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Portrait of a Lady, The

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  44,934 ratings  ·  1,523 reviews
The heroine of this powerful novel is the spirited young American Isabel Archer. Blessed by nature and fortune, she journeys to Europe to seek her future, but what she finds may prove to be her undoing. She is courted by three men: an English aristocrat, an American gentleman, and a sensitive expatriate. Her invalid cousin becomes her benefactor and adviser.

But it is after
...more
Audio CD
Published June 25th 2006 by Brilliance Audio (first published 1881)
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K.D. Absolutely
Oct 08, 2014 K.D. Absolutely rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books; 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2004-2010)
Shelves: 1001-core, 501, pre-1900
*SPOILER ALERT* (Read at your own risk)

My first time to read a book by Henry James.

Reading The Portrait of a Lady, said to be his finest novel, is like getting your workout at a gym.

After a day’s work you are tired. You are already zapped of energy. You feel like going to a bar and have a couple of beer listening to a funky live band or the crooning of a lovely young lady. Or you want to go to a nearby mall and sit in the comfort of a dark movie house. Probably sleep to rest for a couple of hour
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Renato Magalhães Rocha
Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady is considered to be one of the first American novels to make full use of social and psychological realism as European authors - such as Flaubert, Balzac and George Eliot - were already practicing in their works. Considered to be his biggest accomplishment along with The Ambassadors, Portrait added Isabel Archer to the company of great fictional heroines - as the likes of Elizabeth Bennet, Becky Sharp and Jane Eyre - and, in a century marked by unsatisfied bour ...more
Paul
Ugh, ech, the elitism that breeds in readers! We think we're such nicey cosy bookworms and wouldn't harm a fly but we seethe, we do. Of course, readers of books just naturally look down on those who don't read at all. In fact they try not to think of those people (nine tenths of the human race I suppose, but a tenth of the human race is still a big number) because it makes them shudder. (How lovely it would be to go riding in a carriage through some dreadful council estate flinging free copies o ...more
Petra Xtra Crunchy
Edited 18 May 2013
I've been reading a lot of Anthony Trollope's books recently and the stories, characters and writing is so much superior to this that I just can't get into it. "Frothy" is a word that comes to mind, also "was he paid by the word?" like Dickens.

I finished the book, finally. It was a chore. I did not find James' portrayal of a woman's personality convincing. That even though she had the financial power which was the reason why her husband had married her, she would still allow h
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Eric
This is my first James (not counting his little book on Hawthorne and scattered essays on French novelists), and I started it out of a sense of dutiful curiosity. I was not prepared for it to be such an engrossing masterpiece. There so much good stuff here: the psychological portraiture, the descriptive scene painting, the simple human energy of the plot.

James is such an odd bird because he was so steeped in the 19th century French fiction, was a social intimate of such Continental wellsprings
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Natalia
Oct 17, 2007 Natalia rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: english majors and masochists
Shelves: readforschool
Ugh.


If I could describe this book in one word it would be "Laborious."

If I were allowed more space, which apparently I am, I would go on to say that in addition to being deathly slow and horrifically boring it is also a little brilliant, a little impressive, and, if you have the patience to look for it, more than a little interesting.

There's a LOT in here. James wanted this novel to be the antidote to the Jane Austen romance. He wanted to show life as it is- money as a burden, marriage as a tr
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Rakhi Dalal
"Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it."
----- G.B.Shaw

With no offence to men at all, I quoted the above because of its relevance with this work by Henry James.

Essentially written about the idea of freedom / liberty, its assertion and realization, in the wake of limits imposed by conventions or moral ideals, specifically in case of women, is at the heart of this work. A beautiful Portrait, a work of art. An art work not because the protagonist is looked upon as an object b
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Whitaker
Four Portraits of a Novel

An Interview with Sigmund Freud circa 1911

Vell, zis book by zis man--vhat vas his name? Henry James--vas very very interesting. He is obviously a deeply conflicted individual. Quite clearly an invert filled mit self-loathzing, desiring ze men und at ze zame time hating himself for doing zo. Ve haf ze heroine of ze novel, Isabel Archer, who is pursued by two men: both of zem handsome, manly (vun of zem is efen called Goodwood) and very rich. Both of zem prepared to gif h
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Mike Puma
Aug 28, 2010 Mike Puma rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the verbally unchallenged
Exquisite, cozy, at times funny, at times sad, and unforgettable. I won’t bore readers with another summary of the story; they’re abundant on this site. I will say that with Isabel Archer, James earns his place in the canon with a proto-feminist (yes, I said it, proto-feminist) novel of a remarkable, if hard to describe heroine, who is faithful to her idea(l)s, rejects the affections of strong (but good) men, and suffers unnecessarily at the hands of a Machiavellian cad and an equally manipulati ...more
Juliana
May 02, 2008 Juliana rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people with a large vocabulary and a good attention span
When I finished this book, I threw it down on the table in anger and walked away muttering. I guess we all want books to end like.. well, books! Not like real life. We have enough real life around us. Aren't books for escaping all that?

