Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Portrait of a Lady” as Want to Read:
The Portrait of a Lady
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Read Book* *Different edition

The Portrait of a Lady

3.75  ·  Rating Details ·  55,705 Ratings  ·  1,919 Reviews
"The Portrait of a Lady" is the most stunning achievement of Henry James's early period--in the 1860s and '70s when he was transforming himself from a talented young American into a resident of Europe, a citizen of the world, and one of the greatest novelists of modern times. A kind of delight at the success of this transformation informs every page of this masterpiece. Is ...more
Paperback, 635 pages
Published March 5th 1998 by Oxford University Press (first published 1881)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Portrait of a Lady, please sign up.

Popular Answered Questions

Marcy The theme!? It is obviously about women, and men, and marriage, and human relations! A masterpiece.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
K.D. Absolutely
Oct 08, 2014 K.D. Absolutely rated it really liked it  ·  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
...more
Petra X
May 05, 2015 Petra X rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, reviewed
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 herself to be physi
...more
Glenn Sumi
10 Things I Love About Henry James’s The Portrait Of A Lady

1. Isabel Archer
The “lady” in the title. Beautiful, young, headstrong and spirited, the American woman visits her wealthy relatives in England, rejects marriage proposals by two worthy suitors, inherits a fortune and then is manipulated into marrying one of the most odious creatures on the planet, Gilbert Osmond. She’s utterly fascinating, and if I were back in university, I imagine having long conversations and arguments about her chara
...more
Paul Bryant
Oct 13, 2012 Paul Bryant rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
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
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
Mike Puma
Aug 28, 2010 Mike Puma rated it it was amazing  ·  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
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
...more
Natalia
Oct 17, 2007 Natalia rated it liked it  ·  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
...more
Jasmine
The ancient Greek tragedian Euripides popped up in my mind while reading Henry James' (1843-1916) masterpieces Daisy Miller and The Portrait of a Lady. (*) Readers of Euripides’ work have to ask themselves whether Euripides was a misogynist or if he showed true sympathy for the Athenian women who suffered from the rigorous patriarchy in Athenian society. I, on my part, was astonished by Euripides’ portrayal of women and their oppression and I came to the conclusion that Euripides indirectly crit ...more
Rakhi Dalal
Apr 13, 2014 Rakhi Dalal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
"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
...more
helen the bookowl
May 25, 2016 helen the bookowl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of Isabel, an American who goes to England to meet new people and see more of the world. Isabel is very curious of nature, and when she gradually starts receiving different proposals from various men, she declines them all - that is because she wants to maintain her freedom which is very important to her.
I really liked this story. I felt like it was very easy to read and connect with the main character as well as a lot of the other characters. The first pages of the story were
...more
Apatt
Jul 13, 2016 Apatt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Henry James would probably get all well with Thomas Hardy The Portrait of a Lady is a tragedy almost of Tess of the d'Urbervilles proportions.

Character study novels are extraordinary things, the plot is mostly fairly mundane but when you get to really know the characters, when they resonate with you, the personal crises they go through become fascinating because they are like people you know. It has that lovely fly on the wall appeal for nosey parkers like myself. However, it takes an immense t
...more
Whitaker
Jun 03, 2014 Whitaker rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canon, 2009-read
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
...more
Juliana
May 02, 2008 Juliana rated it really liked it  ·  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
...more
Jean-Paul Werner Walshaw-Sauter

description


“The Portrait of a Lady” is the first of Henry James' works of fiction that I have read and I'm already hooked and hunger for more! This novel is not just a psychological portrait of a lady but also a pictorial portrait. Henry James is a pure aesthete. The book is dotted with references to painting, sculpture, architecture and various exquisite “bibelots”, as well as to the beauty of nature. James paints his characters and the local colours of England and Italy in all their changing shades of li
...more
[P]
Oct 05, 2015 [P] rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bitchin
This is the sexiest novel of all time. You’re screwing up your face right now, I can tell. It is though, it’s sexy as fuck. People often want to tell you that Henry James’ greatest flaw was his lack of passion. Nabokov, if I recall correctly, labelled his work blonde. I don’t think he meant that in the way that modern readers would understand it i.e. as a synonym for dumb, but rather as one for bland. Katherine Mansfield once said of E.M. Forster that he was like a lukewarm teapot [ha!], and tha ...more
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
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
Jun 11, 2009 Lara Amber rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
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
Beth
Sep 09, 2007 Beth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Malia
Dec 14, 2015 Malia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2015
While reading The Portrait of A Lady, I kept thinking, this is a book that should be illustrated by John Singer Sargent. There is an opulence, a lushness and attention to detail here so in tune with the painter's work, and, too, there is a distance, a slight chasm between the subject and the audience.

I won't summarize the plot, but for such a long book, I have to say, I was engaged and interested the whole time. Despite several characters' slight frostiness, the scenery was almost a character in
...more
Sketchbook
Dec 21, 2014 Sketchbook rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Henry James was a bottom.

With this apercu in mind, you needn't get fussed up as to why Isabel Archer returns to Osmond. ~~ With the exception of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's illuminating criticism ("Epistemology of the Closet," 1990) there hasn't been any fresh Jamesian crit in over 50 years.

As the French would say, he's "de trop."

Mariel
Feb 23, 2011 Mariel rated it liked it  ·  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
Adam
Jan 12, 2008 Adam rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
KOHEY.Y.
review to come!
Martine
Mar 01, 2008 Martine rated it it was amazing  ·  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
James
May 11, 2015 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It has been a good eight years or so since I last read Portrait of a Lady and this time around I feel I was in a better position to appreciate James' work. The book is packed with moral dilemmas; Isabel's choices strike at the very heart of our modern situation. Questions of money and the role of convention and culture in guiding individual decision-making are given a masterful treatment. I would also say that Isabel is very much a Faustian figure; she brings from the new world a sense of great ...more
Yulia
May 02, 2008 Yulia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Alex
"I'm so tired of old books about tea," said my friend Lauren recently, and I hope she stays the hell away from snobby constipated Henry James. Here he is with the least engaging first sentence in literature:
"Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea."
Many of the other sentences are also about tea. But it's not all tea; while they drink tea they talk! And talk, and talk. James reminds me of your shitty cow
...more
Gwen
Jun 12, 2007 Gwen rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
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
...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
The Readers Revie...: Week One - Chapters 1-7 64 53 Oct 21, 2014 12:57PM  
If you haven't read the book till the end don't click here! 8 67 Oct 16, 2014 06:20AM  
Catching up on Cl...: Film -Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James 1 20 Apr 14, 2014 05:23AM  
Catching up on Cl...: Portrait: Spoiler Thread 15 36 Apr 06, 2014 04:00PM  
How is Gilbert Osmond so bad? 25 221 Mar 29, 2014 11:48AM  
Catching up on Cl...: Portrait: No Spoilers 24 36 Mar 24, 2014 03:58PM  
Catching up on Cl...: Portrait: Background & All That Stuff, Spoilers 2 17 Mar 08, 2014 03:11PM  
  • The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling
  • The Custom of the Country
  • Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady
  • The Life of Charlotte Brontë
  • Poor Miss Finch
  • Dombey and Son
  • The Mill on the Floss
  • Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece
  • Villette
  • Barchester Towers (Chronicles of Barsetshire #2)
  • Where Angels Fear to Tread
  • The Blithedale Romance
  • The Return of the Native
  • Sybil, or the Two Nations
  • The Doctor's Wife
159
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
More about Henry James...

Share This Book



“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.” 343 likes
“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” 277 likes
More quotes…