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The Portrait of a Lady
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PAST Quarterly reads > 2019 2Q - Portrait of a Lady - Henry James

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Kristel (kristelh) | 3822 comments Mod
Second Quarter we will read The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, our discussion leader is Kelly.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Hello! Here are some discussion questions to get us going in this book:

1. Describe the elliptical technique James often uses in his narration. What is a narrative ellipsis? How does James employ the technique? What effect does his frequent skipping forward have on the novel as a whole?

2. Agree or Disagree? (Why?) "The Portrait of a Lady is consistently focused on the idea of Isabel Archer's independence: whether she has it, whether she is true to it, whether she betrays it, and whether it is more important than her social duty. But the novel never really defines what "independence" means, and as a result, it lacks thematic focus."

3. What is the book’s ultimate take on America? It is seen alternately as a wide-open, hopeful arena for the future, and as a place of punishment – do we get a final, comprehensive vision of the new world?

4. England represents a kind of friendly middle-ground between America and Europe proper; do you think Isabel could have been happier if she’d just stayed in England, as Henrietta ultimately does?

5. Many of our character are collectors – is this always a bad thing?

6. How free is Isabel at the end of the novel?

7. Why does James choose not to show us the more positive first year of Isabel and Osmond’s marriage? Why do you think he largely ignores the issue of the child she had and lost?

8. Could Isabel have escaped with Caspar Goodwood and still remained true to everything we know about her character? Why or why not?

9. Do you think Isabel ever finds true happiness?


Gail (gailifer) | 1192 comments Hello Kelly,
For the schedule, should I just divide into three chunks or do you want us to keep to a different process?


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Gail wrote: "Hello Kelly,
For the schedule, should I just divide into three chunks or do you want us to keep to a different process?"


That is something I am not very good at -- I read one book at a time from start to finish. And I am listening, so page breaks arent even something I have. I think I will trust everyone to read at the pace they want. But, if you would rather me make a schedule please tell me.


Gail (gailifer) | 1192 comments Nope, that works for me


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Do I have any readers?


Gail (gailifer) | 1192 comments I just started reading


Amanda Dawn | 896 comments Currently re-reading (well listening on audio this time) because it was probably 2013 last time I read it. Either going to listen through or do 8 hours per month. at 4 and 1/2 right now.


Tatiana | 15 comments I started to read it and then found an audio book. I will be finishing my current audiobook soon and will start on Portrait of a Lady.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Looking forward to all your thoughts. I found this one a difficult read in some ways.

I am having a ton of medical tests this week, including some under anesthesia so I may be quiet.


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Pip | 1304 comments I hope your tests go well. I intend to start as soon as I finish Drop City


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments I am back with the living.


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Gail (gailifer) | 1192 comments Welcome back. I hope your tests did not take too much of a toll and all came back with good news.
I am only about 60 pages into the book but I am finding it easier reading than I thought I would. I like our heroine a great deal and am getting used to James and his love of the extended sentence with healthy use of comas.


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Pip | 1304 comments I hope all is well with you. I plan to start James later today.


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Book Wormy | 1818 comments Mod
I am planning to start this once I finish my current door stop of a book. The Dark Tower by Stephen King hope to have it done over the bank holiday weekend.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments So glad the three of you are reading -- I know I will glean so much more from this one once I see your comments. I do love our heroine.


message 17: by Gail (last edited Apr 21, 2019 01:38PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gail (gailifer) | 1192 comments 1. Describe the elliptical technique James often uses in his narration. What is a narrative ellipsis? How does James employ the technique? What effect does his frequent skipping forward have on the novel as a whole?

Definition of ellipsis: the omission from speech or writing of a word or words that are superfluous or able to be understood from contextual clues.
A narrative ellipsis is usually the practice of leaving key elements or scenes out so that the reader is gathering the information from other elements around the omission. James tends to use it to allow the reader to fill in holes in the narrative which causes the reader to engage further with the story. It is a way of hinting about the future also. For example, there is reference to a man in Isabel's life in America way before we are given a name or the circumstances.
Another example is this one which gives us a look into Isabel's future:
"She was a person of great good faith, and if there was a great deal of folly in her wisdom, those who judge her severely may have the satisfaction of finding that, later, she became consistently wise only at the cost of an amount of folly which will constitute almost a direct appeal to charity."
So, in this way we are told she is heading toward folly and that others will judge her severely without much other context to work with.


