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The Portrait of a Lady

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3.78  ·  Rating details ·  77,098 ratings  ·  3,343 reviews
When Isabel Archer, a beautiful, spirited American, is brought to Europe by her wealthy Aunt Touchett, it is expected that she will soon marry. But Isabel, resolved to determine her own fate, does not hesitate to turn down two eligible suitors. She then finds herself irresistibly drawn to Gilbert Osmond, who, beneath his veneer of charm and cultivation, is cruelty itself. ...more
Paperback, 797 pages
Published September 30th 2003 by Penguin Classics (first published 1881)
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C. Lewis I wouldn't describe Isabel as intelligent. Her primary attribute seemed to be that she was curious about the world and wanted to experience life and t…moreI wouldn't describe Isabel as intelligent. Her primary attribute seemed to be that she was curious about the world and wanted to experience life and travels first-hand so that she could draw her own conclusions. She seems to be a typical idealist who is "smart" about some things, but a blithering idiot when it comes to street-smarts. She sort of reminds me of me when I was in my twenties. I thought I was smart, but had no idea how the real world worked and, after I made that idealistic pie-in-the-sky marriage of perfect love - I got my education. Isabel's story touched a nerve with me because, turns out, I was just as foolish as Isabel. The only difference is that I am lucky enough to live in a time where I could ditch my "Gilbert"! (less)
Leo Newton I hope you kept your resolve not to waste time with this tripe. Sadly, it is too late for me, but I can help others. Despite James' continued "portrai…moreI hope you kept your resolve not to waste time with this tripe. Sadly, it is too late for me, but I can help others. Despite James' continued "portrait" of Isabel as intelligent and oh so clever, she is in fact a completely spoiled and clueless dolt. She avoids several possible good marriage proposals for the imbecilic "reason" that other folks pushed her towards the respective matches--"I'll show them! They want me to marry Ol' So-and-So, so I will just travel around Europe!" (Insert foot-stomp here). But then she immediately jumps into a horrid marriage because everyone tells her it will be a big mistake, which it turned out to be. She acts like a high school girl who dates the "wrong" guy simply because her parents don't like him. The book is 600 pages when it could've been a 150 page novella, and is reminiscent of an episode of Beverly Hills 90210. A misogynistic effort, and proof that gay men do not write women characters well.(less)

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Glenn Sumi
Apr 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
K.D. Absolutely
Jul 18, 2009 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: pre-1900, 1001-core, 501
*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
Lizzy
For my dear friend Jeffrey Keeten: I would not have read it if it were not for you. Thanks!

Henry JamesThe Portrait of a Lady touched me deeply. Since I finished this novel a few days ago, I could not seem to stop thinking about it as I tried to organize my feelings. That I was mesmerized by it, there is no doubt. So much that the search for its understanding has occupied practically all my free moments. And to fully grasp it I could not do without Henry James masterful help, so forgive me if
...more
Petra on plane flapping arms vigorously
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
Ahmad Sharabiani
The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James

The Portrait of a Lady is a novel by Henry James, first published as a serial in The Atlantic Monthly and Macmillan's Magazine in 1880–81 and then as a book in 1881.

It is one of Henry James's most popular long novels and is regarded by critics as one of his finest.

The Portrait of a Lady is the story of a spirited young American woman Isabel Archer, who, in "confronting her destiny", finds it overwhelming.

She inherits a large amount of money and subsequently
...more
Fionnuala
I had many wonderful moments while reading this book, moments when the writing halted the reading, when I had to pause and admire and wonder.
Moments when the book seemed to speak to my own experience as if it were written expressly for the girl who was me at twenty-two, causing me to wonder how Henry James could have guessed so well the presumptuous ideas I had about life and love at that early stage.

All of that is very personal, of course, and not necessarily of interest to other readers, but
...more
Paul Bryant
Sep 27, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Fergus
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Remember when Jim Morrison of the Doors berated the Discrete Charms of the Bourgeoisie as a hell "carefully refined and sealed over?" It's funny. I have always vainly aspired to a life just like those winners.

I was like poor Hans Castorp.

When I was 20, I wrote in my diary, "oh, for a more solid gift of ataraxy!" Living my life with any kind of sophisticated aplomb was always out of reach. I was a clumsy oaf.

