Brendan Hodge's Reviews > The Portrait of a Lady

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Apr 09, 12

Read in March, 2012

I'd never read any Henry James before, though I did see the Nicole Kidman movie adaptation of Portrait of a Lady some years ago because... well, because it was a costume drama with Nicole Kidman in it.

This was one of those novels I have a feeling I wouldn't have finished if it weren't that I was listening to it on audio book, mostly while commuting, and thus couldn't set it aside and start something as else as easily as with a "real" book. The first half or so of the book is by turns slow and frustrating, as everyone who meets young Isabel Archer falls inexplicably in love with her despite the fact she shows few really interesting qualities other than being young, pretty and seemingly full of potential (potential for what neither the reader nor the characters never seem all that clear.) After spending my last few reads with Dorothea Brooke of Middlemarch, the eponymous Jane Eyre and Anne Elliot of Persuasion, Isabel Archer is a fairly weak and un-knowing main character.

What makes the book gripping for the last third to quarter of its length is the presence of thoroughly fascinating villain in the form of Gilbert Osmond, who charms Isabel into marrying him and then makes her life a misery while almost never actually stepping outside the bounds of correct behavior. I kept waiting for something more fascinating to happen with him to make the novel worth while, but the conclusion in some ways just trails off rather than tying off what I found most interesting about the latter part of the book.

James' actual writing is interesting, and during the parts of the book it was paired with events that I found involving it could be truly gripping, but the rest of the time it seemed to be showing off without really doing anything.
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