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4.3 out of 5 stars14
4.3 out of 5 stars
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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.
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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 7 May 2016
I've just finished reading this for the second time - this time for a university course - and the ending left me as puzzled and unsettled as it did the first time. Henry James is an almost unbearably elegant writer, and I wonder, perhaps uncharitably, if his portrait of the crushing of spirited Isabel Archer by the death-dealing Gilbert Osmond and his embittered eminence grise, Madame Merle, is rooted in too close an acquaintance with the stultifying consequences of placing an inordinate importance on good taste and an over-reliance on the approval of others. God, I was willing her to marry Ralph Touchett, or perhaps Lord Warburton - even the oafish Caspar Goodwood would have been better than Osmond. But to go back to him - for Heaven's sake, girl, what are you THINKING? I wonder if anybody has attempted a sequel to this beautiful, disturbing masterpiece, where our heroine finally gets her revenge, perhaps by oh-so-elegantly murdering the little weasel by poisoning his claret and framing her nemesis before rescuing Pansy from the convent and running off to Boston to start a women's publishing house with Henrietta Stackpole. Mmm. . .appealing idea. . .
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on 5 September 2015
Great book, prompt delivery, safe packing. Many thanks. John
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on 17 April 2016
As described, arrived in time.
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on 16 September 2015
Excellent
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on 4 January 2015
far too long and wordy ruined my christmasoon andon and on
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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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