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The Portrait of a Lady
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1001 book reviews > The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

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Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments 5 stars

There was a moment in this book when I told my husband that I didn't like the book at all. And later on, there was a moment when I felt it was my favorite read of 2019! In the end I realize that Mr James was an artist, and that Colm Toibin was spot on when he calls James The Master. So why were there those moments when I disliked it? I think it is because the book isn't an easy read. It is smart and intricate and difficult. I needed to stay in the story without any distraction.

This book feels very modern despite the fact that it was published in 1881.

What I loved most:

1. Isabel Archer
James gave us a book about a beautiful and strong American woman who is visiting her wealthy relatives in England. She values independence above everything else and rejects marriage proposals by two suitors. She inherits a fortune and is looking towards a solitary life in which she isn't burdened or controlled by a man. But she is manipulated into marrying ...

2. Gilbert Osmond.
He is one of the most hateful, arrogant, sinister, spiteful and intriguing antagonists I have read in a long time. He makes the book much better.

This duo of headstrong woman and sickening, obsessive man is what made me love the modern book The Pillars of the Earth. I think that the duo of Isabel and Gilbert is quite similar to Aliena & William Hamleigh. (I know the comparison may seem odd, but I loved both duos in the same way.)


Kristel (kristelh) | 3820 comments Mod
4.5 stars ( raised to 5 stars)
The story of a young, orphaned woman, Isabel Archer who arrives in England with her aunt. She is 23 years of age and is filled with bright optimism and doesn't want to settle but desires freedom. Men fall for her and she refuses them. Isabel had no money but when she inherits a large sum that she had no idea was going to come her way, this changes everything. She is no longer free but burdened by the burden of this inheritance. She is taken in by some two ex patriots who have their eye on this fortune. The rest of the story is about the choices she made and will make and the effects it has on her. I listened to the audio by Juliet Stevenson. Excellent narration.

I loved the prose, loved the characters, loved the themes.


Diane | 1918 comments Rating: 4+ stars

I found this book very enjoyable and wonder why it took me so long to finally read it. What I loved: Strong female main character, great character development, excellent plot and themes, and overall solid writing.


Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount) (ravenmount) | 423 comments My rating- 3 stars
Poor Isabel seemed to have so much going for her, a true independent mind, and the makings of an independent woman, especially once she inherits enough money to be comfortably independent. If only society was set up to accept a strong, independent woman, or if Isabel herself was a bit more resilient and resolved to hold her own against the combined forces of society. But, the world she lives in won't allow her to remain single, rich, and free to be herself. She must get married, and she has internalized this and other rules of society enough that she really cannot resolve to avoid the trap of a marriage she ought never to have accepted. Once married, she flails like a trapped bird, trying to retain her freedom somewhat, but never to the extent of leaving her husband and taking up with a more suitable companion. I liked Isabel, but because she had such potential, it was all the more frustrating that she got so trapped in a crappy marriage.

I found this book a bit too tedious and stuffy for my tastes, and books about the ways women have been severely constrained by society always make me a bit mad. I may reread this one though. There is enough going on in this book that a 2nd reading might make this novel a lot more enjoyable.


Diane Zwang | 1189 comments Mod
4/5 stars
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
First published in 1881

“If there's a thing in the world I'm fond of, she went on with a slight recurrence of grandeur, 'it's my personal independence.”

The Portrait of a Lady is about Isabel Archer, an American, who is taken under the wing of her English Aunt. We fall in love with Isabel's spirit of independence and zest for life. She inherits some money from a rich family member which unfortunately makes her a desirable target. Isabel falls for the norms of the time and marries despite the protest of her friends and family. The story is all about the journey and I enjoyed the last few chapters of the book the best. This story is reminiscent of Dangerous Liaisons and The Forsyte Saga.


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