Monday, 25 August 2014

The Portrait of a Lady

BlurbIn this portrait of a "young woman affronting her destiny," Henry James created one of his most magnificent heroines, and a story of intense poignancy. When Isabel Archer, a beautiful, spirited American, is brought to Europe by her wealthy aunt, it is expected that she will soon marry. But Isabel, resolved to enjoy her freedom, does not hesitate to turn down two eligible suitors. Then she finds herself irresistibly drawn to the charming and cultivated Gilbert Osmond. Isabel, however, soon discovers the cruelty and stifling darkness beneath Gilbert's civilized veneer.

Comments: I loved this book. I found the writing beautifully subtle and thoughtfully observed. The characters have incredible psychological depth and development (something perhaps not entirely surprising given Henry James' closeness with his brother William, who has been labelled "the father of American psychology").

The structure of the novel, too, impressed me. The gradual wearing away of her naive outlook and its ideals - the development novel's tragedy - is incredibly well conceived and gently brought upon the reader. Isabel's realisation at the end of novel is skilfully built and last hundred pages are unputdownable.

I did find it slightly tricky to get into at first. The pace of the novel is much slower and the writing more thoughtful than a lot of what I read. But I think a bit of a challenge for our 21st century short attention span is no bad thing.

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