The Portrait of a Lady

The Portrait of a Lady

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Overview

Civility and society come head to head in Henry James’ seminal work.

The heroine of this powerful novel is the spirited young American Isabel Archer. Blessed by nature and fortune, she journeys to Europe to seek her future, but what she finds may prove to be her undoing. She is courted by three men: an English aristocrat, an American gentleman, and a sensitive expatriate. Her invalid cousin becomes her benefactor and adviser.

But it is after the ingenuous Isabel falls prey to the schemes of an infinitely more sophisticated older woman that her life takes shape. Rich in character and the interplay of tensions, The Portrait of a Lady is a brilliant, timeless, and essential American novel.

This novel is part of Brilliance Audio's extensive Classic Collection, bringing you timeless masterpieces that you and your family are sure to love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781423310761
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication date: 06/25/2006
Series: Classic Collection (Brilliance Audio) Series
Edition description: Unabridged
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Henry James (1843–1916), American novelist, short-story writer, and man of letters, was born in Washington Place, New York, to a family of distinguished philosophers and theologians. He attended schools in New York, Boston, and throughout Europe, where he later settled. A major figure in the history of the novel, he is celebrated as a master craftsman who brought his great art and impeccable technique to bear in the development of abiding moral themes.


Juliet Stevenson has won the prestigious Audie Award and numerous Earphones Awards for her narrations. She is a British actress on stage and screen and notably a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. She has also appeared in popular films such as Bend It Like Beckham and Mona Lisa Smile. She was honored as a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. She received further recognition when she was nominated for several BAFTA Awards, and she earned an Olivier Award for her role in Death and the Maiden.

Date of Birth:

April 15, 1843

Date of Death:

February 28, 1916

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Place of Death:

London, England

Education:

Attended school in France and Switzerland; Harvard Law School, 1862-63

Read an Excerpt

The Portrait of a Lady


By Henry James

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 2015 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-8424-9


CHAPTER 1

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

It stood upon a low hill, above the river—the river being the Thames at some forty miles from London. A long gabled front of red brick, with the complexion of which time and the weather had played all sorts of pictorial tricks, only, however, to improve and refine it, presented to the lawn its patches of ivy, its clustered chimneys, its windows smothered in creepers. The house had a name and a history; the old gentleman taking his tea would have been delighted to tell you these things: how it had been built under Edward the Sixth, had offered a night's hospitality to the great Elizabeth (whose august person had extended itself upon a huge, magnificent and terribly angular bed which still formed the principal honour of the sleeping apartments), had been a good deal bruised and defaced in Cromwell's wars, and then, under the Restoration, repaired and much enlarged; and how, finally, after having been remodelled and disfigured in the eighteenth century, it had passed into the careful keeping of a shrewd American banker, who had bought it originally because (owing to circumstances too complicated to set forth) it was offered at a great bargain: bought it with much grumbling at its ugliness, its antiquity, its incommodity, and who now, at the end of twenty years, had become conscious of a real aesthetic passion for it, so that he knew all its points and would tell you just where to stand to see them in combination and just the hour when the shadows of its various protuberances which fell so softly upon the warm, weary brickwork—were of the right measure. Besides this, as I have said, he could have counted off most of the successive owners and occupants, several of whom were known to general fame; doing so, however, with an undemonstrative conviction that the latest phase of its destiny was not the least honourable. The front of the house overlooking that portion of the lawn with which we are concerned was not the entrance-front; this was in quite another quarter. Privacy here reigned supreme, and the wide carpet of turf that covered the level hill-top seemed but the extension of a luxurious interior. The great still oaks and beeches flung down a shade as dense as that of velvet curtains; and the place was furnished, like a room, with cushioned seats, with rich-coloured rugs, with the books and papers that lay upon the grass. The river was at some distance; where the ground began to slope the lawn, properly speaking, ceased. But it was none the less a charming walk down to the water.

