31 December 2008

27. Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

Isabel Archer is a classic individualist. She is unique and exotic. And everyone wants to marry her.

She grew up in Albany, NY, but we follow her story as she lives and moves about in Europe. She resists the advances of an industrialist New Yorker who follows her to England and the advances of a British nobleman, too.

Finally, after she inherits a great deal of money, she feels free to make choices without the influence of material wealth to come.

And so she marries, and marries badly. Does she flee? Does she stick it out?

I am really giving this novel a short review because I could speak about it for days and days. It's James, so it's dense and about much more than a simple tale of an expat getting married. We also have the observer character in the form of Isabel's consumptive cousin, who arranges the inheritance as an experiment on Isabel, to see what such a unique and rare person will do with such opportunity. And we have the idea of place - why England? And why does Isabel have to be an American? How does this novel fit into the James pantheon? And American literature?

I'm'na have to reread it to even come close to those answers.

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