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The Portrait of a Lady - Volume 2

Henry James

Book Overview: 

The Portrait of a Lady is a novel by Henry James is the story of a spirited young American woman, Isabel Archer, who “affronts her destiny” and finds it overwhelming. She inherits a large amount of money and subsequently becomes the victim of Machiavellian scheming by two American expatriates. Like many of James’s novels, it is set mostly in Europe, notably England and Italy.

Generally regarded as the masterpiece of his early phase of writing, this novel reflects James’s absorbing interest in the differences between the New World and the Old. It also treats in a profound way the themes of personal freedom, responsibility, betrayal, and sexuality.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . . forehead and then on each cheek as if according to some ancient prescribed rite. She drew the visitor to a sofa and, looking at her with a variety of turns of the head, began to talk very much as if, seated brush in hand before an easel, she were applying a series of considered touches to a composition of figures already sketched in. "If you expect me to congratulate you I must beg you to excuse me. I don't suppose you care if I do or not; I believe you're supposed not to care—through being so clever—for all sorts of ordinary things. But I care myself if I tell fibs; I never tell them unless there's something rather good to be gained. I don't see what's to be gained with you—especially as you wouldn't believe me. I don't make professions any more than I make paper flowers or flouncey lampshades—I don't know how. My lampshades would be sure to take fire, my roses and my fibs to be larger than life. I'm very glad for my own sake that you're to marry. . . Read More

Community Reviews

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...more

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...more

**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 ve...more

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...more

*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...more

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 desc...more

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...more

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...more

10 Things I Love About Henry James’s The Portrait Of A Lady

1. Isabel Archer
The “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 i...more

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 remarka...more

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