The old gentleman at the tea-table, who had come from America thirty years before, had brought with him, at the top of his baggage, his American physiognomy; and he had not only brought it with him, but he had kept it in the best order, so that, if necessary, he might have taken it back to his own country with perfect confidence. At present, obviously, nevertheless, he was not likely to displace himself; his journeys were over and he was taking the rest that precedes the great rest. He had a narrow, clean-shaven face, with features evenly distributed and an expression of placid acuteness. It was evidently a face in which the range of representation was not large, so that the air of contented shrewdness was all the more of a merit. It seemed to tell that he had been successful in life, yet it seemed to tell also that his success had not been exclusive and invidious, but had had much of the inoffensiveness of failure. He had certainly had a great experience of men, but there was an almost rustic simplicity in the faint smile that played upon his lean, spacious cheek and lighted up his humorous eye as he at last slowly and carefully deposited his big tea-cup upon the table. He was neatly dressed, in well-brushed black; but a shawl was folded upon his knees, and his feet were encased in thick, embroidered slippers. A beautiful collie dog lay upon the grass near his chair, watching the master's face almost as tenderly as the master took in the still more magisterial physiognomy of the house; and a little bristling, bustling terrier bestowed a desultory attendance upon the other gentlemen.

One of these was a remarkably well-made man of five-and-thirty, with a face as English as that of the old gentleman I have just sketched was something else; a noticeably handsome face, fresh-coloured, fair and frank, with firm, straight features, a lively grey eye and the rich adornment of a chestnut beard. This person had a certain fortunate, brilliant exceptional look—the air of a happy temperament fertilised by a high civilisation—which would have made almost any observer envy him at a venture. He was booted and spurred, as if he had dismounted from a long ride; he wore a white hat, which looked too large for him; he held his two hands behind him, and in one of them—a large, white, well-shaped fist—was crumpled a pair of soiled dog-skin gloves.

His companion, measuring the length of the lawn beside him, was a person of quite a different pattern, who, although he might have excited grave curiosity, would not, like the other, have provoked you to wish yourself, almost blindly, in his place. Tall, lean, loosely and feebly put together, he had an ugly, sickly, witty, charming face, furnished, but by no means decorated, with a straggling moustache and whisker. He looked clever and ill—a combination by no means felicitous; and he wore a brown velvet jacket. He carried his hands in his pockets, and there was something in the way he did it that showed the habit was inveterate. His gait had a shambling, wandering quality; he was not very firm on his legs. As I have said, whenever he passed the old man in the chair he rested his eyes upon him; and at this moment, with their faces brought into relation, you would easily have seen they were father and son. The father caught his son's eye at last and gave him a mild, responsive smile.

"I'm getting on very well," he said.

"Have you drunk your tea?" asked the son.

"Yes, and enjoyed it."

"Shall I give you some more?"

The old man considered, placidly. "Well, I guess I'll wait and see." He had, in speaking, the American tone.

"Are you cold?" the son enquired.

The father slowly rubbed his legs. "Well, I don't know. I can't tell till I feel."

"Perhaps some one might feel for you," said the younger man, laughing.

"Oh, I hope some one will always feel for me! Don't you feel for me, Lord Warburton?"

"Oh yes, immensely," said the gentleman addressed as Lord Warburton, promptly. "I'm bound to say you look wonderfully comfortable."

"Well, I suppose I am, in most respects." And the old man looked down at his green shawl and smoothed it over his knees. "The fact is I've been comfortable so many years that I suppose I've got so used to it I don't know it."

"Yes, that's the bore of comfort," said Lord Warburton. "We only know when we're uncomfortable."

"It strikes me we're rather particular," his companion remarked.

"Oh yes, there's no doubt we're particular," Lord Warburton murmured. And then the three men remained silent a while; the two younger ones standing looking down at the other, who presently asked for more tea. "I should think you would be very unhappy with that shawl," Lord Warburton resumed while his companion filled the old man's cup again.

"Oh no, he must have the shawl!" cried the gentleman in the velvet coat. "Don't put such ideas as that into his head."

"It belongs to my wife," said the old man simply.

"Oh, if it's for sentimental reasons—" And Lord Warburton made a gesture of apology.

"I suppose I must give it to her when she comes," the old man went on.

"You'll please to do nothing of the kind. You'll keep it to cover your poor old legs."

