Saturday, June 15, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "The Portrait of a Lady"

The Portrait of a Lady
By Henry James
Original Copyright 1881
Current Copyright by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
Classic Literature

Ahhh yes.  Just what you wanted.  A book that took me a full two months to read.  I'm sure this will be on top of everyone's reading list knowing THAT little bit of information.

I've actually tried to read this book before.  The last time I tried to read it, I only made it in about eight pages before I was bored silly.  But I was reminded that this is a classic; I decided there had to be some redeeming quality to it, so I gave it another chance.  Booooo on me. 

The Portrait of a Lady begins on the lawn of an old English country house, with some boring dialogue between a Lord, the owner of the house and his sickly son.  Not a lady in sight.  Eventually, the lady in question does show up; Isabel Archer, whose great plans in life involve NEVER letting a man make any decisions for her. 

Isabel is in the unfortunate position, however, of having every man she meets fall in love with her.  As these "gentlemen" fall all over themselves to do everything they can to woo the "lady" (who, by the way, never really seemed to have enough redeeming qualities to warrant such attention), she simply lets them down as gently as she can and moves on to the next man. 

The hilarity of that is evident when poor Miss Archer finally chooses a husband and really chooses the wrong guy for all the wrong reasons.  Unhappiness ensues. 

I never really "got" the purpose of the book.  And, frankly, was pretty disappointed with the conclusion.  There were a few chuckle-worthly paragraphs of dialogue and a few witty lines here and there, such as Isabel's attempt to avoid having to view a tedious collection belonging to one of her suitors by stating, "I don't want to know anything more - I know too much already. The more you know the more unhappy you are."  Or the description of her jealousy of her cousin, "She envied Ralph his dying, for if one were thinking of rest that was the most perfect of all.  To cease utterly, to give it all up and not know anything more - this idea was as sweet as the vision of a cool bath in a marble tank, in a darkened chamber, in a hot land." 

A truly disappointing waste of a large number of hours of my time. 

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