Top positive review
16 of 16 people found this helpful
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.