The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

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Synopsis

This ebook includes a biographical introduction, a short, critical analysis of James' career and a brief introduction to this work.

Originally serialised in the Atlantic Monthly between 1880 and 1881 then published in book form later in the year, The Portrait of a Lady was certainly the finest novel in James' early career. The plot centres upon a young American heiress, Isabel Archer and her interactions in Europe with two scheming compatriots, Gilbert Osmond, whom she marries, and Madame Merle who, it is revealed, has worked with Osmond to secure the marriage and Archer's fortune. Having previously rejected the proposals of two earlier suitors in an effort to retain her independence, finding out that the man she did accept had actually been scheming against presents Archer with certain difficulties.

The novel marks a profound step away from the idea of plot, towards the notion of character development with plotting merely the means as opposed to the end. James' idea is that resolution comes about not through conveniently tying up the threads of a novel, but by rounding out the strengths of the character under study. That the novel displays a certain ambiguity at the close is evidence enough that this was James' purpose.

The character of Isabel Archer has been analysed considerably. Some critics have noticed her similarities with other fictional characters from books by Anne Moncure Crane and also by George Eliot, the latter reference noted by James himself. Later literary criticism has posited a strong reference to Minny Temple, a young woman known by James who died of tuberculosis before James' career established itself.
 

About Henry James

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Colm Tóibín was born in Ireland in 1955. He is the author of six novels including The Blackwater Lightship; The Master, winner of a Los Angeles Times Book Prize; and Brooklyn, winner of a Costa Book Award. Twice short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, Colm Tóibín is the Leonard Milberg Lecturer in Irish Studies at Princeton University and lives in Dublin and New York.
 
Published January 30, 2003 by Penguin. 660 pages
Genres: Romance, Literature & Fiction, Health, Fitness & Dieting, Education & Reference, History, Children's Books, Erotica. Non-fiction

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