The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James The Modern Library, 2001 Originally Published 1881 565 pages Classic 4/5 stars
I started this in order...moreThe Portrait of a Lady by Henry James The Modern Library, 2001 Originally Published 1881 565 pages Classic 4/5 stars
I started this in order to add some more classics to my knowledge. It was my first James and I chose it because it was one of his first masterpieces, according to canon. I was thinking it would be something like Edith Wharton's writing. That is somewhat true as the minutiae of upper-class people and the dictates of society are the focus. Let's start with a summary, which kind of has spoilers but this book is over 100 years old so I don't feel bad about that or anything.
Isabel is a young American who inherits wealth from her uncle. She rejects proposals from the wealthy polite Lord Warburton and the energetic American businessman Caspar Goodwood. Isabel eventually marries Count Osmond, a poor American in Italy, despite the objections from her cousin Ralph, her aunt Mrs. Touchett, and her friend Henrietta. After several years of marriage, she finally realizes what they recognized from the start: Osmond is not a romantic exciting man. He is narrow-minded and controlling; he raised his daughter to bend entirely to his will and he expected his wife to conform to his dictates as well, acting as an ornament to his pride rather than as an independent person. He also wanted her money. The first part of the novel covers her interactions with people and her decision to marry. The pulls of her own spirit versus her perceived duty to her husband define the second part, ending with her decision to remain with her husband.
I chose this as the book considered one of James's earliest masterpieces. I was hoping that it would be fairly accessible, which I found it to be and that the style wouldn't be too radical. I think I've read that James went very extreme in later books but maybe not yet? I will need to read more of him before I can decide. Any recommendations?
I feel completely unable to embark on a full analysis of James's style but I can mention some things I noticed. There were many instances where a single paragraph would take up a page or even two; there would just be pages and pages of lingering descriptions of Isabel and those around her. As the story progressed though, there was more dialogue and less of a focus on Isabel. Instead there were (seemingly) peripheral events described. Important events are skipped over such as the actual marriage of Isabel and Osmond and the birth and death of their child while seemingly insignificant conversations are recorded. The book is narrated by an omniscient narrator, who occasionally inserts himself into the book using "I." While the narrator knows more than the reader, he doles out that bit of knowledge sparingly.
I am glad that I am already familiar with some of the old-fashioned mores and standards or I would have found them even more bewildering. For example, Isabel is determined to not share her unhappiness in marriage with anyone. She will not consider leaving her husband despite his brutality and the encouragement of friends. This could seem bizarre under current standards but this book is from the late nineteenth century with upper-class continental Europeans, a vastly different society. Even so, there were some frustrating moments.
There were still several upsetting moments for me. First that Isabel threw away possible happiness with Goodwood in favor of her ill-advised attachment to Osmond. She denied the idea that the slightly sinister Madame Merle influenced her marriage before finally realizing that it was so. The other upsetting instant revolved around Pansy Osmond, the daughter of Osmond who he has trained to obey, kind of like a dog. She represses her independent thoughts and gives up her love because it does not please her father's pride. While Isabel returns to her husband, it seems to stem partly from her promise to love and watch over Pansy. However I fear that both women will continue to suffer under Osmond's thumb, leaving a tragic pall over the conclusion.
There's so much more to discuss but I'm going to stop now with my Overall: A surprisingly accessible example of Henry James's prose; I am eager to read more of his work.(less)
A Passage to India by E.M. Forster Harcourt, Inc, 1952 Originally Published 1924 362 pages Classic; FITG 3.5/5
Source: Bought and read for class
Summary: Ade...moreA Passage to India by E.M. Forster Harcourt, Inc, 1952 Originally Published 1924 362 pages Classic; FITG 3.5/5
Source: Bought and read for class
Summary: Adela Quested and Mrs. Moore are British citizens, excited to journey to India and see the scenery. A new friend of Mrs. Moore's, Dr. Aziz invites them to see the Marabar Caves where a most unfortunate incident occurs leading to a court case and aggravating relations between the British colonizers and the colonized Indians.
I was really excited about this but I was left unsatisfied. I was expecting a tale of the clash of cultures as Anglo/Indian relations were explored and gender roles were examined. And to a degree, I got that. But the prose was not to my liking at all. Forster's descriptions of the scenery were so boring (almost Tolkien-esque-the only way I got through LOTR was by skimming the endless scenery descriptions and focusing on the actual plot) and it was very slow-moving. The incident described on the book-flap is Aziz being falsely accused of sexually molesting Adela; do you know when that happens? Nearly halfway through the book! Before that, there is plenty of description and a lot of set-up to establish the personalities of the characters and the relationship between the British and the Indians.
I didn't particularly like any of the characters either. The four main characters are Brits Adela, Mrs. Moore, and college principal Fielding in addition to Indian doctor Aziz. My inability to feel completely connected to any of them soured my opinion of this book. I'm not sure if that was part of Forster's intention. However this is an useful book for study of the time period. Rising nationalism makes an appearance and is a topic I find fascinating.
Overall: I was really disappointed; have I missed something huge with regards to Forster? I'd love to give him another try-any recommendations?(less)
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood Fawcett Crest, 1985 395 pages Dystopian; Feminist; Classic 4/5 stars
Summary: Offred is a Handmaid in...moreThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood Fawcett Crest, 1985 395 pages Dystopian; Feminist; Classic 4/5 stars
Summary: Offred is a Handmaid in a dystopian nation formed out of the US. As a Handmaid, her sole preoccupation is to become pregnant by the Commander; any child produced will then go to the Commander and his wife. In this society, people are sharply divided in to different ranks, with little interaction. Offred can remember some of the time before when she had a husband and a child but those memories are fading.
Thoughts: I had tried to read this once before but failed due to my workload and I think it also had something to do with the writing. It's written in stream of consciousness style which works with the story but is not at all my preference. It is also less plot driven and more about Offred thinking about her past, what the future might hold, and how she feels without her doing anything. Not that she could do anything in the very hierarchical and patriarchal society in which she lives. I think I just found it too depressing and terrifying.
Overall: I can see why this is such an acclaimed story and it is well-written but it's not quite my taste.
Cover: I find the cover very striking. Long before I read this, I noticed it and thought it looked really weird.
Has anyone seen the movie? It seems like a hard book to adapt.(less)