2. Agree or Disagree? (Why?) "The Portrait of a Lady is consistently focused on the idea of Isabel Archer's independence: whether she has it, whether she is true to it, whether she betrays it, and whether it is more important than her social duty. But the novel never really defines what "independence" means, and as a result, it lacks thematic focus."

I am only a third of the way through the book but so far this doesn't appear to ring true.
Although Isabel does not want to go against social convention for its own sake, an example being when she doesn't agree that she needs to leave the company of Ralph and Lord Warburton when Mrs. Touchett decides to leave. Nevertheless she bows to Mrs. Touchett's wishes. However, the key element here is she makes a conscious decision rather than doing what is expected of her without further thought.
She does state when speaking to Goodwood: "I wish to choose my fate and know something of human affairs..." and also she see victory in "doing what she preferred" rather than make a brilliant marriage even though she did not feel ready to marry nor was she in love.
Further, Mrs. Touchett gives Isabel a great example of a form of independence in which Mrs. Touchett has her own life not defined by her marriage, which does not conform to any of the social expectations placed on her by the English society.
It may not be a crisp definition but I certainly feel like I understand something of what the word "independence" means to Isabel in these early chapters.


Kristel (kristelh) | 3822 comments Mod
I am just starting, and likening it so far but not very far into the book. I already note the emphasis on "independent". Will see.


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Pip | 1304 comments I just finished it! But I keep losing my reviews when I try to post them here in the Philippines, so I will wait until I return home to comment.


message 20: by Kelly_Hunsaker_reads (last edited Apr 25, 2019 09:24PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Pip wrote: "I just finished it! But I keep losing my reviews when I try to post them here in the Philippines, so I will wait until I return home to comment."

are you vacationing in the PI? I visited there when I was in the USAF back in 1983


message 21: by Pip (last edited Apr 28, 2019 05:58PM) (new) - added it

Pip | 1304 comments 1. James used ellipsis to push his narrative forward, but it frustrated me when he glossed over the first three years of Isobel's marriage. Until then I thought he was doing well in portraying an independent American girl meeting European sophistication and I was comparing it quite favourable with Dorothy Richardson because there were similarities: the time frame and irresponsible fathers, for example. But he just lost me when he leapfrogged over what happened to make Isobel realise what her husband was really like. And as for 'ellipsidising' a pregnancy and the loss of a six month old son, that was unforgivable. No woman writer, I fumed, would make so light of significant moments such as these.
2. The book emphasises Isobel's unusual independence in the early part of the story (but compared to Miriam in The Tunnel she is hardly independent at all). She relies on other people to provide the wherewithal of existence despite having a good friend who shows her how to actually live independently. She rationally turns down two proposals of marriage, because she is not attracted to either of the supplicants. There is pressure for her to accept, particularly as Lord Warburton is considered a great catch, but not enough pressure to cause her grief. She is blithely unaware of her cousin Ralph's real love for her. She does go to England when he is dying, her first really independent action, in defiance of her husband's wishes.


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Pip | 1304 comments Kelly wrote: "Pip wrote: "I just finished it! But I keep losing my reviews when I try to post them here in the Philippines, so I will wait until I return home to comment."

are you vacationing in the PI? I visit..."


Yes, haven't been there for 20 years or so, got a whole lot of reading done while holidaying on Palawan.


Amanda Dawn | 896 comments Finally getting around to these (yay):

1) James employs this device throughout the novel in many places to show the expectation of a new event in Isabel's life, and then instead of fiddling with interlude, immediately contrasts that with the outcome/reality. This has the effect of of more clearly demonstrating Isabel's aforementioned follies.
2) Agree that the novel never truly defines independence, disagree that it means it lacks narrative focus. By never truly defining it, we get a heroine who is longing for an abstract sense of freedom without knowing truly what that means, leading her into the traumas of her life. I would argue that angle is crucial to the story, and and also that it is representative of many people who are longing for an ambiguous sense of liberation and do risky/opposing things to obtain it bevause they don't understand what that truly means for them.
3) The book, like James himself, doesn't really spend much time in America, presenting an idea that it is a place for those those with means to bounce off and leave from. However, Isabel also falls into a repressive life on the continent, perhaps suggesting that the American nouvelle riche ideal of Europe as the romantic bohemian utopia is an illusion.
4) England does seem to be an America/Europe buffer in this novel (arguably culturally in real life as well?) However, since she never settles down with any of her English suitors, we do not know if any of them would have turned out to be Osmonds under the surface either.


