Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, March 4, 2011

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881, 442 pages)

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The last Henry James (1843 to 1916-USA- ) work I posted on was The Aspern Papers (1888, 84 pages) on March 26, 2010.   I really enjoyed  The Aspern Papers a lot and told myself I needed to read more Henry James soon.   Soon turned into a year as it often does.    

According to the little bit of research I have done, Portrait of a Lady is one of the very most popular novels of James and is considered the last novel he wrote before his prose reached the famous level of difficulty of the last works.    Elizabeth Bowen said of herself that she was a "Portrait of a Lady kind of girl."      

Henry James-16
Portrait of a Lady is not an "easy read" only because some of the sentences are very long and some of the paragraphs go on for pages and pages.   The book is about a young American woman living in Europe.    She inherits a lot of money and is soon set on by various suitors.   A lot of the book is taken up in the development of the characters of Isabel and her suitors.   As is normal for a James book, it is about the contrasts of America versus Europe, naivety versus experience, cunning versus wisdom, among other topics.   

Portrait of a Lady gives us a very vivid look at life among the wealthy Americans living in Italy and England (James spent 53 years of his life living in England and became an English citizen).    This was a world in which few people could be trusted and no one is quite what they seem.

Portrait of a Lady has a huge number of totally wonderful and brilliant observations about the characters of the people in the story.  It for sure is part of the canon.   Many people say it is their favorite James novel.   I would advise those getting started in James to read first The Europeans, then  The Bostonians and then Portrait of a Lady.    I am very glad I at last got around to reading another Henry James work.    I plan now to read for the first time The Turn of the Screw within two weeks or so.   

Mel u


Teacher/Learner said...

I've always wanted to read Henry James. This is a great introduction to him! Thanks :)

Mel u said...

Teacher/Learner-thanks very much