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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Different editions
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...
Published on 23 May 2008 by Amazon Customer

versus
2.0 out of 5 stars Although this is a classic, I was disappointed in it.
I found this book slow-moving and tedious. It was not a question of not being able to put it down, but of not being able to
pick it up. I have read a quarter of it and had to leave it for a while to read 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall' for our Book Club.
Perhaps I will continue it when I can, to see if it improves.
Published 6 months ago by Gillian Mary Townson


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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Different editions, 23 May 2008
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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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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The real offense was her having a mind of her own at all.", 12 July 2004
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
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 strict rules of behavior. 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. Distanced and formal, he presents psychologically realistic characters whose behavior is a direct outgrowth of their upbringing, their conflicts resulting from the differences between their expectations and the reality of their changed settings. The subordinate characters, Ralph Touchett, Pansy Osmond, her suitor Edward Rosier, American journalist Henrietta Stackpole, Isabel's former suitor Caspar Stackpole, and Lord Warburton, whose love of Isabel leads him to court Pansy, are as fascinating psychologically and as much a product of their own upbringing as is Isabel.
As the setting moves from America to England, Paris, Florence, and Rome, James develops his themes, and as Isabel's life becomes more complex, her increasingly difficult and emotionally affecting choices about her life make her increasingly fascinating to the reader. James's trenchant observations about the relationship between individuals and society and about the effects of one's setting on one's behavior are enhanced by the elegance and density of his prose, making this a novel one must read slowly--and savor. Mary Whipple
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11 of 12 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Drawing-room Darkness, 21 Aug 2012
By 
Mr. D. James "nonsuch" (london, uk) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady
________________________________________
It's been coming for a long time - my first reading of The Portrait of a Lady. Half a century ago at university, I skipped the James option, but later got hooked on The American and The Ambassadors. For some reason I, too, couldn't enthuse about The Golden Bowl and have even recently found What Maisie Knew a bit of a drag. Washington Square, though, since 'teaching' it. has always been my favourite James and in many ways The Portrait reminds me of WS.

The isolated good heroine theme persists in James. She is always surrounded by advisors and controllers or would-be controllers from whom she has to fight free. Sadly. social mores always triumph over self-expression and, as in most Victorian fiction, duty always wins. Love, that other 4 letter word, usually brings disaster to the heroine, who is either locked up in a convent in the end or obediently returns to her controllers.

If you can stay with it this is an enthralling novel. One really cares about Isabel and comes to loathe some of her suitors. Surely the triple-suitor-for- the-heroine motif is taken from Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd and Caspar Goodwood is not a million miles away from Mr Boldwood. They were so obsessed by marriage, weren't they, these Victorians, not to mention their forerunners, Austen, Richardson et al.

But, as others on this thread have pointed out, the plot is not the main element - it is in fact pretty conventional - and the style is everything. Talk about The Psychological Novel! HJ just won't leave a notion alone without teasing it to death, surrounding it by pussyfooting subjunctives and absenting himself as narrator in saying such as 'this is no part of our story.'