message 24: by Amanda (last edited Apr 28, 2019 07:04PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amanda Dawn | 896 comments 5) This is not inherently a bad thing: one could be considered a collector of experience or knowledge, or chosen family. Literal collection of benign things is fine too. However, the way many men in this novel try to collect Isabel as a possesion for themselves is not and undermines her autonomy as a person.
6) I feel like we don't really know how free she is at the end because of the open ending: does she go back to Osmond for Pansy, does she go back to bring Pansy with her and get divorced? I think that changes things. She does get away at the end, so she is in a position to step forth as she chooses in theory: but in application feeling indebted to Pansy and being emotionally abused by Osmond for so long may make her far less actually free than she appears.
7) I think this is part of the ellipsis effect, and done for the reason I described above. But I agree with Pip: gloss over the happy first years, fine. Gloss over the miscarrriage: questionable and I don't understand why that was done. (I'll agree with Pip that its a male writer oversight 😉)
8) Potentially? I mean the beginning of the book puts a lot of focus on her independence. It's just the issue of her promise to Pansy: I like to imagine that she came back for her and then left so everybody who doesn't suck wins.
9) We don't really know do we? I hope the open ending was the first step towards it though.


Diane | 1919 comments I'm about halfway through the first third of the book. Hope to join in the discussion soon. I am enjoying it so far.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Pip wrote: "1. James used ellipsis to push his narrative forward, but it frustrated me when he glossed over the first three years of Isobel's marriage. Until then I thought he was doing well in portraying an i..."

I agree with what you had to say about skipping the beginning years of marriage and the loss of a child. I have lost 3 -- all 20 years or so ago -- and it is something I will always grieve.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Amanda wrote: "Finally getting around to these (yay):

1) James employs this device throughout the novel in many places to show the expectation of a new event in Isabel's life, and then instead of fiddling with i..."


I would love to hear more about your thoughts on England as a buffer. I am from USA, and know we can be very ethnocentric here. I am curious about this as a cultural issue and how it reflects on all of us.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Diane wrote: "I'm about halfway through the first third of the book. Hope to join in the discussion soon. I am enjoying it so far."

Looking forward to your thoughts!


Diane | 1919 comments I'm not sure where the 1/3 point is, but I have read the first 20 chapters. That should be around 1/3 or slightly past.

1. Describe the elliptical technique James often uses in his narration. What is a narrative ellipsis? How does James employ the technique? What effect does his frequent skipping forward have on the novel as a whole?

Ellipsis is cutting out or fast-forwarding the obvious parts in the narrative and letting the reader come to their own conclusions. This is also used a lot in film editing. I think this is both good and bad. While it reduces the length of the story, it does gloss over some parts that the reader might consider important.

2. Agree or Disagree? (Why?) "The Portrait of a Lady is consistently focused on the idea of Isabel Archer's independence: whether she has it, whether she is true to it, whether she betrays it, and whether it is more important than her social duty. But the novel never really defines what "independence" means, and as a result, it lacks thematic focus."

I agree, or at least from what I have read so far. I like this aspect about her. Very forward-thinking for a woman of her time. She is taking big risks and ignoring the potential repercussions. I don't think she is as independent as she imagines herself to be, and I don't think she truly understands what independence means.



Amanda Dawn | 896 comments Kelly wrote: "Amanda wrote: "Finally getting around to these (yay):

1) James employs this device throughout the novel in many places to show the expectation of a new event in Isabel's life, and then instead of ..."


I mean I'm Canadian, so I could be entirely wrong about that (and furthermore I feel like we are the further buffer between American and British culture lol), but that is the impression I've gotten from media and travel so far in my life.

