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The Portrait of a Lady (Penguin Classics) [Kindle Edition]

Henry James , Geoffrey Moore , Patricia Crick
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (170 customer reviews)

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Book Description

When Isabel Archer, a beautiful, spirited American is brought to Europe by her wealthy aunt Touchett, it is expected that she will soon marry. But Isabel, resolved to enjoy the freedom that her fortune has opened up and to determine her own fate, does not hesitate to turn down two eligible suitors. It is only when she finds herself irresistibly drawn to the cultivated but worthless Gilbert Osmond that she discovers that wealth is a two-edged sword and that there is a price to be paid for independence. With its subtle delineation of American characters in a European setting, Portrait of a Lady is one of the most accomplished and popular of Henry James's early novels.

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Henry James was born the son of a religious philosopher in New York City in 1843. His famous works include The Portrait of a Lady, Washington Square, Daisy Miller, and The Turn of the Screw. He died in London in 1916, and is buried in the family plot in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Isabel saw no more of her attributive victim for the next twenty-four hours, but on the second day after the visit to the opera she encountered him in the gallery of the Capitol, where he stood before the lion of the collection, the statue of the Dying Gladiator. She had come in with her companions, among whom, on this occasion again, Gilbert Osmond had his place, and the party, having ascended the staircase, entered the first and finest of the rooms. Lord Warburton addressed her alertly enough, but said in a moment that he was leaving the gallery. 'And I'm leaving Rome,' he added. 'I must bid you goodbye.' Isabel, inconsequently enough, was now sorry to hear it. This was perhaps because she had ceased to be afraid of his renewing his suit; she was thinking of something else. She was on the point of naming her regret but she checked herself and simply wished him a happy journey; which made him look at her rather unlightedly. 'I'm afraid you'll think me very "volatile". I told you the other day I wanted so much to stop.'

'Oh no; you can easily change your mind.'

'That's what I have dome.'

'Bon voyage then.'

'You're in a great hurry to get rid of me,' said his lordship quite dismally.

'Not in the least.  But I hate partings.'

'You don't care what I do,' he went on pitifully.

Isabel looked at him a moment. 'Ah,' she said, 'you're not keeping your promise!'

He coloured like a boy of fifteen. 'If I'm not, then it's because I can't; and that's why I'm going.'

'Good-bye then.'

'Good-bye.' He lingered still, however. 'When shall I see you again?'

Isabel hesitated, but soon, as if she had had a happy inspiration: 'Some day after you're married.'

'That will never be. It will be after you are.'

'That will do as well,' she smiled.

'Yes, quite as well. Good-bye.'

They shook hands, and he left her alone in the glorious room, among the shining antique marbles. She sat down in the centre of the circle of these presences, regarding them vaguely, resting her eyes on the beautiful blank faces; listening, as it were, to their eternal silence. It is impossible, in Rome at least, to look long at a great company of Greek sculptures without feeling the effect of their noble quietude; which, as with a high door closed for the ceremony, slowly drops on the spirit the large white mantle of peace. I say in Rome especially, because the Roman air is exquisite medium for such impressions. The golden sunshine mingles with them the deep stillness of the past, so vivid yet, though it is nothing but a void full of names, seems to throw a solemn spell upon them. The blinds were partly closed in the windows of the Capitol, and a clear, warm shadow rested on the figures and made them more mildly human. Isabel sat there a long time, under the charm of their motionless grace, wondering to what, of their experience, their absent eyes were open, and how, to our ears, their alien lips would sound. The dark red walls of the room threw them into relief; the polished marble floor reflected their beauty. She had seen them all before, but her enjoyment repeated itself, and it was all the greater because she was glad again, for the time, to be alone. At last, however, her attention lapsed, drawn off by a deeper tide of life. An occasional tourist came in, stopped and stared a moment at the Dying Gladiator, and then passed out of the door, creaking over the smooth pavement. At the end of half an hour Gilbert Osmond reappeared, apparently in advance of his companions. He strolled towards her slowly, with his hands behind him and his usual enquiring, yet not quite appealing smile. 'I'm surprised to find you alone, I thought you had company.'

'So I have - the best.' And she glanced at the Antinous and the Faun.

'Do you call them better company than an English peer?'

'Ah, my English peer left me some time ago.' She got up, speaking with intention a little dryly.

Mr Osmond noted her dryness, which contributed for him to the interest of his question. 'I'm afraid that what I heard the other evening is true: you're rather cruel to that nobleman.'

Isabel looked a moment at the vanquished Gladiator. 'It's not true. I'm scrupulously kind.'

'That's exactly what I mean!' Gilbert Osmond returned, and with such happy hilarity that his joke needs to be explained. We know that he was fond of originals, of rarities, of the superior and the exquisite; and now that he had seen Lord Warburton, whom he thought a very fine example of his race and order, he perceived a new attraction in the idea of taking to himself a young lady who had qualified herself to figure in his collection of choice objects by declining so noble a hand.

