Marija's Reviews > The Portrait of a Lady

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Oct 06, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: classics
Read from May 22 to October 06, 2010

When I approach a work written by Henry James, I know that I’m going to be reading something that’s very good and well written… something I’ll end up enjoying. But when it comes to writing about one of his stories, trying to organize all of those dense themes coherently on paper, that’s another matter entirely.

The Portrait of a Lady is certainly one of his masterpieces, providing the reader with a brief study of those formative years for Isabel Archer. She’s the epitome of 19th Century American youth—innocent and impressionable, thrust into the overwhelming social conventions that have been instilled as a part of European society for centuries. For Isabel, contact with this society and meeting fellow compatriots that have already succumbed to these conventions eventually leads to a slow asphyxiation of her own desires and beliefs. It forces her to forego her fears of intimacy and independence, and take up tradition. Though doing so opens up even more hardships, which finally culminate with Isabel’s complete disillusionment and forlorn acceptance of her current situation. It’s certainly a depressing tale and one that doesn’t really have a good satisfying conclusion.

However with James, the conclusion isn’t necessarily important; it’s the journey… the mystery and recognizing how well the deception is played out and how it affects the main characters in different ways. And even though I already knew how the story would conclude before reading, the journey James takes us on… all of those psychological twists, those observations of character and place—how all of these subtle details come together makes the book a satisfying read.

An excellent piece of fiction, though I must say I do prefer The Spoils of Poynton and its somewhat sensational and ironic ending.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana I have to confess, I couldn't get even through 10 pages of this novel:(


Marija You know... I did have some problems as well with the beginning. You can see how long it took me to read it. I'd read a chapter or 10 pages at the most, then put it down for another day... or month. ;) But when I really gave it a chance, like these past couple of weeks, I saw what James was doing and ended up really enjoying it.


Marija But The Spoils of Poynton is a much easier read. And it's much shorter.


message 4: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana I might try reading it.


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