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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
The Portrait Of A Lady
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on 16 August 2014
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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on 3 April 2015
A dense novel without much action whose main attraction is the clarity of thought of the writer.

It is a portrait of the very peculiar trait of some people which reads as hope, potential, aspiration, and perhaps, by its very existence, the latent elevation of humanity. Henry James is great on noble feelings and rarefied human essence, and this novel is the prize example of such a story, told in a his typically lucid style.
As opposed to some of his other late novels, the story has sufficient rhythm and action (just enough and no more) to be coherent in the eyes of this reader.

The scenes are upper class, New England, London, Milano and Rome. The dynamics involve noble unrequited love and standing marriage proposals, friendship, admiration and manipulation, a young woman's independence, and most importantly: what to do with life when you don't have to work for a living.

It is no easy read and you have to give him time to grow on you. Henry James is much about what other writers would say between the lines. He does not bother the reader with much background story of the figures, it is here and now, what they think, what they expect, what they feel: consciousness in a practical context, I suppose is what it boils down to.

This and The American are the best of his mature novels I have read so far.
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on 5 May 2017
Really enjoyed it difficult to read but beautifully​ written very long but good i got into it and finished it
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on 25 September 2017
A very interesting introduction by the author. I had only read James' short stories before but am really enjoying Portrait of a Lady, despite its inherent elitism. Great writing and observation.
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on 11 August 2017
A tremendous read.
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on 19 September 2017
A good flowing read of the 19th century period. Strong characters and a moving and interesting travelogue of England and Italy
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on 26 July 2017
a good read
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on 31 August 2017
A most enjoyable read after so many years
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on 12 October 2017
Author just likes to write, almost anything than get to the crux of the story
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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 Machiavellian 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 let’s 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 wonder about what is meant by freedom and duty/responsibility. This is really a must read book.
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