • Sales rank: 100,100
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Gabriel Brownstein is the author of a collection of stories—The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Apt 3W—which won the 2002 PEN/Hemingway Award. His essays, reviews, and criticism have appeared in the Boston Globe, the New Leader, Scribner’s British Writers, and on Nerve.com.

Biography

Henry James (1843-1916), born in New York City, was the son of noted religious philosopher Henry James, Sr., and brother of eminent psychologist and philosopher William James. He spent his early life in America and studied in Geneva, London and Paris during his adolescence to gain the worldly experience so prized by his father. He lived in Newport, went briefly to Harvard Law School, and in 1864 began to contribute both criticism and tales to magazines. In 1869, and then in 1872-74, he paid visits to Europe and began his first novel, Roderick Hudson. Late in 1875 he settled in Paris, where he met Turgenev, Flaubert, and Zola, and wrote The American (1877). In December 1876 he moved to London, where two years later he achieved international fame with Daisy Miller. Other famous works include Washington Square (1880), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Princess Casamassima (1886), The Aspern Papers (1888), The Turn of the Screw (1898), and three large novels of the new century, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904). In 1905 he revisited the United States and wrote The American Scene (1907). During his career, he also wrote many works of criticism and travel. Although old and ailing, he threw himself into war work in 1914, and in 1915, a few months before his death, he became a British subject. In 1916 King George V conferred the Order of Merit on him. He died in London in February 1916.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

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    1. Date of Birth:
      April 15, 1843
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      February 28, 1916
    2. Place of Death:
      London, England
    1. Education:
      Attended school in France and Switzerland; Harvard Law School, 1862-63

Read an Excerpt

From Gabriel Brownstein's Introduction to The Portrait of a Lady

The Portrait of a Lady is often discussed as a novel of manners, a sociological study of the contrasts in mores and styles of Americans and Europeans. It's also described as a psychological novel, charting the complex interplay between the minds of its major characters and exploring relentlessly and finely the consciousness of its heroine, Isabel. But these characterizations, while not entirely mistaken, obscure a central characteristic of the novel: The Portrait of a Lady is a fairy tale, or as James put it in the 1906 preface, a "fable". With whatever authority he presents the psyches and social milieus of his Europeans and Americans and Europeanized Americans, and however carefully observed the locales—and the authority and care are absolute—the project of The Portrait of a Lady is about as close to a work of social science as it is to a conventional potboiler. Americans and Europeans, in the novel, are types: As Leon Edel, James's great biographer and critic, has it, "In James' fiction, Americans are often presented as if they still possess the innocence of Eden;" and furthermore, "it is striking how often the adjective 'corrupt' precedes the word 'Europe'" (article in Scribner's American Writers, Vol. 2, pp. 320-323). As they appear in The Portrait of a Lady, these representatives of the old and new worlds are rendered vividly, and they may feel to the reader momentarily real, but in the end they are figures in a novelist's dreams and meditations; they are as conceptual as they are concrete. Similarly, "American girl" is not a category of mind or state of consciousness; it is a kind of representational ideal. In the author's terms, the phrase "American girl" is almost redundant. Both the words conjure innocence and (in their way) beauty. Both words also auger doom. If, as Edel argues, America is an Eden, then a fall will come, as surely as a girl will become a woman or die. The phrase "American girl" also carries with it a hint of contradiction, a fight between the two words: While an American is liberated, a girl is subject to all kinds of boundaries and limits. "American girl," then, is a phrase that conjures a story, a cheerful two words that together gather storm clouds. American girls are doubly doomed among the limits of European society; an American girl going to Europe is a pure white lamb bound to be ruined.

The Portrait of a Lady bears the details and precision of psychological and social realism, but the novel is structured like a kind of old-fashioned legend. We have an ordinary girl, Isabel, who on venturing into Europe becomes a sort of princess, an heiress related to her uncle, the banker Daniel Touchett, who in his kindness, power, and benevolence is as good as a king. Once in this strange land, Isabel is wooed by two Princes Charming, paragons of American and British manhood: Caspar Goodwood, the inventor-athlete-businessman, and Lord Warburton, the nobleman-politician-reformer. But she marries neither and is instead entranced by Madame Merle, a kind of witch—an evil sorceress of society and good manners—who marries her off to the "sterile dilettante," as Ralph Touchett puts it, Gilbert Osmond, an ogre of high aesthetics, who in the end does not find Isabel's beauty up to the mark. This story is beauty and the beast in its most primitive form: the princess enslaved by a monster. But the monster in The Portrait of a Lady is a monster of aesthetics; Osmond is a painter, a collector of fine things, a disparager of vulgarity. And Isabel is no ordinary beauty: She has beauty based in character, in potentiality, in innocence, and in liberty of mind—in her being an American and a girl. This novel is not just a beautiful story; it is a story about beauty, a story in which the destruction of beauty is threatened by beauty's great admirer.