"Well, you mustn't abuse my legs," said the old man. "I guess they are as good as yours."

"Oh, you're perfectly free to abuse mine," his son replied, giving him his tea.

"Well, we're two lame ducks; I don't think there's much difference."

"I'm much obliged to you for calling me a duck. How's your tea?"

"Well, it's rather hot."

"That's intended to be a merit."

"Ah, there's a great deal of merit," murmured the old man, kindly. "He's a very good nurse, Lord Warburton."

"Isn't he a bit clumsy?" asked his lordship.

"Oh no, he's not clumsy—considering that he's an invalid himself. He's a very good nurse—for a sick-nurse. I call him my sick-nurse because he's sick himself."

"Oh, come, daddy!" the ugly young man exclaimed.

"Well, you are; I wish you weren't. But I suppose you can't help it."

"I might try: that's an idea," said the young man.

"Were you ever sick, Lord Warburton?" his father asked.

Lord Warburton considered a moment. "Yes, sir, once, in the Persian Gulf."

"He's making light of you, daddy," said the other young man. "That's a sort of joke."

"Well, there seem to be so many sorts now," daddy replied, serenely. "You don't look as if you had been sick, any way, Lord Warburton."

"He's sick of life; he was just telling me so; going on fearfully about it," said Lord Warburton's friend.

"Is that true, sir?" asked the old man gravely.

"If it is, your son gave me no consolation. He's a wretched fellow to talk to—a regular cynic. He doesn't seem to believe in anything."

"That's another sort of joke," said the person accused of cynicism.

"It's because his health is so poor," his father explained to Lord Warburton. "It affects his mind and colours his way of looking at things; he seems to feel as if he had never had a chance. But it's almost entirely theoretical, you know; it doesn't seem to affect his spirits.

I've hardly ever seen him when he wasn't cheerful—about as he is at present. He often cheers me up."

The young man so described looked at Lord Warburton and laughed. "Is it a glowing eulogy or an accusation of levity? Should you like me to carry out my theories, daddy?"

"By Jove, we should see some queer things!" cried Lord Warburton.

"I hope you haven't taken up that sort of tone," said the old man.

"Warburton's tone is worse than mine; he pretends to be bored. I'm not in the least bored; I find life only too interesting."

"Ah, too interesting; you shouldn't allow it to be that, you know!"

"I'm never bored when I come here," said Lord Warburton. "One gets such uncommonly good talk."

"Is that another sort of joke?" asked the old man. "You've no excuse for being bored anywhere. When I was your age I had never heard of such a thing."

"You must have developed very late."

"No, I developed very quick; that was just the reason. When I was twenty years old I was very highly developed indeed. I was working tooth and nail. You wouldn't be bored if you had something to do; but all you young men are too idle. You think too much of your pleasure. You're too fastidious, and too indolent, and too rich."

"Oh, I say," cried Lord Warburton, "you're hardly the person to accuse a fellow-creature of being too rich!"

"Do you mean because I'm a banker?" asked the old man.

"Because of that, if you like; and because you have—haven't you?—such unlimited means."

"He isn't very rich," the other young man mercifully pleaded. "He has given away an immense deal of money."

"Well, I suppose it was his own," said Lord Warburton; "and in that case could there be a better proof of wealth? Let not a public benefactor talk of one's being too fond of pleasure."

"Daddy's very fond of pleasure—of other people's."

The old man shook his head. "I don't pretend to have contributed anything to the amusement of my contemporaries."

"My dear father, you're too modest!"

"That's a kind of joke, sir," said Lord Warburton.

"You young men have too many jokes. When there are no jokes you've nothing left."

"Fortunately there are always more jokes," the ugly young man remarked.

"I don't believe it—I believe things are getting more serious. You young men will find that out."

"The increasing seriousness of things, then that's the great opportunity of jokes."

"They'll have to be grim jokes," said the old man. "I'm convinced there will be great changes, and not all for the better."

"I quite agree with you, sir," Lord Warburton declared. "I'm very sure there will be great changes, and that all sorts of queer things will happen. That's why I find so much difficulty in applying your advice; you know you told me the other day that I ought to 'take hold' of something. One hesitates to take hold of a thing that may the next moment be knocked sky-high."