As a warm-up to Proust this is an admirable taster of what has been called 'The Mandarin Style.' If you enjoy style and re-reading sentences for the sheer delight in language and selection of le mot juste you'll love it.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of world litterature, 9 Oct 2002
By A Customer
What makes this book a masterpiece is the incredible art of creating characters. The complexity, the nuances and the strength of the characters created can only be compared with stendhal or flauber. James also succeeds in portraying british and american society in the beginning of the century forming a comparison still quite relevant. The language is brilliant and the story beautiful. A must-read.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The real offense was her having a mind of her own at all.", 13 Feb 2005
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
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. Distanced and formal, he presents psychologically realistic characters whose behavior is a direct outgrowth of their upbringing, with their conflicts resulting from the differences between their expectations and the reality of their changed settings. The subordinate characters, Ralph Touchett, Pansy Osmond, her suitor Edward Rosier, American journalist Henrietta Stackpole, Isabel's former suitor Caspar Stackpole, and Lord Warburton, whose love of Isabel leads him to court Pansy, are as fascinating psychologically and as much a product of their own upbringing as is Isabel.
As the setting moves from America to England, Paris, Florence, and Rome, James develops his themes, and as Isabel's life becomes more complex, her increasingly difficult and emotionally affecting choices about her life make her increasingly fascinating to the reader. James's trenchant observations about the relationship between individuals and society and about the effects of one's setting on one's behavior are enhanced by the elegance and density of his prose, making this a novel one must read slowly--and savor. Mary Whipple
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5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece, 16 Aug 2014
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So often 19th century literature tells us about beautiful, smart women whose main purpose in life is finding love and the perfect husband. Isabel is different. She thinks there is more to life than getting married, she doesn't want to settle down before having explored what the world has to offer: "I don't see what harm there is in my wishing not to tie myself. I don't want to begin life by marrying. There are other things a woman can do." How refreshing and modern for her time! Isabel's cousin Ralph, who loves her without hope, is the only person who really understands and supports her. In fact, thanks to Ralph she becomes a rich heiress. Ralph wishes her to have the means to do everything she wants in life, to have choices, but unfortunately with wealth come deceitful false friends and fortune hunters...I admit there were moments in the book where I thought it heavy, especially the part where Osmond courts Isabel. I disliked him so much that I found it frustrating to see her fall into the trap. I am so glad I decided to continue until the end! The relationship between Isabel and Ralph is one of the most beautiful I have ever read about. At the end of the story you feel like you know these characters so well that it makes you think that all the words that you thought were superfluous and made the reading at times hard-going were exactly right and necessary for you to understand. The ending was at first disappointing, it was not what I had hoped for. At the same time it made me think and wonder for many days after reading the last page. This is one of the best books I've read recently and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is one of my favourite classics and I read it at least every other year., 11 Sep 2013
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this book is I think, a work of genius. A rather brash American girl is flung into an American family in England and wishes to be cultured. She is left money and goes to Italy where she meets and marries a cultured man. He is really interested in her money. She had an admirer Lord Warburton who her husband wants to marry Pansy his daughter. From then on all is explained to her and what follows is .....
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The real offense was her having a mind of her own at all.", 2 Jun 2006
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Portrait Of A Lady (Paperback)
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. Distanced and formal, he presents psychologically realistic characters whose behavior is a direct outgrowth of their upbringing, with their conflicts resulting from the differences between their expectations and the reality of their changed settings. The subordinate characters, Ralph Touchett, Pansy Osmond, her suitor Edward Rosier, American journalist Henrietta Stackpole, Isabel's former suitor Caspar Stackpole, and Lord Warburton, whose love of Isabel leads him to court Pansy, are as fascinating psychologically and as much a product of their own upbringing as is Isabel.

As the setting moves from America to England, Paris, Florence, and Rome, James develops his themes, and as Isabel's life becomes more complex, her increasingly difficult and emotionally affecting choices about her life make her increasingly fascinating to the reader. James's trenchant observations about the relationship between individuals and society and about the effects of one's setting on one's behavior are enhanced by the elegance and density of his prose, making this a novel one must read slowly--and savor.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars New World womanhood suppressed but triumphant, 1 April 2003
Isobel Archer, the cream of American womanhood, makes an unhappy marriage and lives in a fascinating but decadent Italy. Her New World classlessness belies her ease and familiarity among English aristocracy. Isobel's willingness to endure her living despair at her domestic and Europe-bound constraints results from her personal moral values which her North American Puritan background has given her.
Being British myself, I took 'The Portrait of a Lady' more seriously at first than when I reflected hard upon the declining Henry James's own succumbing to Old Europe's temptations by becoming a British subject in 1915, shortly before his death. But its sheer power as a novel stands. A must for Donald Rumsfeld's retirement reading.
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