The book opens with a meditation on a kind of perfect scene, Ralph and Daniel Touchett, along with Lord Warburton, taking tea on the lawn of Gardencourt. The time of day is aestheticized, "the perfect middle of a splendid summer afternoon," which the narrator tells us "could be only an eternity of pleasure." The house is aestheticized, even its brick face, "with the complexion of which time and the weather had played all sorts of pictorial tricks, only, however, to improve and refine it." Daniel Touchett, for his part, has an "aesthetic passion" for Gardencourt, and even Touchett's "beautiful collie dog" gets into the rapture, "watching the master's face almost as tenderly as the master took in the still more magisterial physiognomy of the house." This sort of highly aestheticized contemplation and pictorial scene-setting is replete throughout the novel, notably at the introduction to Osmond's villa in Florence, where the narrator describes "a small group that might have been described by a painter as composing well." The windows of Osmond's place, we are told, are "extremely architectural." Osmond's beard is "cut in the manner of the portraits of the sixteenth century," and he is described as a "gentleman who studied style." Not only are the settings beautiful, but these beauties are contemplated by a narrator whose precision and delicacy and aesthetic passions are rivaled only by his characters'.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 124 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 25, 2009

    Timeless

    I approached the book with trepidation because of what I recalled of James' writing style. I was totally surprised how easily I got used to it and became totally engaged with the book. I loved every word. The characters came alive for me. I thought it would be stilted and dated. Instead it was fascinating and also provided so much material for conversation. Highly recommended.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 30, 2009

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    A Tragic and Deeply Psychological Character Portrayal

    Classic literature at its best. Henry James is a master craftsman who delves deeply into the layers of the human consciousness. It is very detailed and requires considerable effort on the part of the reader if you are to gain full enjoyment and connection with the story. This book is worth the time and effort. It can stand multiple readings even in close succession due to the plenitude of detailed descriptions of setting and characters. It spans such a range of human emotion. It is full of intelligent characters and touches upon important themes such as marriage, love, female freedom, social constraints, wealth, etc, etc.

    This is an excellent choice for a book club and for those who enjoy immersing themselves in a long and detailed story.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2007

    A living painting

    Beautiful. That's all I can utter, it was so unfathomably beautiful. I would recommend this to anyone who loves old books, and has an imagination. It takes a certain person to really appreciate this work of art. Mr. James is an excellent poet. I will always keep this one next to my heart.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2008

    A reviewer

    I love Henry James but found this one a bit boring. The actual events of the book were well written and at times I did find it to become a page turner but all in all I found it to be just okay.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2002

    My absolute favorite!

    This book truly touched me as an incredible insight into the female spirit. Never have I read such an articulate and accurate account of how women struggle in their decsions relating to love and how those choices can shape your life. I came away from this book with a wealth of inspirational quotes that remind me of the female strength and what it truly means to be a lady - inspired and hopeful. This book has become my all time favorite, simply for its reference quality. You can pick it up at any time, read a few pages and be given a refreshed outlook on your womanhood. It is truly a beautiful piece.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2007

    A fabulous book

    Henry James illuminates his main character so well, you will want to know more, even after 600+ pages, a very well done composition!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2005

    Patience is a Virtue

    I really liked the book. The wit in the book is very subtle and will make you laugh out loud when you finally understand the pun. I felt very proud of myself for completeing such an involved book. It was very interesting, however not altogether thrilling. The length is so long that the slow sections of the book really drag down the wonderful charm of other sections. IF you have serious time and want a challenge then i recommend this book to you!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2001

    Good Story on the Whole

    its a good story on the whole but the writer has lengthened it a lot.At some times i couldn't understand the deep philosophys of Henry James about human nature and of the whole world .If at some places it would be less philosophical and more sentimental it would be better.Its ending though tragic but in my opinion is well.

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