"You ought to take hold of a pretty woman," said his companion. "He's trying hard to fall in love," he added, by way of explanation, to his father.

"The pretty women themselves may be sent flying!" Lord Warburton exclaimed.

"No, no, they'll be firm," the old man rejoined; "they'll not be affected by the social and political changes I just referred to."

"You mean they won't be abolished? Very well, then, I'll lay hands on one as soon as possible and tie her round my neck as a life-preserver."

"The ladies will save us," said the old man; "that is the best of them will—for I make a difference between them. Make up to a good one and marry her, and your life will become much more interesting."

A momentary silence marked perhaps on the part of his auditors a sense of the magnanimity of this speech, for it was a secret neither for his son nor for his visitor that his own experiment in matrimony had not been a happy one. As he said, however, he made a difference; and these words may have been intended as a confession of personal error; though of course it was not in place for either of his companions to remark that apparently the lady of his choice had not been one of the best.

"If I marry an interesting woman I shall be interested: is that what you say?" Lord Warburton asked. "I'm not at all keen about marrying—your son misrepresented me; but there's no knowing what an interesting woman might do with me."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. Copyright © 2015 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

I. The Portrait of a Lady II. The Cultural Matrix American Manners and European Travel Eliza Lavin, "Chaperons" Mrs. Annie P. White, "Traveling Manners" From "Good Form" in England Americans Abroad "Fast Travel and Fast Life," New York Times [untitled editorial], New York Times Samuel Williams "Some Americans Who Travel" Lucy H. Hooper, "American Women Abroad" "Americans Abroad," New York Times "American Beauty Abroad," New York Times I.M. "The American Colony in France" [Henry James] "Americans Abroad" The American Character "American Character," New York Times "Typical Americans," New York Times "The Palm for Our People," New York Times "The American Woman," New York Times "The American Girl," New York Times "The American Girl," Nation International Marriage and the "Dollar Princess" "Marrying Titles," New York Times "An Anglo-American Marriage," New York Times "Americans for Americans," New York Times "An Englishman's Wooing," New York Times "Money Mated with a Title," New York Times III. Henry James as Literary Critic: The Example of Hawthorne Henry James, From Hawthorne [William Dean Howells] "James's Hawthorne" Henry James, Letter to William Dean Howells IV. The Reception of The Portrait of a Lady "Mr. James's Portrait of a Lady," Literary World [John Hay] "James's The Portrait of a Lady" [untitled review] Californian William Dean Howells "Henry James, Jr." V. James and The Portrait Revisited Henry James, Preface [to the New York Edition of The Portrait of a Lady] Works Cited For Further Reading

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"Wanda McCaddon's distinguished British accent provides a smooth narration of one of Henry James's most-loved novels." —-AudioFile

