Book Review: The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James



‘Money’s a horrid thing to follow, but a charming thing to meet.’

Isabel Archer is a beautiful, intelligent and independent young woman. Brought from America to England by her wealthy Aunt who seeks to further her education and find her niece a husband, Isabel is determined to shape her own future – one that does not necessarily entail becoming a wife. Isabel inherits a fortune when her rich uncle dies and feels even more inclined to turn down two eligible suitors on the basis that she is a woman of her own means. However, a trip to Italy heralds her downfall when she meets the charming Gilbert Osmond, a worthless, yet ambitious and scheming dilettante.

Rating: 4 stars

My Review:

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James is a book that offered me chronic restlessness throughout. It is a tale of an engaging tangle of relationships presented by the writer in all its beauty. He attempts to present the most mundane and banal set of events in the most artistic manner possible, and boy, does he succeed! It is a realistic tale of people and the choices they make in life. It is a book that after all these years still holds to thrill and entice the reader into a world of its own, and beautifully so!

The book revolves around our protagonist, Isabel Archer who is brought from America to England by her aunt, Mrs. Touchett. Within no time, she manages to charm her old uncle, Mr. Touchett and cousin Ralph with her curiosity to know things and unique thought process, so much so that the uncle decides to leave her a fortune through his will, of course, after proper consultation with Ralph.

Her beauty and charm have an enthralling effect on many a suitor whom she rejects – the very generous and handsome Lord Warburton and her friend, Casper Goodwood from back home. Through her aunt, she makes an acquaintance of Madame Merle who in turn introduces her to the very suave and gentlemanly Gilbert Osmond in Italy. Now, this is the man that woos her with his apparently simple nature and convinces her to marry him and eventually, settle down with him and his daughter in Italy.

As the plot unfolds itself, we can’t help but notice few things – how dissatisfied Isabel ends up being with her life but refuses to acknowledge it and how Ralph albeit nearing death, cannot stop looking after his cousin, Isabel. Many sub-plots come to the fore as we make way, not very laboriously, of course through this giant classic of a book. But I am gonna leave you guys to figure it out yourselves.

Amidst all the complexities of the plot and the continuous banter that this book has to offer, it doesn’t fail to impress. Falling in love with Henry James and this book and more importantly, Isabel is a matter of eventuality rather than the possibility. The book is an ode to singlehood and dwelling in the deep and dark crevices of your own mind; it is one that screams to be read.


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