I say that mostly in the sense that Britain is the European culture closest to American culture due to the colonial WASP history of the US. Many of the hallmarks of American culture are fundamentally British, but American WASP culture has diverged in certain ways without being more mainland European. Arguably, due to early American settlers like the pilgrims and their descendants establishing a culture without geographic closeness to continental Europe, WASP culture in the US (which makes up a huge fraction of mainstream US culture- or at least seems to to Canadians) may actually be more fortified compared to its British Roots.

In both this novel and real life, I see England as a place that is politically similar to the US- but more European (democracy and capitalism and old money families, but a more mixed economy), sharing a common language yet British novels and tv always seemed to suggest to me the more British people speak a European language, and having similar traditional music and entertainment in of themselves but with more European crossover in Britain (whether its investment in things like Italian or German opera in many period novels, or participation in things like Eurovision in current real life).


Amanda Dawn | 896 comments While I'm thinking about it too: I also have always loved the phrase "As American as Apple Pie" for similar reasons: Apple Pie was invented in England XD


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Amanda wrote: "Kelly wrote: "Amanda wrote: "Finally getting around to these (yay):

1) James employs this device throughout the novel in many places to show the expectation of a new event in Isabel's life, and th..."


Very interesting observations. I think you are right -- I even see another buffer -- the New England states, which are far more similar to Europe than those of us in the west.


Diane | 1919 comments I am now just past the 2/3rd mark.

3. What is the book’s ultimate take on America? It is seen alternately as a wide-open, hopeful arena for the future, and as a place of punishment – do we get a final, comprehensive vision of the new world?

I don't know what the ultimate take on America is, since I am not finished with the book. My impression so far is that James is portraying America as a place of optimism, as opposed to a place of punishment. His American characters are shown as unsophisticated, democratic, and somewhat naive, in contrast to the more socially sophisticated and class-conscious Europeans. So far in the novel, Europe seems more decadent and restrictive while America seems more simplistic.

4. England represents a kind of friendly middle-ground between America and Europe proper; do you think Isabel could have been happier if she’d just stayed in England, as Henrietta ultimately does?

I do think she would have been happier if she stayed in England.


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Pip | 1304 comments 3. I think this is an intriguing question because I don't think it was James' aim to give a final, comprehensive vision of the new world. Isabel's opportunity seems very American, in that respect James shows it to be a place of greater opportunity. 4. I don't think we can tell if Isabel would have been happier if she had stayed in England, but that is the genius of James. I wanted her to settle down there, rooting first for Lord Warburton and then later for Ralph, but Isabel would have neither. 5. Why would collecting be a bad thing of itself? Osmond was a collector and unlikable, but Casper turned out to be a good fellow in the end and sacrificed his collection for the love of Isobel.


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Pip | 1304 comments 6. That is the question! She has more choices than most people, and more than she had at the start, but she could very well end up where she would have been if she had accepted Caspar in the first place. 7. I really do not understand why he did not include any of this - unless it was because he felt it was something he didn't know enough about to be able to portray it successfully. 8. Yes, she has so much more experience of life now. 9. Yes, as much as anyone actually does!


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Pip wrote: "3. I think this is an intriguing question because I don't think it was James' aim to give a final, comprehensive vision of the new world. Isabel's opportunity seems very American, in that respect J..."

Have you read more of his works? Do you recommend any of them? I am new to his works and probably would have not volunteered to host if I had known it was such a difficult read. I loved it, but I also don't feel "smart enough" to guid all you very intelligent readers through this one. Thanks for your comments!


message 37: by Gail (last edited May 17, 2019 01:38PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gail (gailifer) | 1192 comments 2. Agree or Disagree? (Why?) "The Portrait of a Lady is consistently focused on the idea of Isabel Archer's independence:

I have now finished the book and for me, the whole concept of LACK of independence for women at that time not only circled around social convention or what was expected of women but also what Isabel believed. Even in misery, she believed that she would make herself more miserable by becoming someone that could not keep a honorable commitment. She believed that she earned marital restrictions rather than that society had thrust something on her. Although she was bitter, because ultimately she marries a "sordid little man" when she believed she was marrying the least sordid man she had ever met, she is not bitter at society at large, or angry about societal norms. She is bitter that she herself could not see what others had seen. In this way, James paints Isabel as independent (her own belief system) but nevertheless trapped (societal norms).