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The Portrait of a Lady 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 139 reviews.
Mariposa More than 1 year ago
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.
Adeline79 More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is not a Romance novel...but a study in narcissitic tendencies and how they attract and find each other in the heroine Isabel Archer. I read this book in one week. Saw the DVD with R. Chamberlain, awesome. I had to get the book even though the DVD had a copy on it. There are some memomorable quotes I extracted and actually did some journaling simultaneously to excavate my painful feelings of having psychological battle with a control freak. There are delightful characters of various layers, not a smut read, but intellectually stimulating and surprising ending. Only wish someone could write a second part to see how Isabel's marriage turned out, if she went back that man! Best fiction I ever read! Recommend for late teens and up
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was blood chilling. How some humans can calculatingly make others lives miserable without so mach as twitch amazed me. I think that Isabel really loved Ralph but couldn't admit it. It was a very well written book and I thought it worth reading. But I liked Wurthering Hights better.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would recommend The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James to young adults and adults who seek to read the classics and enjoy romance and suspense at the same time. This book is a complicated read and much of this reading involves thinking. Because of the way James wrote this book, things are not specifically stated in the story and you must interpret these things the way you see them. The story of Isabel Archer is told by her cousin, Ralph Touchett. When Isabel first visits her cousin in Europe she is lively and seems as though she doesn¿t wish to be tied down. Her desire to be free from the bonds of marriage is expressed many times throughout the book. When she meets Gilbert Osmond and his daughter everything changes. Osmond tells Isabel what she wants to hear to encourage a possible marriage. Isabel¿s life suddenly has lost its vitality and becomes miserable when she marries Osmond. Osmond begins to control Isabel¿s life but she continues to stay for love of her stepdaughter. The end of this book leaves you in suspense with no final conclusion. Although this book¿s plot develops slowly, its suspense keeps you from putting it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
updraught on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A young American lady thrown into 19th century European bourgeois society, into a balancing act between freedom and possession.Henry James takes his time in making us acquainted with the lady to be portrayed: The story unfolds rather slowly only to gain immense momentum in the final third. I especially enjoyed reading James' vivid descriptions of settings and situations and the witty dialogues. While at the end of the novel I feel I 'know' many of the book's prominent characters, the central figure, Isabel Archer, remains more complex and mysterious to some extent. A trait of her character and a fine mist on her portrait. All in all a delightful read.(By the way: I don't think the lady looks one bit like the one shown on the Wordsworth cover.)
pre20cenbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book got me to journaling again! I call it a psychological study of how narcissitic-like people can attract each other, marry and learn to live with it for the sake of appearances. I originally watched the old version on DVD. The production put enough in and left enough out to stimulate interest to get the book. I read in one week and couldn't wait to see what happened next to the heroine, so young, really inexperienced with a head full of who knows what ideas. The narrative of Mr. James for me was outstanding and several of the characters remarks make interesting, humorous, and thought provoking quotes. Loved it. This was not a smutty novel--very classy stuff.
lauralkeet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Portrait of a Lady is a story of Americans abroad, and a story of love and loss. Isabel Archer arrives in England with her aunt, Lydia Touchett, who is intent on broadening her horizons. Lydia is the mother of Isabel's cousin Ralph, who lives with his father on their English estate, Gardencourt. Within a few weeks of her arrival at Gardencourt, Isabel turns down two marriage proposals, insisting on maintaining her independence. She inherits a considerable sum of money, and it appears she will be able to achieve her goal. Unfortunately, her "friends" have other ideas, and when Isabel travels to the continent, she soon finds herself falling for Gilbert Osmond, an American living in Italy. Sadly, their marriage is not a happy one and Isabel is stuck making the best of a bad situation.The story evolves quite slowly, but there's much more to this rich novel than can be described in a simple plot summary. Henry James' writing is complex, but not as difficult to read as I'd feared. James was himself an American living abroad, and he clearly loved his adopted country. Speaking through Ralph Touchett's father, James offers a delightful point of view of an American living in England:I've been watching these people for upwards of thirty-five years, and I don't hesitate to say that I've acquired considerable information. It's a very fine country on the whole--finer perhaps than we give it credit for on the other side. There are several improvements I should like to see introduced; but the necessity of them doesn't seem to be generally felt as yet.And the characterizations are superb. Ralph cares deeply for Isabel, but never acts on his feelings. Lydia is self-centered, but in an amusing way. Madame Merle, a good friend of Lydia, is quite eccentric and takes Isabel under her wing; however, there is a mysterious side to her as well. Isabel's friend Henrietta is assertive and brash, perhaps representing the "typical American" in Europe. Gilbert Osmond is completely unlikeable, and his sister Amy, the Countess Gemini, is vapid and self-centered, but pulls off a major feat near the end that shows there's much more to her than meets the eye.Throughout this novel Isabel is caught between a desire for independence, and societal pressures and expectations. James' understated prose delivers surprising emotional intensity, through a collection of memorable characters. Highly recommended.