And yet that's exactly the kind of life Isabel Archer sees in Ralph Touchant and she aspi
...more
Natalia
Oct 17, 2007 rated it liked it
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
MJ Nicholls
Up until midnight finishing this exquisite superstar. Ah! The pleasures of lying on the couch with a muglet of alcohol-free wine, a series of nibbles, and a sexy Oxford Classic as evenfall descends and time melts into irrelevance. Is there more to life than this? Not much more. (And that suits me fine).
Luís
Were the writers of the 19th century all psychologists before their time and specialists in the feeling of love to top it off? Like Jane Austen's books, Portrait of a Lady struck me by the accuracy of the many characters' slightest source's in-depth psychological analysis.
It is a real feat that aroused my amused admiration and the impression of a better understanding of our functioning, but very few emotions. In short, a piece of the bravery of 600 pages, which sometimes makes one think a little
...more
Renato
Apr 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
James
Book Review
3+ out of 5 stars for The Portrait of a Lady, a classic story called the "Great American Novel," written by Henry James in 1881. I adore Henry James and found great enjoyment in his literary works when I began reading him in my freshmen year at college. As an English major, I was exposed to many different authors, but I felt a strong connection with him and this literary period. American realistic works spoke to me above any of the other "classic" books I had been reading.
...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
Duane
**spoilers**
Portrait is a beautifully written novel that exhibits Henry James unique writing style and addresses the social customs and differences in Americans, the English, and continental Europeans. Isabel Archer is a young American lady, for whom the novel is titled, who is adventurous and very independent. She turns down two marriage proposals in the 1st half of the book to preserve her independence, one from Casper Goodwood, a young wealthy American, and one from Lord Warburton, a wealthy
...more
Emily May
I'm not sure why it took Henry James 3x as many pages to tell a very similar story here to the one he told in Washington Square. Basically: give a woman her freedom and she will choose poorly. ...more
Lara Amber
May 05, 2009 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
emma
Jun 07, 2022 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-ya, to-buy, classics
best thing for a portrait to be of
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
Julie
8.5/10

This won’t get written the way I wanted to write it, as life has taken as many turns, in the past 6 weeks, as Henry James has commas ... and I can’t be spending much time reviewing — in writing, at least. More’s the pity since I had a lot to say on this one, this time ‘round.

I’ve become a bedside sitter, attendant, to a family member who has been, is, quite ill, ... and so while my time is spent in reading, I’m not sure I'm taking in all that much.

The end of this novel brought me to the b
...more
Apatt
Feb 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics
Henry James would probably get on 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 tal
...more
Rakhi Dalal
Mar 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Helene Jeppesen
Jul 27, 2015 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
[P]
Mar 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
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 gi
...more
Kathleen
Mar 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
“Her old habit had been to live by enthusiasm, to fall in love with suddenly-perceived possibilities, with the idea of a new attempt.”

Henry James, I do love you! I thought I did, but it had been such a long time, so many books and so many classic authors ago that I read you, I wasn’t sure. This was your test, and you aced it.

The Portrait of a Lady is a very special novel for a number of reasons, foremost for the writing. There are some places you just like to be, and I like to be surrounded by H
...more
Juliana
Apr 01, 2008 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
luce ❀ wishfully reading ❀ semi hiatus
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3.25 stars

“A large fortune means freedom, and I’m afraid of that. It’s such a fine thing, and one should make such a good use of it. If one shouldn’t one would be ashamed. And one must keep thinking; it’s a constant effort. I’m not sure it’s not a greater happiness to be powerless.”


The Portrait of a Lady focuses on a young American woman, Isabel Archer, who comes into a large inheritance. Even before Isabel becomes financially independent she was unwilling to fulfi
...more
Paul
Feb 18, 2022 rated it it was ok
Shelves: james
This is the first major work by James that I have read. It reflects a number of James’s preoccupations, freedom, betrayal, responsibility, destiny and the contrasts between the old world and the new (with the new coming off worse).
The central character in the book is the lady in question Isabel Archer, an American who comes to Europe at the invite of her aunt who lives in England. The novel is set in England and Italy. Inevitably it is beautifully written with lots of interiority and reflection.
...more
Megan Baxter
Apr 02, 2013 rated it liked it
I just...I don't know. I have now read The Portrait of a Lady and I'm just feeling a little flat. Like I stubbed my toe on something invisible, and I'm not quite sure what. I'm not sure why this book didn't grab me, I only know it didn't.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
...more
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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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