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on 4 October 2011
American Isabel Archer arrives in Europe; twenty three, tall, slim, elegant, highly attractive and with the world at her feet. At Gardencourt, the home of rich banker Mr Touchett, her likeable cousin Ralph falls for her. Stricken by lung disease which he knows will shorten his life and belief that cousins shouldn't marry, deeply philosophical Ralph substitutes gentle flirtation and a brave witty demeanour for lack of marital prospect. 'What's the use of being ill and disabled and restricted to mere spectatorship at the game of life if I really can't see the show when I've paid so much for my ticket?' For me Ralph is adorable, and his relationship to Isabel from the early romantic scene where he takes Isabel to show her his picture gallery to the finale when she races to his bedside is fraught with feeling.

Isabel deftly parries advances from would be lovers. Then,having inherited a fortune from old Mr Touchett through the generosity of Ralph, she goes touring the continent,settling in Florence with the world still at her feet. But not for long.
Onward from her marriage to fellow American Gilbert Osmond and her acquisition of stepdaughter Pansy Osmond, subtle changes begin to erode Isabel's happiness as members of her social circle conspire to manipulate her for their own ends. There are secrets to be revealed whose discovery sends Isabel from one dilemma to another as she refuses to have her honour compromised.

The novel is an absolute masterpiece; six hundred and twenty eight pages of exquisitely written prose and scintillating dialogue. James ability to extract so much meaning from a sentence can slow the read here and there, and there are a few long passages before the characters "come on stage again." These are soon passed over. For those who enjoy late ninetheenth century literature, this is an absolute must.
0Comment16 of 16 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
This novel has always done well, from its first serialized publication in two magazines and then its publication in book form in 1881, it has also been met with lots of critical acclaim. The basic storyline is relatively simple, Isabel Archer is brought from America to this country and then on to the Continent by her aunt. When she comes into some considerable money of course things get difficult. With Machivellean manipulations this young free woman finds herself nothing of the sort, especially when she gets married.

I have read this story so many times, and indeed I don't know how anyone could ever tire of it, but trying to explain what it is about to others is really difficult. The problem is that you don't want to give too much away and spoil it for anyone reading it for the first time. What I have written in the above paragraph is of course very basic and there is a lot more to this novel than that. The characters, situations and reactions are what bring this to life, and the psychology of the characters. This is really a deeply psychological and existentialist novel that literally comes to life, as alas few books do. After you have read this you really know why James was known as 'The Master', and lets be honest this is the type of book that we all wished that we could have written. Of course James wrote a lot of very good books, but if he had only written this he would still be known today.

This deals with one of James' pet themes, the clash between the New and Old World, and also there is a deep level of underlying sexuality here concerning Isabel Archer. This book will certainly stay in your mind and make you ponder about what is meant by freedom and duty/responsibility. This is really a must read book.
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on 25 October 2013
I'm so glad I stuck with it and didn't abandon the novel after a hundred pages or so (there was one paragraph where the syntax simply defeated me!).
Gilbert Osmond has to be the single most unpleasant character I've ever encounted in fiction, but how delightful to have made the acquaintance of Ralph Touchett!
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on 28 May 2015
Although I hadn't yet seen the film, I could really vividly imagine the characters interacting in a physical and almost 'modern' sense- talk about having an overactive imagination! The writer of this finely executed novel, Henry James, using techniques to provoke the sympathy of the reader for the main character- Isabel Archer. The detailing is precise and 'novel', as well as heartrending and emotion-driven. The descent of Isabel Archer into ultimate isolation is sad because I came close to really appreciating and idealising this 'American Heroine', and really hoped and wished her a happy ending.
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on 5 September 2015
Great book, prompt delivery, safe packing. Many thanks. John
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on 16 September 2015
Excellent
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on 16 August 2014
I was disappointed. The story line is one with real potential, but, in my opinion, Henry James fails to bring out the real character of Isobel Archer in particular, but also other main characters. For me the novel lacked real depth.
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on 4 January 2015
far too long and wordy ruined my christmasoon andon and on
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on 25 October 2014
Arrived quickly and as described
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on 3 October 2013
I read this a long time ago, but can't remember much about it except a general and specific sensitivity to nuances. I did read some Du Bois more recently, however, and it has just struck me that one of the reasons that I didn't really know and imagine about slavery was because I always thought of America as Henry James. I have just been looking up 'Henry James, slavery' on the web, and there are only two entrances that I can find - one a book called 'Henry James in context' - it is a Google Reader available book, but the puzzle is that it seems to be by a different author than the book entitled 'Henry James in Context' that appears here on Amazon. The other entry is about another Henry James who was black (a (fictional?) newspaper extract - that has that Henry James giving himself up for slavery briefly voluntarily. Well, we might say, Henry James the author certainly chose - was selective - and was reasonably faithful to the milieu he chose to inhabit. But surely there may be a problem here.

I have just received a leaflet printed by the charity Book Aid - where you pay for books to be sent to people in Africa. They seem to be about HIV education and safer midwifery tips. I wonder how someone having been promised one of those books would react if they received a Henry James novel instead? On the other hand, many people are now suggesting that students on British campuses should be allocated allotments if possible within the grounds of the Universities, in order that they should strive and learn to grow and share their own food.
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