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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a Portrait He Writes [35]
The lady involved in the portrait is Isabel Archer, and the portrait is exquisitely ornate because of the literary genius of James. ". . . [A]fter strolling about for some time, in a manner at once listless and restless, had seated herself on a garden-bench, within sight of the house, beneath a spreading beech, where, in a white dress ornamented with black ribbons, she...
Published on December 13, 2008 by Miami Bob

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I got bogged down after more than 100 pages
The first sentence of the novel is wonderful. After that, not so much. I read 107 pages and I still don't have a good sense of who Isabel Archer is, what makes her tick, and what she wants. The narrator is overbearing and intrudes with an unmemorable wealth of unnecessary information, description, meanderings, and background. It's formidable! I skipped through the...
Published 21 months ago by Lizunchik


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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a Portrait He Writes [35], December 13, 2008
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This review is from: The Portrait of A Lady (Signet Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
The lady involved in the portrait is Isabel Archer, and the portrait is exquisitely ornate because of the literary genius of James. ". . . [A]fter strolling about for some time, in a manner at once listless and restless, had seated herself on a garden-bench, within sight of the house, beneath a spreading beech, where, in a white dress ornamented with black ribbons, she formed flickering shadows of graceful and harmonious image."

Orphaned when she is ripe for marriage, Isabel is shipped to England in 19th century custom to live with a rich uncle who resides outside of London - Daniel Touchett - and his wife and charming son Ralph. While staying as their guest, her American conceptions evolve with European sophistication and she is compelled to learn much for someone so young and naive. In the midst of this educational/cultural immersion, she becomes charmed by her cousin, his best friend Lord Warburton and others.

It is then that her best friend from America, Henrietta Stackpole, comes across the seas to warn her not to marry a European.

While testing the waters, Isabel sees another family member die, her uncle, who leaves her a pot of money which guarantees this young princess all the creature comforts for the remainder of her life as well as those of her heirs. In this book authored in the latter art of the 19th century, we must ask: is this good news or bad news? What does being rich mean? James defines rich as "I call people rich when they're able to meet the requirements of their imagination."

At first, times are great. Isabel is also wooed by a wealthy American, Caspar Goodwood, and American turned European Gilbert Osmond. She is the cat's meow in London society. The battle for her hand gathers force, and she ultimately chooses the unanimously proclaimed poorest choice. And, from that moment forward, the book turns from gaiety of being wooed by extremely wealthy men, to a life of inhibition and oppression. Being the squelched subject of a totalitarian husband deprives anyone, even strong Isabel, to meet her imagination.

But, the fight goes on. As badly as her daily events may be, she is not prisoner to her own vices or sins. The bad people around her are so imprisoned. The good people around are not. But, it takes hundreds of pages for our heroine to realize which people are good and which are bad. And, not until the final hundred pages does the reader receive information as to why the bad people are bad. And, then we and Isabel discover that they are even worse than we could have conjectured.

Persistence abounds among her good people - who are the truest of friends. And amid that persistence lies tireless patience. Helping a good friend is not something done in a sprint, if the sprint derives the wrong result. Instead, James instructs us that ". . . she had given him the key to patience." A most valuable gift.

Amid the brilliant prose and evenly valiant dialogue, this book's plot jives and swiftly turns - each portion not just keeping, but gluing, the interest of the reader. I have read a few other novels by James, and they are good, But, the give-and-take throughout this novel and the seemingly perfect prose, describing everything from the person's face to a tea cup, make this my favorite of this all-time favorite author.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "An Englishman's never so natural as when he's holding his tongue.", September 9, 2007
This review is from: The Portrait of A Lady (Signet Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
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 have 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 into an entire chapter. Distanced and formal, he presents psychologically realistic characters whose behavior is a direct outgrowth of their upbringing, with their conflicts resulting from the differences between their expectations and the reality of their changed settings. The subordinate characters, Ralph Touchett, Pansy Osmond, her suitor Edward Rosier, American journalist Henrietta Stackpole, Isabel's former suitor Caspar Stackpole, and Lord Warburton, whose love of Isabel leads him to court Pansy, are as fascinating psychologically and as much a product of their own upbringing as Isabel is.

As the setting moves from America to England, Paris, Florence, and Rome, James develops his themes, and as Isabel's life becomes more complex, her increasingly difficult and emotionally affecting choices about her life make her increasingly fascinating to the reader. James's trenchant observations about the relationship between individuals and society and about the effects of one's setting on one's behavior are enhanced by the elegance and density of his prose, making this a novel one must read slowly--and savor. Mary Whipple
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece on human psychology, September 22, 2009
This review is from: The Portrait of A Lady (Signet Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
Reading this novel is like receiving a punch in the stomach - yet from an exquisitely gloved fist. If you like character-driven stories with explosive endings, this novel is for you.

James is a genius in charting the complexities of the human psyche. His predilection for characterization and psychological analysis over plot development is what drives this novel. In fact, there is a lot of "action" - yet confined to the emotional landscape of characters.

James' literary style is very dense and requires a measured pace of reading. If this becomes frustrating (as it did to me occasionally), it's best to read it in spurts. The richness of the novel demands leisurely consumption, like an elaborate French meal, to be appreciated piece by piece.