Maybe. This book is probably a classic because it is complex enough to actually resemble the real world. People make mistakes. Small mistakes. Big mistakes. Life-changing mistakes. They also show a lot of spirit and charisma, which is also real. None of the charac
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Beth
I expected to like this more than I did. I found it needlessly long, occasionally pompous, and ultimately unsatisfying. Still, there's a lot of good stuff in here: the exciting independence of Isabel in the early chapters, her palpable misery in her marriage, the vivid and memorable secondary characters, and above all (for me, at least) the set pieces. James was always able to make me feel like I knew just what a room or garden looked and felt like -- though he also frequently made me feel as th ...more
Mariel
Feb 23, 2011 Mariel rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: sterile dilettantes
Recommended to Mariel by: paint a vulgar picture
I loved getting into Isabel's conflicted mind, her persuasions and her light switches turning on and off for reason. I can relate to that. I get goosebumps, or the shivers, when I can get that feeling outside. Like a soullish thing rubbing up against my skin. Ever feel like there could be ghosts? The freedom in already having lost feelings. Don't know what to do and need to get out, like Isabelle. I don't know what I think about the ending. Henry James could give judgementaly prickish endings to ...more
Christopher H.
One of the most enthralling and enchanting novels that I've read in a long, long time. The Portrait of a Lady is early Henry James (written in 1881), and as cliche as it may sound, it is a veritable masterpiece. There is simply so much going on within the covers of this elegantly crafted and sophisticated novel that it will take me a while to sort out my swirling thoughts and emotions upon finishing it. Simply put though, this is the story of the young American woman, Isabel Archer, and her voya ...more
Lara Amber
I made it 40% of the way through this monstrosity before I had to finally throw in the towel. Apparently no one ever told James "show don't tell" judging by the complete lack of action in this book. In fact nothing ever happens. It just drags on and on in an annoying narrative voice that is too fond of metaphor and long descriptive phrases that frequently cloud more then they illuminate. The characters are complete twits, without a single redeeming quality among them. Judging by the way he write ...more
Martine
Mar 01, 2008 Martine rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of good nineteenth-century drama
The Portrait of a Lady has to be my favourite of the fifteen or so Henry James books I've read. The crowning achievement of James' middle period, when he had honed his powers of observation to perfection but had not yet slipped into the long-winded obscurity that makes his later novels so hard to read, it is in my opinion one of the most perfect novels of the nineteenth century. Very little actually happens in it, but what little does happen is described so exquisitely that you hardly notice it' ...more
Yulia
What I love about this edition is that the James expert in the introduction cites all the flaws that were so glaring to me in the beginning of the book: Ralph and his father's constantly applauding Lord Warburton for his fine conversation, the father telling Lord Warburton not to fall in love with his niece (I didn't see that coming!), one of them mentioning how amusing the other is (hahaha). It was just intolerable how heavy-handed the dialogue was. Nor did I find it cute how much of a caricatu ...more
Adam
Honestly? Isabel Archer isn't extraordinary at all. So I take this book as kind of a comedy about how a bunch of English pranksters messed with a bland American girl, pretending she was amazing to see what would happen, and then felt pretty bad about it when it turned out wrong. Which is actually pretty close to the real plot, too. The "honest simple faithful guy" found here was way too similar to the farmer guy in "Far From The Madding Crowd" to me, and I guess that's just a stock character. I ...more
David
Sep 11, 2009 David marked it as own-but-not-yet-read  ·  review of another edition
It strikes me that one's experience of reading "Portrait of a Lady", which in my edition clocks in at 630 pages, is likely to be colored by one's previous experience with James, and the resulting predisposition. Since my unlikely conversion upon reading "The Ambassadors", I am quite favorably predisposed. Thus, when instead of telling us that "the three people enjoying tea on the lawn were all men", Henry instead delivers himself of this sentence:

"The persons concerned in it (the tea party) were
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Gwen
Jun 12, 2007 Gwen rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: romantics, endurance runners
I went into this knowing literally NOTHING about the book or James' writing. This was one of those books where I'd fall asleep after twelve pages, drop it off of the bed and forget it existed for weeks at a time. The amount of months invested in this book eventually made it much more emotionally potent for me. I expected it to go in a stereotypical direction and it shocked me. The last few chapters went by in an excited blur and I cried, shocked, on the metro.
Cheryl
Oh dear Isabel. Why, I'm afraid, I can't keep up with you. They are right, you ARE "written in a foreign tongue."

You "spend half your time thinking of beauty and bravery and magnanimity." You think it "detestable to be afraid or ashamed." You had a "general idea that people were right" when they treated you as if you "were rather superior."

Despite that, I wanted to stay with you on your quest for freedom because irregardless of the year, 1881 or 2013, aren't we all still on a quest for freedom?
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Chrissie
I listened to the audiobook version narrated by actor John Wood. This is the 1881 edition, not the later one from 1906, which is known as the "New York Edition". Unfortunately, the later edition, which many claim has a better ending, was not available anywhere as an audiobook.

