14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2011
The LOA editions of James are generally excellent and recommended, but their scholarly principle of choosing texts that represent James's first intentions presents a problem with "The Portrait of a Lady." As stated in the notes on the texts (p.1239), James "extensively revised" the novel for the New York Edition of 1908, "making this final version a very different book from the one that first appeared in 1881." It is the 1881 version that appears here, and it is inferior, if for no other reason than the abrupt ending (at the line "On which he looked up at her."). The 1908 edition adds just a few more lines -- brief, but breathtaking. If you're reading "The Portrait of a Lady" for the first time, definitely go for the revised version.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2010
You want a way to get into a formidable writer, one whose collective work fills up a goodly portion of the Library of America bookshelf -- here's your passport. The three novels in this LOA volume are James' earliest and in some ways his most accessible. The chronological biography in the back is very helpful, as are the notes. The presentation is typical Library of America -- crisp 10-point Linotron Galliard against the characteristic LOA white paper makes for easy reading. At roughly 400 words per page, movement through the work seems swift, a considerable boost to tackling a 600-page novel novel like "Portrait of a Lady."
James requires a developed taste. He writes of a time and about places and people who may seem remote to contemporary readers. Don't be put off by a failure to penetrate him. This is handsome and ultimately useful volume to have of your shelf in the event that someday you'll try James once again and discover that those people, those places and that time are closer than you thought.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2007
Henry James, packaged in a beautiful book, with dark print on white pages, is the king of the nuance. To read him, you slow down, you enter his world, a scene of dusk and mood and marrow and sorrow. A novel as sweet as the vision of a cool bath in a marble tub, in a darkened chamber, in a hot land. Characters who sometimes do not get exactly what they want even though they want it. One far removed from current events and politics and global warming and death-defying high wire acts of short-sighted greed which are all net and no tightrope. Far removed and yet existing at the core where the personal is burnt into the societal and where a man sitting on an ottoman while a woman stands next to a fireplace predicts the ruin of the state.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2011
This 2nd volume of the Library of America edition of Henry James' novels contains 3 novels from the 1880s. Two of them are among the best that James wrote. The other one is also much praised, but it is too long and mean, though deep enough to stay with you.
Washington Square: a short novel about stubborn people. Two men fight about a woman: her father wants her not to marry that windbag. That windbag wants to challenge the father about his plan to disinherit his daughter in the case of marriage. We can easily see that the girl might end up as collateral damage. It does not continue in such a clear cut way though.
I have been asked where to start with James. I am just a beginner myself, but I feel confident in saying that this one is just fine for the purpose of getting familiar. It is reasonably short at 200 pages. It is entertaining and accessible. There is nothing of the complicated ponderous language of some later works. The narrative is based on an all-knowing voice from the off, which reports and comments. Not exactly modern writing, but alive and sharp and observant.
The Portrait of a Lady: much too long. Much too misogynic: plenty of evil women. This novel is sometimes called HJ's best, but I don't see it that way. It starts like a mean comedy, where the author doesn't like any of his creatures. It meanders along and becomes in phases rather tedious. We find it hard to keep interest in a woman that is so despised by its creator. On the other hand, Isabel Archer has found her admirers, certainly in the novel, but also among readers and reviewers.
The strength of the novel lies in its `character development'. That is a criterion that I don't normally take all that serious, but here it is quite important. We stay with Isabel over longer periods and watch her grow up to some extent. She does have strength of character, but much of that is offset by lack of common sense. Typically for James, we begin to like her, or rather James likes her, only after she has lost her war. Victorious women can't be put in a positive light.
One of HJ's weaknesses is that he tells us a lot about his people, rather than letting us find out for ourselves. That forces us then to diagnose the people in the story plus the inventor of the story. An obvious gap in Isabel (and probably in HJ) is her sex life. She doesn't have any.
Finally, The Bostonians, one of James' most political and one of his funniest novels.