3. What is the book’s ultimate take on America? It is seen alternately as a wide-open, hopeful arena for the future, and as a place of punishment – do we get a final, comprehensive vision of the new world?

I agree with others that I do not believe that James was drawing a comprehensive comparison of the new world to the old world. James clearly loves so much about European culture, architecture, music and art and he does not credit America with much on that front. However, he gives the American's something that he clearly respects and that is an optimism that somehow, through their own efforts, they will make it right. Henrietta and Casper share this in a large way.

4. England represents a kind of friendly middle-ground between America and Europe proper; do you think Isabel could have been happier if she’d just stayed in England, as Henrietta ultimately does?

It is not evident in the book that she would have been happier in England. She clearly wanted to see the world and found herself in a very small portion of it. I think she would not have been happier as Lord Warburton's wife and if she was still Osmond's wife but living in England her situation would have not been much different.

5. Many of our character are collectors – is this always a bad thing?

The book is full of people who collect impressions, experiences, loves, psychological conquests not just the people who collect "bibelots". The thing about collecting is that it must bring the collector satisfaction, but if that satisfaction is based on how other's perceive the collection then the collection has to be good. Osmond's collection was not solidly good and that was the 'tell' so to speak.

6. How free is Isabel at the end of the novel?

James is quite the writer isn't he? He left me with the softest, slightest impression that Isabel was free; that Isabel was going to exercise her remarkable imagination again and make a radical decision. However, he does not find it necessary to tell us what practical turn that decision would take.

7. Why does James choose not to show us the more positive first year of Isabel and Osmond’s marriage? Why do you think he largely ignores the issue of the child she had and lost?

James is clearly not interested in what the reviewers of the time called "incidents", action or extremes were not really what he was investigating. The more positive first marriage and the loss of a child would have given the book a much more melodramatic turn. Also, I agree with Pip that he probably could not have written it from the point of view of knowing what that would be like.

8. Could Isabel have escaped with Caspar Goodwood and still remained true to everything we know about her character? Why or why not?

The key work here is "escape". No, Isabel could not escape her situation by simply letting Casper carry her away to American and bribe people to annul her marriage because Isabel needs to confront and modify her own belief system to gain a change of circumstances. To leave with Casper would have condemned her to continue to exist thinking she was a horrible woman. However, the trick at the end was that Isabel did see that Casper loved her, not that he just wanted to possess her. She understood that Casper would change HIS belief system for her and defy societal norms. She could not yet do that but James implies that she may find Casper's love something that she could find refreshing in the future as suddenly, instead of a pitiful man, he was someone that could potentially point the way.

9. Do you think Isabel ever finds true happiness?

I think she is a remarkable woman. I think she will find some portion of happiness. This is demonstrated when she says good-bye to Ralph. She is as happy to be a true friend and sister, and more happy than she had been in a long time.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Gail wrote: "2. Agree or Disagree? (Why?) "The Portrait of a Lady is consistently focused on the idea of Isabel Archer's independence:

I have now finished the book and for me, the whole concept of LACK of ind..."


Thanks for sharing Gail. As I read everyone's thoughts on this book I like it even more. I think that James had a real insight into the society of his time. And the book feels much more modern as I think more about it because most of these issues are much the same for women today.


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Book Wormy | 1818 comments Mod
I am reading a two volume version of the book and have just finished Volume 1. I am enjoying the story so far but feel I need to wait until the end before tackling the questions.

I am intrigued by the marriage plot that is going on at the moment.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Book wrote: "I am reading a two volume version of the book and have just finished Volume 1. I am enjoying the story so far but feel I need to wait until the end before tackling the questions.

I am intrigued by..."


I look forward to your comments Book!


Kristel (kristelh) | 3822 comments Mod
I've finished the book.
1. Describe the elliptical technique James often uses in his narration. What is a narrative ellipsis? How does James employ the technique? What effect does his frequent skipping forward have on the novel as a whole? I had to look it up. It is a technique of leaving out part of thought/sentence. Leaving the reader to fill it in. I didn't find it hard to read at all. I mostly listened, though I also have a real book that I probably picked up at Goodwill. The audio was by Juliet Stevenson who did an absolutely marvelous job.