markbstephenson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Isabel Archer and her dear dying friend Ralph Touchett are easily one of my favourite non-items in literature. And what would we do without Miss Henrietta Stackpole?
carlym on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I LOVE this book and have read it several times. Yes, James's sentences tend to be long and involved, but I like that--it slows down my reading and makes me pay attention to all the words.
LynnB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What can I possibly add that hasn't been said?Henry James has painted a masterful portrait of the life of Isabel Archer, especially her thoughts and feelings as she comes of age in Europe. And every character is similarly well drawn, vivid and real. I read mostly comtemporary fiction, so it took me a while to get used to the flow and cadence of this book; after about 100 pages, I couldn't put it down. The writing is so beautiful, with a flair for description so many of us have lost in this screen-based culture. As in real life, it is mainly the characters who carry the story, rather than the opposite.Isabel is a young woman with opinions and a strong sense of herself; one of the great heroines of classic literature. I only with Mr. James had shared with us how Isabel decided to marry Osmond in the first place!
mthelibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fascinating to think about (and possibly disagree with) the heroine's choices throughout the book. I didn't love the ending, but I believed that Isabel would have made this choice. I didn't find this an easy or quick read; in fact, it took me most of a busy June to finish it. I started it in Modern Library edition (500+ pages) but was too overwhelmed by it and switched a to a Barnes and Noble edition that was a Nook freebie some time ago. Somehow the smaller e-page size was right for me with this book. It's fun to remember that the book originally was published in Atlantic Magazine and Macmillan's over the course of years - similar to how some Dickens novels were published. Members of book club who did not have time to read "Portrait" tackled the shorter "Daisy Miller" by Henry James instead; one of them liked it well enough to continue on to "Washington Square."
bookworm12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Isabel Archer, a young headstrong American, arrives in England and everyone she meets is completely taken with her. Three separate men pursue her, but she¿s unwilling to settle for a marriage without mutual love. She smart, kind and witty, but not easily swayed in her beliefs.I was in love with this book for about the first 1/3 (maybe more), but then it took a drastic turn. I loved Isabel¿s character and her refusal to take the easy road in life. Unfortunately her decisions seem to lose all logic at a certain point and that¿s when I lost my respect for her. I never want books to have a perfectly happy ending just for the sake of pleasing the reader, but I was heartbroken for Isabel and incredibly disappointed in her choices. I always root for characters I love, but it¿s easy to feel betrayed by them if they make a choice that you wouldn¿t have made. Despite the plot, James¿ writing is beautiful. He catches the nuances of importance in a single glance or polite conversation. He makes you question who is acting out of Isabel¿s best interests, who is making selfish choices, who should you trust, etc. The book isn¿t just about Isabel in the end, it¿s about the delicate balance people maintain in their own lives, often choosing the lesser of two evils and settling in, even if they¿re unhappy, instead of rocking the boat.I loved much about this book, but I don¿t think I could bring myself to read it again now that I know how it all turns out. ¿You¿ve lived with the English for 30 years and you¿re picked up a good many of the things they say, but you have never learned the things they don¿t say.¿ ¿The great thing about being a literary woman was that you could go everywhere and do everything.¿
BookAngel_a on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Portrait of a Lady is the story of an interesting woman, an attractive woman with many "theories".Isabel leaves America to travel to England with her aunt, rejecting an offer of marriage from a good and successful man. She arrives at the home of her uncle and cousin, Henry and Ralph Touchett. In no time she has captivated everyone. An English lord proposes marriage to her, and again she refuses, saying she is not interested in marriage.Henry and Ralph are intrigued by their lovely relative who keeps refusing marriage offers from these very good, suitable men. When Henry is on his deathbed, he and Ralph decide to leave Isabel a fortune. With a fortune, she will have independence and the freedom to remain unmarried if she chooses. Ralph in particular is very interested in seeing what she will do with her life.Sadly, Isabel's life is not as easy or as happy as her friends had hoped for. What will she do with her life when her "theories" don't work out?This book was my first by Henry James. It was much easier to read than I expected. HJ does write very long paragraphs, but I got used to them. I like the way HJ pulls the reader inside Isabel's mind. The more I read, the more I was determined to find out what would happen to Isabel and her friends. There are a lot of great characters here, to analyze and enjoy. This is a book to sink your teeth into.
