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The Portrait of a Lady (Penguin Popular Classics) [Paperback]

Henry James
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

27 Sep 2007 Penguin Popular Classics
An American heiress newly arrived in Europe, Isabel Archer does not look to a man to furnish her with her destiny; instead she desires, with grace and courage, to find it herself. Two eligible suitors approach her and are refused. She then becomes utterly captivated by the languid charms of Gilbert Osmond. To him, she represents a superior prize worth at least seventy thousand pounds; through him, she faces a tragic choice.

Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (27 Sep 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140622497
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140622492
  • Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 2 x 18.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 454,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Henry James was born in 1843 in Washington Place, New York, of Scottish and Irish ancestry. His father was a prominent theologian and philosopher and his elder brother, William, is also famous as a philosopher. He attended schools in New York and later in London, Paris and Geneva, entering the Law School at Harvard in 1862. In 1865 he began to contribute reviews and short stories to American journals. In 1875, after two prior visits to Europe, he settled for a year in Paris, where he met Flaubert, Turgenev and other literary figures. However, the next year he moved to London, where he became so popular in society that in the winter of 1878-9 he confessed to accepting 107 invitations. In 1898 he left London and went to live at Lamb House, Rye, Sussex. Henry James became a naturalized citizen in 1915, was awarded the Order of Merit and died in 1916.

In addition to many short stories, plays, books of criticism, autobiography and travel, he wrote some twenty novels, the first published being Roderick Hudson (1875). They include The Europeans, Washington Square, The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, The Princess Casamassima, The Tragic Muse, The Spoils of Poynton, The Awkward Age, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl.

Product Description

From the Publisher

Isabel Archer has been brought to England from Albany, New York, by her Aunt Touchett to extend her education, possibly to marry well.

Isabel, proud and independent, has other ideas. She has no desire to marry and wishes to create her own future, rather than finding it as a wife. Consequently she refuses two very eligible suitors: Lord Warburton and Caspar Goodwood, who has followed her to Europe from America.

When her uncle Lord Touchett dies, leaving Isabel a fortune, he unwittingly does her a great disservice, for on a visit to Italy she is introduced by Madame Merle to Gilbert Osmond. Osmond is a charming but worthless dilettante who sees Isabel as a beautiful prize, a mother for his daughter Pansy, and a source of easily attained wealth. From his cruel cynicism comes Isabel's tragic disillusionment.

In his exquisitely crafted and deeply ironic novel, Henry James depicts the heart and soul of a young woman whose destiny is taken from her own hands.

About the Author

Henry James (1843-1916) was born in New York, but settled in Europe in 1875, spending more than twenty years in London. Many of his novels, including Portrait of a Lady, are concerned with the contrast between American and European character. He wrote some twenty novels including The Europeans, Washington Square, The Bostonians, The Wings of a Dove, The Ambassadors, The American, Ghost Stories and Daisy Miller, all of which are available in Penguin Popular Classics.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Different editions 23 May 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Readers should note that the green Penguin Pocket Classics edition (and the old budget Popular Classics one to which this is the successor) use the original 1881 edition of the novel. James subsequently revised his work for the 1908 New York edition, and this latter one is used by most current paperback versions including Penguin's full-price Classics edition, along with those of Vintage and Wordsworth and others. Among many changes the final paragraph of the novel is substantially longer and less abrupt in the 1908 version.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Be careful what you ask for... 28 Mar 2006
Re-reading this novel again so closely after reading Trollope's Can You Forgive Her? I can't help being struck by the similarity between Isobel Archer and Alice Vavasour. Both characters have financial freedom but crave social and spiritual freedom. Alice has the common sense to realise just in time, that her dependable John Grey, despite giving the appearance of a conventional man keen on a quiet life within the confines of what society expects, is far more likely to allow the freedom Alice craves, after their marriage.

Isabel Archer however, mistakes a bohemian lifestyle on offer with Osmond for the freedom she seeks. Her stubborness and to a certain extent, her inverted snobbery, prevent her from taking Lord Warburton seriously, a man ready and willing to allow her to live as she craves. Osmond plays Isabel like a harp, appearing to offer what she desires and then closing the door on life forever using the very social conventions and expectations that Isabel has feared she would find with Lord Warburton. It is superb writing. Compare this piece of art with it's cleverly calibrated plot and clearly drawn characters with rubbish like the Shadow of the Wind and you despair that people don't take the time to really read something worthwhile.

Henry James must have read Trollope's novel. He's taken the same basic story and converted it very skillfully for his own needs.
It's probably the best of Henry James' novels, so if you have limited time, read this one. The book's structure is nearly perfect, the writing is sublime in the same closely worked way that Jane Austen's prose enthralls. It's well worth the effort.
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5 of 6 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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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
First of all, let me say to get it out of the way, I am a Henry James fan. He is a classic author of the first order. But this story, well I am having difficulty writing this review because I did not like the protagonist one bit.

Isabel Archer, so disturbingly beautiful, talented, and prize worthy (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, keeping 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.
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