Chapter 28, p352-354


Product Details

  • File Size: 1339 KB
  • Print Length: 660 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Rev Ed edition (January 30, 2003)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002RI923Y
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #147,039 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
108 of 113 people found the following review helpful
When Isabel Archer, a bright and independent young American, makes her first trip to Europe in the company of her aunt, Mrs. Touchett, who lives outside of London in a 400-year-old estate, she discovers a totally different world, one which does not encourage her independent thinking or behavior and which is governed by rigid social codes. This contrast between American and European values, vividly dramatized here, is a consistent theme in James's novels, one based on his own experiences living in the US and England. In prose that is filled with rich observations about places, customs, and attitudes, James portrays Isabel's European coming-of-age, as she discovers that she must curb her intellect and independence if she is to fit into the social scheme in which she now finds herself.
Isabel Archer, one of James's most fully drawn characters, has postponed a marriage in America for a year of travel abroad, only to discover upon her precipitate and ill-considered marriage to an American living in Florence, that it is her need to be independent that makes her marriage a disaster. Gilbert Osmond, an American art collector living in Florence, marries Isabel for the fortune she has inherited from her uncle, treating her like an object d'art which he expects to remain "on the shelf." Madame Serena Merle, his long-time lover, is, like Osmond, an American whose venality and lack of scruples have been encouraged, if not developed, by the European milieu in which they live.
James packs more information into one paragraph than many writers do in an entire chapter.
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47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, Heart-rending, Poignant, and Tragic April 26, 2000
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Henry James has truly outdone himself with this book. While it is no longer my favorite James' novel, I still think it among the best novels written in the English language. The character of Isabel Archer is an indelible part of literature. The story begins with an American woman, left parentless and penniless, being discovered by an expatriate Aunt. The Aunt convinces her to go England with her so that she might meet her cousin, Ralph. Isabel eagerly agrees. She is idealistic and has always wanted to see Europe. Her aunt agrees to pay for the expenditures. Once there, Isabel falls in love with their house, Gardencourt, and grows to enjoy her frail, sweet, ironic, and funny cousin. Before Isabel knows it, she has become ensnared in a one-sided love affair with a handsome English nobleman, Lord Warburton, little knowing what to do. Despite the urgings of her aunt, Isabel rejects his proposal in the desire to wait for something better. Soon, her elderly uncle dies, but not before she charms him with her intelligence and subtle beauty. Ralph insists that his father leave Isabel a substantial fortune, so that she might be able to live as she wishes. When the uncle dies, Isabel is left with 70,000 pounds, or about 200,000 dollars. From here is where the true story begins. I will not reveal more of the plot, which unwinds slowly and with assurance. James, being a master of prose, knows how to manipulate a sentence in a multitude of ways. His lilting, ironic, verbose writing style lends class and charm to Isabel's ultimately tragic tale. Some modern readers aren't able to handle James' subtle style. Unfortunately, many of us have had to fight the effects of shortened attention spans. Read more ›
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Isabel Archer --the unforgettable protagonist of Henry James' "The Portrait of a Lady" -- says at some point that she doesn't want to begin life by marrying, and she attests there other things a woman can do. This declaration is the heart of the matter of this amazingly well executed and brilliant book. Naïve as she is, Isabel believes that in the 19th Century she would be able to enjoy her life and meet the world before getting married -- and not marrying is still a possibility.

With Isabel's dilemma American writer Henry James deals with the conflict between society and individual longings. Many writers have dealt this issue -- but only a few succeeded with such grace and competence as this author. The point is that Isabel is not the only one dealing with this problem. As a matter of fact, all characters of this novel, at some point in their life have to face the society against their personal wishes.

James was a master of psychological development. Not a single character in this novel is unrealistic. The cast of supporting characters is as deep as Isabel. With his talent, the writer explores the psychological conflict is a result of the society pressures against the characters beliefs -- and not a gratuitous philosophy like many writers usually do. The depth brings another pleasure in the reading of the novel.

Language is usually the main barrier for contemporary readers, when it comes to classic novels. With James it is a problem that can be easily overcome. His use of language however sophisticated is not difficult. His choice of words and structures are conscious and beautiful. The first chapters tend to be read slowly, but once the readers get the hang of James' prose, reading becomes an undeniable pleasure.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars repulsive misogyny
Thu 10/02/2014 2:29 pm. I managed to avoid higher education almost entirely, so had no idea that for the last half or so of *Portrait of a Lady* the spunky girl from Albany chooses... Read more
Published 21 days ago by James G. Owen
5.0 out of 5 stars Best novel in the English language
I am a writer, and a life-long passionate reader of novels, and I think I can say, without any hesitation, that I consider this THE greatest novel in the English language ever... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Susan K. Noel
2.0 out of 5 stars Much more expensive than other near perfect Franklin Library books I...
Not as described. Question whether cover is even leather? Does not say limited edition in book. Inside binding at upper spine loose so that contents of book sag a bit. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Ruth
2.0 out of 5 stars A book for sadists and masochists
Only a sadistic English teacher wanting to punish students or a university English major could love this book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by N. Ravitch
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Beautiful copy in excellent condition
Published 2 months ago by sandra
5.0 out of 5 stars Need a broken heart to appreciate "Portrait"
If you have had your heart broken by friends and loves who lie, keep secrets and deliberately try to hurt you, "Portrait of a Lady" will touch the deepest recesses of your... Read more
Published 2 months ago by L. Moore
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Published 3 months ago by Joy to the World
5.0 out of 5 stars Sophisticated plots. Deep reflection.
The author put lots of thinking on how the people in that period lived. He described people's thought processes vividly. The turn of the story was unexpected at the first thought. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Chi Tai
5.0 out of 5 stars Isabelle is a worthy sister of Hester of SCARLET LETTER
James considered Hawthorne of a great, peculiarly American literature. Easy to read, compelling tale, a monument of that literature. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Thomas M. Lane
5.0 out of 5 stars A long but wonderful book
Just take your time with this and you will be rewarded. It will also increase your vocabulary. It seemed like every other page I was asking my Kindle to define a word.
Published 4 months ago by Alan
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