2. Agree or Disagree? (Why?) "The Portrait of a Lady is consistently focused on the idea of Isabel Archer's independence: whether she has it, whether she is true to it, whether she betrays it, and whether it is more important than her social duty. But the novel never really defines what "independence" means, and as a result, it lacks thematic focus." It is a major theme of the book. I liked the book so much that I guess I disagree. The young woman had a strong desire for independence but a circumstance that she had nothing to do with, changed her whole life. One maybe could say that money takes away our freedoms when we think it will give us freedom. Freedom is really one of those ideals that maybe really is just an ideal and not reality.

3. What is the book’s ultimate take on America? It is seen alternately as a wide-open, hopeful arena for the future, and as a place of punishment – do we get a final, comprehensive vision of the new world? I didn't get much of a view of America except that these are Americans that seem to wander to Europe as is often the case of books by Henry James."

4. England represents a kind of friendly middle-ground between America and Europe proper; do you think Isabel could have been happier if she’d just stayed in England, as Henrietta ultimately does? Many choices that Isabel could have made might have lead to more happiness but she didn't make those choices

5. Many of our character are collectors – is this always a bad thing?
Found this; Collections are the artistic creation of self out of self, part of the connection of past and present and the hope of a future." I like that, I found it here https://muse.jhu.edu/article/440440/s... Good Question!

6. How free is Isabel at the end of the novel? Isabel is free as she has a choice. She can stay, she can return. It is her choice. That is freedom is having a choice and making that decision based on your own values.

7. Why does James choose not to show us the more positive first year of Isabel and Osmond’s marriage? Why do you think he largely ignores the issue of the child she had and lost? I don't think it would have made the book better and would be irrelevant to what his focus of the book was

8. Could Isabel have escaped with Caspar Goodwood and still remained true to everything we know about her character? Why or why not? No, I don't think so

9. Do you think Isabel ever finds true happiness? I believe she will but that is not the point


message 42: by Book (new) - rated it 4 stars

Book Wormy | 1818 comments Mod
Actually finished this a few days ago but have been fighting a cold so not had the energy to answer the questions until now.

1. The way the narrative skips whole sections of time allows the reader to imagine what happened in the missed period it also means we never have the full story and the full motivation for Isabel's actions. I think it also serves to stop the story getting bogged down in too much detail the reader is only told what the author thinks is important.

2. I agree independence is a big part of the book and it is not just through the character of Isabel that we are shown this. We see Lydia Touchett an independent woman who leaves her husband and son to go off travelling where and when she feels like it, she has her own money and doesn't feel that she owes anything to anyone. Madame Merle is also free to travel where she wishes staying with friends who believe she is honouring them but she is really taking everyone for a ride. Henrietta Stackpole a journalist who puts her career before societies expectations and of course we have Isabel who inherits enough money to be free but ends up trapped.

3. Personally I don't think we really get an in-depth view of America it is more there in the background.

4. I think she would have been happier to use the money to maintain herself without a husband and that could have occurred anywhere. Isabel's unhappiness is really a result of marriage if she had avoided that trap or married someone else she could have been happy.

5. No I think collecting can be a good thing if you collect things because you love them and they make you happy.

6. Isabel has freedom because it is down to her to decide what to do, the fact she decides to remain trapped is still her choice.

7. Happy marriages are not interesting to read about. The book was written as a serialisation and you need tension to keep the reader wanting more.

8. No I don't think she could. Isabel owns her mistakes and to escape with Caspar would have been another mistake.

9. I think Isabel has the potential to find happiness however within the confines of the novel this doesn't happen.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Kristel wrote: "I've finished the book.
1. Describe the elliptical technique James often uses in his narration. What is a narrative ellipsis? How does James employ the technique? What effect does his frequent skip..."


Thanks for sharing Kristel!


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Book wrote: "Actually finished this a few days ago but have been fighting a cold so not had the energy to answer the questions until now.