Also one of his most American ones. It is a triangle tale. A wealthy Bostonian feminist competes with her impoverished Southern cousin for the favors of an attractive young woman from the humanitarian Bohemia. The target of affection is a talented inspirational speaker with a pedigree: her mother is from an abolitionist family, and her father made a career as a spiritist and a mesmeric healer. Both competitors want to pull the girl out of this abominable world of quackery. She is a sympathetic soul who is keen to be useful to the movement. Liberating the girl from her squalid world looks like the right thing to do. He, on the other hand, is just a handsome joker who recognizes a pretty girl when he sees her. But the winner takes it all.
James at his best.
on April 8, 2015
Washington Square is a sad look at life in the mid-19th Century. After losing his wife in the hours following the birth of a daughter, Dr. Austin Sloper is lost, bewildered and angry. He and his wife had lost their son at a young age, and now he lost his dear wife birthing a daughter. To him it is the greatest tragedy, but when his daughter grows fat and "unbecoming" he has no trouble telling her how he sees her. In today's world, Dr. Townsend would be accused and easily convicted of verbal and psychological abuse. Catherine grows a dull, plain woman with no expectations of living a full life. Then she meets Morris Townsend at a party given by her aunt and thanks to her father's sister, Mrs. Penniman, Catherine's life is turned upside down. I think Catherine actually has feelings for this young man. The dynamic between the characters is complex, as the real reasons for actions are construed through the eyes of each of them. Dr. Sloper, who himself married a "well dowryed" woman, finds a gold digger behind any suitor his daughter might win, and therefore he refuses this young man's advances as based in desire for money, certainly not love. He considers his daughter unworthy of the attentions of any well-intended young man. The book is filled with twists and turns but overall provides a sadness for the young woman who after Austin's death she learns he has tied her hands so thoroughly that if she were to wed the man of her choice she would lose everything, and since she has no real self identity she lives the rest of her life alone, a strange sort of happiness;
on August 17, 2014
Amazing to find three such extraordinary masterpieces of fiction between two covers. All three novels involve a fierce struggle for control over the life and soul of a young woman, and in each case it seems that the woman's own feelings are the least of anyone's concern. Beyond that, the only thing that these novels have in common is the sublime beauty of the writing. Some of the scenes--the lawn scene, for instance, in the opening pages of "Portrait" and the descriptions of rustic 19th century Cape Cod in the closing pages of "The Bostonians"--are among the most beautiful that I've encountered anywhere in literature and show how just thoroughly James had absorbed, and in many ways transcended, the writing of Turgenev and Flaubert. "Washington Square," the shortest and most accessible of the three, is a perfect gem. The true measure of James's genius is that he was actually able to improve on that perfection--by digging even deeper into the inner workings of his characters--in the two subsequent novels.
on May 16, 2014
I’m translating the Bostonians into Greek (using this, and the Oxford World’s Classics edition), or rather, I’m rewriting the book in the Greek language, since the translator of James’ convoluted, daedalean sentences is always obliged to find analogies, to shift the center of each phrase so as to be able to keep its essence; to find another rhythm, so as to have a rhythm. An exacting but rewarding experience, and a fine book, almost Proustian, sometimes, in its thoughtful slowness and its meticulous attention to the minutest detail. And entertaining too (in its near-sighted, biting look at the women’s emancipation movement).
on August 3, 2011
Washington Square was a fine work, accessible and affecting. The main character is worthy of both sympathy and admiration as she deals with her feckless would-be lover. Portrait of a Lady contains florid prose makes this an engaging read. James does a great job of showing you different views of a given issue without tipping his hand too far. Ultimately a depressing ending, it nevertheless is well worth enjoying.
on January 2, 2015
If you love James, I don't have to tell you that you will like this book. So I'll focus on the actual physical book. It is perfect. Just the right size for holding with my arthritic hands (5x8); and the type is easy on my aging eyes, neither too big nor too small. Its just a perfect book, with 3 of my favorite stories. Hope I get another next Christmas.
on March 19, 2015
I love Henry James, but in this edition of three of his novels, the entire second volume of The Bostonians, which comprises the second half of the book, is missing. There may be other omissions in the first two books as well, that I didn't catch. I want my money back!