Here is an example of typical sentence construction:

[QUOTE] Like his appreciation of her dear little stepdaughter it was based partly on his eye for decorative character, his instinct for authenticity; but also on a sense for uncatalogued values, for that secret of a "luster" beyond any recorded losing or rediscovering, which his devotion to brittle wares had still not disqualified him to recognise. Mrs. Osmond, at present, might well have gratified such tastes. The years had touched her only to enrich her; the flower of her youth had not faded, it only hung more quietly on its stem. [END QUOTE]

Despite its density The Portrait of a Lady is more accessible than James' later novels - including The Ambassadors (Oxford World's Classics) - and is a good place to start with this classic author.

The main delight of the novel is in the characters - they are all exquisitely crafted and richly draped. They each have their own set of vocabulary, nuances, visual imagery and body language - from the sharp tongued Henrietta Stackpole to the obedient and docile Pansy Osmond. The novel also has great moments of humour, thanks to James' alter ego Ralph Touchett.

My only critique is the heavy handed analysis at times, which slows down the pace of the novel, as well as James peculiar aversion to paragraphing - the author will often cluster entire timelines, conversations and observations into a single paragraph which spans several pages without interlude.

Ultimately, however the novel is a masterpiece of human characterization that touches on themes of duty versus independence, social custom versus freedom. Despite the lack of plot - or "architecture" as the author calls it - James is an extraordinary storyteller and the ending packs quite a punch.

This novel is best enjoyed without prior knowledge of the plot - so skip the summary on the back and dive right in!

8/10
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I got bogged down after more than 100 pages, December 6, 2012
This review is from: The Portrait of A Lady (Signet Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
The first sentence of the novel is wonderful. After that, not so much. I read 107 pages and I still don't have a good sense of who Isabel Archer is, what makes her tick, and what she wants. The narrator is overbearing and intrudes with an unmemorable wealth of unnecessary information, description, meanderings, and background. It's formidable! I skipped through the rest of the book just to find out what happens! The plot itself could have been interesting if the characters were more engaging. I give it two stars just because it's a classic. I must have missed something!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps James's greatest novel, March 10, 2014
By 
J.D. Hunley (California, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Portrait of A Lady (Signet Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
This is not a page-turner. It is not action-packed, not a thriller. But it is exceptionally well written, full of delightful conversations among a variety of fully drawn characters, notably, the lady of the title, Isabel Archer, who is full of surprises. The novel itself ends with several surprises that enchanted me. A true classic.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Revisit Isabel, September 18, 2010
This review is from: The Portrait of A Lady (Signet Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
This is Henry James's masterpiece and he was aware of that as he wrote it. Many critics thought it had an ambiguous ending; or no ending at all and I agree. Therefore, I have started a sequel, no easy task, and in the process of writing it, I have started a blog to write about writing about it. I give background information on Henry James's writing life, my own problems writing a sequel to such an elaborate, psychological novel and how it "should" all turn out. I also link to Amazon books and films that have to do with this subject. See my blog at [...]. Please leave comments and let's begin to figure out where Isabel Archer Osmond's life should go. She's still in her twenties when the book ends. A lot of living to do yet.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars James gave this story 5,000 revisions!, November 16, 2009
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This review is from: The Portrait of A Lady (Signet Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
I am having difficulty writing this review because I did not like the protagonist one bit. Isabel Archer, so disturbingly beautiful, talented, and prizeworthy (as she herself would have told you) that no man appears good enough. She turns down the marriage offer of a brilliant member of the English aristocracy, a handsome English Lord, extremely wealthy and well sought after, on the inverted snobbish pretext that she is not good enough for him, so she keeps him hanging on in the background, (having nothing better to do) along with another couple of suitors littered about throughout the story.

Ralph Touchett, Isabel's indolent, sickly cousin, was my favorite character. He of course like everyone else in the story falls madly in love with Isabel, but he is so intelligent, kind, generous, and selfless, I found myself cheering for this character and hoping against hope that Henry James would spare his life in the end; he doesn't of course. The amorphous Pansy flits in and out of the story like a fairy. The perfect child, a character not fully developed by James. One feels all along that something terrible is going to happen to her, a bit like Beth in "Little Women" but nothing does. She is there as the key to the mystery, find out about her and you know it all.

Henry James, periphrastic as always, sometimes bores with his long descriptions setting the tone, the description of Madam Merle is a good example. This tedious character adds nothing to the story except just a little mystery. The man Isabel finally condescends to marry turns out to be more in love with himself than with her and even more so than she is with herself, so as in all good stories she gets her comeuppance, and well deserved too. I did enjoy his descriptions of the places I know in Italy, it took me back to my holidays in Florence, with mention of The Medici, and the wonderful Uffizi Gallery. Beautiful, beautiful, city, I wish you could see a photograph my husband took of The Arno at sunset!

I like Henry James, he tells a good story, he is among the greatest American writers. I especially liked his critique of Nathaniel Hawthorne, well worth the money for that little book. This, not so much, but you? Well I couldn't possibly comment.....
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Another disappointment., September 23, 2013
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This review is from: The Portrait of A Lady (Signet Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
Front of book torn and I can see why because if the way it was carelessly packaged. Will not waste my time on this place and neither should anyone.
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The Portrait of A Lady (Signet Classics)
The Portrait of A Lady (Signet Classics) by Henry James (Mass Market Paperback - July 3, 2007)
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