1. The way the narrative skips whole sections of time allows the reader..."


Thanks for sharing Book!


Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount) (ravenmount) | 424 comments I'm finishing up the last few pages of this one when I get home, so I'll chime in with my answers to the questions when I get back online tomorrow. My sister has been reading a lot of Henry James this month, and we've been discussing whether James or Zola has a better understanding of different ways of life and of women and their perspective. She thinks James was bitter and compensating for his own lukewarm reception in the 'better' strata of high society, and that that is why his books are stuffy and he comes across as a bit of a bore. He was trying to blend in with a class of society he did not easily belong to.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Jamie wrote: "I'm finishing up the last few pages of this one when I get home, so I'll chime in with my answers to the questions when I get back online tomorrow. My sister has been reading a lot of Henry James t..."

Your sister's perspective is interesting, and if those facts are true I think her psychology is probably spot on.


message 47: by Jamie (last edited Jul 03, 2019 02:44PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount) (ravenmount) | 424 comments Kelly wrote: "Jamie wrote: "I'm finishing up the last few pages of this one when I get home, so I'll chime in with my answers to the questions when I get back online tomorrow. My sister has been reading a lot of..."

Yeah, I have struggled through a few Henry James novels now, and they always are hard for me to get into. The women always bug me, and James's storytelling always comes across as if he has a chip on his shoulder and is trying too hard to be stuffy and proper. I insisted on finishing this book in June so I could move on to Mrs. Osmond, by John Banville. (My sister told me that Mrs. Osmond is a response to Portrait of a Lady and sent me home with copies of both last time I saw her.) If I had not had a deadline I have no idea how long I'd have drawn out this book, with how bored I was most of the time. I'll probably reread bits of it this month as I read Banville's book, to see if I was missing something and being unfair in deciding I disliked James's book after just one reading of it.


message 48: by Jamie (last edited Jul 03, 2019 03:12PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount) (ravenmount) | 424 comments (am finally online again long enough to get to post this)

1. James (and a lot of other authors) use 'the elliptical technique' to skip the tedious details in between the scenes that build up his story. The gaps also allow for a little ambiguity, which allows the reader to work out on her own what happened to get the characters to the next bit of text.

2. By our standards Isabel is disturbingly unindependent and always under someone's thumb, so maybe Henry James in his time thought he was portraying more variation in female independence and freedom than what comes across to a modern reader. A modern version of Isabel might have simply skipped marriage to focus on something more fulfilling, once she had some money of her own especially. She is so cowed by her internalized version of society that she never really can act for her own interests without being constrained by her awareness of what society will expect of her.

3. I got the sense that America for James is a bit like Paris for a modern American who has never actually lived in Paris. It is simply an exotic, socially/economically primitive setting out of which civilized characters rise to interact with Britain and Europe as naive outsiders. Having such a distant setting in addition to Europe allows the characters and the story to move around a bit, which adds interest to what otherwise would have been a more tedious soap-operatic novel about unhappy married life.

4. Isabel would have been much happier if she had never left New York, except maybe for brief social visits. If she could just have stayed in Albany and married Caspar when the novel began, they both might have had a much happier story.

5. What's wrong with collecting?

6. Maybe Isabel will gain some freedom after the end of this novel, but she is not really used to being free and independent. My guess is that she'll find herself trapped again soon enough because whatever traits kept her in her lousy marriage have not magically transformed yet and something about being oppressed by an awful spouse must satisfy some inner image she has of herself.

7. I doubt many men really understand what it is like to be a woman and lose a baby, so it is not surprising that James glosses over this 'little detail'. His story would maybe seem a bit more balanced with more of an account of the good times that preceded all the lousiness of their marriage, especially to see how the decline developed. But maybe James had a hard time imagining what the happy first year looked like. Or maybe the lack of conflict would have just made for a lot of tedium.

8. Isabel could not have 'escaped' with Caspar because she is too duty bound and internally constrained to do the 'right' thing as society expects of her, and because at some level she expects to be constrained and unhappy the way she has been.

9. I doubt Isabel ever really expects to find true happiness, so even if she has choices that can lead to a happy-ever-after for her, she may not recognize them or feel comfortable choosing such a path for herself.


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