br77rino on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ralph Touchett has to be one of the saddest characters I have ever come into contact with.
Smiler69 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"She was looking at everything, with an eye that denoted clear perception ¿ at her companion, at the two dogs, at the two gentlemen under the trees, at the beautiful scene that surrounded her. 'I've never seen anything so lovely as this place. I've been all over the house; it's too enchanting.'" These are the words of our spirited and lovely heroine, Isabel Archer when she arrives at Gardencourt, an English country estate which features a Tudor mansion with a long lawn sloping down to the Thames. Isabel's father had recently passed away when her aunt, Mrs. Touchett came to visit her in Albany, New York and proposed to take Isabel away with her to Europe with a first stop in England. On her arrival, Isabel meets with a trio of gentlemen which includes the ailing Mr. Touchett Senior, a retired banker with a vast fortune who is attended to by his son Ralph, who suffers from very serious lung disease, and who nevertheless possesses a warm and loving spirit, and finally Ralph's good friend Lord Warburton, who is immediately smitten with our young lady. Before long, Warburton proposes to Isabel; he is an attractive gentleman with good manners and a fine intellect, who also commands a vast estate and a seat at the House of Lords. In short, the sort of man any woman would be thrilled to take on as a husband, but not Isabel. Our heroine is a headstrong young woman who feels she must face her destiny, which she believes doesn't include a husband. Shortly thereafter, Isabel's longtime and determined admirer Casper Goodwood arrives from Boston, also to ask her to marry him, but Isabel is adamant that marriage is not in the cards for her and turns him away as well. When a longtime friend of Mrs. Touchett comes to visit at Gardencourt, Isabel immediately takes to Madame Merle, an accomplished, mature woman of many talents, who is equally appreciative of the young woman. Soon, as Mr. Touchett Senior lies on his deathbed, Ralph secretly makes an arrangement with his father so that his cousin may inherit half the fortune meant for him. Ralph adores Isabel, and believes that by making her a rich woman, she will truly be independent and will be able to accomplish great things. But of course, this being a 19th century novel, our heroine is in for her share of troubles in the form of one Mr. Gilbert Osmond, a sinister character and a poor American expatriate, who's main virtues are a love of beautiful things and a desire to secure a brilliant future for his docile young daughter Pansy.This was my first time reading a novel by Henry James. Having long believed that he was difficult to read, I had tested the waters with two short stories first, and found his prose imminently approachable. It's true that he can be verbose and that this novel plods on at a slow pace, with little action and an accent on his character's interactions and inner workings. But I found myself quite wrapped up in the rich complexity of these characters, and can fully understand why this novel is an enduring classic. I already look forward to reading it again.
bohemima on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book flows smoothly, gently propelled by James's magnificent prose. Not over-written, but rather a precisely-written work designed to tell a very specific story. Isabel, a young woman from New York, recently orphaned, is swept up by her aunt and carried off to England and Europe. She's a wonderfully intelligent, beautiful girl, inherits a fortune, and makes an unfortunate marriage. The unfolding of Isabel's sad decline from being an earnest, eager young woman who wants to experience everything to a much sadder but much wiser woman is amazingly done; James really understands psycology and motives. There are many well-drawn supporting characters, none of whom seems far-fetched or unreal. A most ingruing and marvelous novel.
michaelbartley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
this is a wonderful book, while the language is more flowering and complex then current speech, the story is very modern. the story of the mystery of love, who we love, what happens to that love, and how love with the right people can endure. the main character, Isabel, is a strong intellegence kind woman that struggles to be true to yourself and to find values that endure beyond her. excellent book
charlie68 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very good, although a bit dense in places. The ending a little strange as it stops almost in mid scene.
schmal06 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this down. I absolutely adored it. James' analysis of human character is unparalleled. I was on spring break in Italy as I read this and I simply could not get Isabel's world out of my mind. It was so vivid and real all around me. Highly recommended.
mynote on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Scintillating dialogue, fine observation, antithetical development, The style is breathtaking. yet I have rarely been so annoyed with the characters depicted in a fiction. Increasingly as the tale unravels they seem to merge into a portrait of an under-employed over-privileged class of snobs, preening around European palaces like ancestral jet-setters with too much time on their hands. Despite this the heroine is complex and compelling and the loose ends of unresolved lives illuminated