While reading this I have been discussing it with first Simran (here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) and then Margaret (here: https://www.goodreads.com/user_status...)

Review: I enjoyed this book because of the
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Loren
It was of utmost importance that Isabelle Archer, with all of her singular intellectual and ethical gifts as well as her unpolluted virginal sweetness, marry the right man. She doesn't. She picks the wrong, wrong, wrongest one imaginable, and you know she's doing it while she's doing it, and why she's doing it, and it's painstakingly horrible to witness. To the point where you can feel the author's sadistic glee at orchestrating this painful denouement oozing off the pages. Bad Touch, Henry Jame ...more
els
Insanely good; a book I wish everyone would read. Incredibly heartbreaking. Worth the six months it took me to read the damn thing in the middle of my own personal marriage drama. It is very crazy to me that I chose to read this book when I did and finished it when I did. The end almost killed me. I relate to and pity and feel angry toward Isabel Archer almost more than any other literary character I can think of. She is going to be in my heart for a long time. I loved Anna Karenina as a novel, ...more
Clare Cannon
In this magnificent work James explores the types of human love and where they lead, including infatuation and the weakness of the heart—which can affect even the noblest of people—and the strength of character required to live with the consequences of one's choice. Isabel Archer is a joyful, spirited character who is required to mature through deep suffering, and who emerges with the quiet strength and dignity that comes with acceptance of one's responsibility. A wise book for every girl to rea ...more
JonSnow
At first I was not sure whether I would enjoy this novel. Henry James must have used every conceivable personal pronoun and term of address for the opening characters in the first couple dozen pages, to the point of maddeningly annoying me! BUT WAIT:

I loved this novel! (the aforementioned criticism aside)

This is one instance wherein you should not judge it till you finish it. My earlier opinion was maybe 3/5 stars, during the first 150 or so pages. As the plots thickened, I really got to know th
...more
Brandon
What would you do if you came in contact with undistilled malevolence? How about if you married evil itself? This is what Isabel Archer—the epitome of the beautiful, rambunctious American woman traveling abroad—did. Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady centers around the actions and choices Isabel makes as she tries to create a life for herself after acquiring a prodigious fortune from her dying uncle.

Now, I haven't every one of James' novels, but I'm comfortable saying Isabel is James' most well
...more
Ebookwormy
Henry James is, admittedly, long winded. At times, one does feel like you want him to move along already. However, he is always worth the read to me.

In this book, I love the character of Isabel Archer. She is young, full of ideas, wants to travel and see the world and have experiences (i remember being that way!). One must also remember that society for young women at this time was much more restrictive and Isabel's ideas less likely to be satisfied. Her greatest quality, however, is her desire
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Ann
I sometimes worry that my Goodreads page will, if I’m not careful, turn into my personal Society for the Appreciation of Totally Mainstream, Not-At-All-Obscure, Dead European Man-Writers And Their Already-Leatherbound-and-Modern-Library-Canonized Works…but if my (mostly) chaste and (completely) non-ironic passion for Henry James is wrong, then I don’t want to be right. You don't need me to tell you about the finely distilled genius of this book - how the characters link and uncouple from scene t ...more
Suzanne
I so enjoyed this reading experience: the extraordinary portrayal of the characters, their relationships and psychology; the themes (too numerous and nuanced to go into here); and, not least, the prose. James’ long, luxurious sentences carried me along in such a headlong rush, I felt like I was on a runaway train. But a very elegantly appointed train.
dely
3,5

Come si fa a non provare della compassione per la povera Isabel Archer? Era una giovane donna indipendente, amante della propria libertà, piena di voglia di vivere, entusiasta di conoscere il mondo, intelligente e salda nei suoi valori e princìpi. Rimane vittima di persone subdole che le spezzano l'anima e le tolgono lentamente tutto ciò in cui credeva.
È lei la protagonista principale di questo romanzo ambientato alla fine del 1800. Isabel Archer vive in America e viene portata in Europa da u
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Catching up on Cl...: Portrait: No Spoilers 24 30 Mar 24, 2014 03:58PM  
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Henry James, OM, son of theologian Henry James Sr., brother of the philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James, was an American-born author, one of the founders and leaders of a school of realism in fiction. He spent much of his life in England and became a British subject shortly before his death. He is primarily known for a series of major novels in which he portrayed the ...more
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“It has made me better loving you... it has made me wiser, and easier, and brighter. I used to want a great many things before, and to be angry that I did not have them. Theoretically, I was satisfied. I flattered myself that I had limited my wants. But I was subject to irritation; I used to have morbid sterile hateful fits of hunger, of desire. Now I really am satisfied, because I can’t think of anything better. It’s just as when one has been trying to spell out a book in the twilight, and suddenly the lamp comes in. I had been putting out my eyes over the book of life, and finding nothing to reward me for my pains; but now that I can read it properly I see that it’s a delightful story.” 300 likes
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