Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James


Title:  The Portrait of a Lady

Author: Henry James

Narrated by:  John Wood

Publisher: Audible

Length: Approximately 23 hours and 55 minutes

Source: Purchased from 

 Has a second read of a book changed the way your have perceived a novel?

 The Portrait of a Lady was the October selection of the Back to the Classics Book Club at the Kewaunee Public Library.  I had previously read this novel when I was in college.

 The Portrait of a Lady follows the journey of Isabel Archer as she comes to England to meet her Uncle and Cousin and decide what she wants to do with life.  She has a variety of suitors and choses the wrong one. 

 I had a hard time with The Portrait of a Lady this time around.  It was a very slow book to read.  I thought it would help to listen to it on audiobook, but even on audiobook, it really dragged for me.  When I got to book club, it seemed that we were all in agreement that this book was very slow.  I could see why Ernest Hemingway was considered to be so innovative.  James really needed to cut down on his prose.  I really enjoyed Washington Square by Henry James as well as The Turn of the Screw.  Shorter works better for him.  The Portrait of a Lady was first published in the Atlantic Monthly and it seems like it was stretched out because it was a periodical.

 I think a problem that I had with it as well as other book club members is that we are constantly told that Isabel is quite special and has such potential, but it is hard to see it in the novel.  Why exactly is she special?  She seems to make very poor choices.  It’s almost like she picked the man to marry because he was the only one that seemed to be indifferent to her.  The ending of the book made me very angry.  Is she a lady because she chooses to stay with a man that treats her badly instead of getting a divorce?  I don’t know.  The meaning of it all was not working for me. 

 Henry James was writing about a woman, but it seemed almost that he didn’t like women and thought them foolish in their decisions.  He didn’t really seem to understand women.

 What am I missing?  Why did I like this book when I was in college?  Is there anyone that would like to tell me why this is a classic and beloved?


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