When Isabel Archer, a beautiful, spirited American, is brought to Europe by her wealthy aunt Touchett, it is expected that she will soon marry. But Isabel, resolved to enjoy the freedom that her fortune has opened up and to determine her own fate, does not hesitate to turn down two eligible suitors.
It is only when she finds herself irresistibly drawn to the cultivated but worthless Gilbert Osmond that she discovers that wealth is a two-edged sword and that there is a price to be paid for independence.
With its subtle delineation of American characters in a European setting, The Portrait of a Lady is one of the most accomplished and popular of Henry James’s early novels.
Public Domain (P)2010 BBC Audiobooks Ltd
"fabric artist and quilter"
I have read a few Henry James before but it was this book that really made me aware of the fact that he was the male, American version of Jane Austen but without the wit and insight.
The Portrait of a Lady is a tale of manners, of might bes and being careful of what you wish for. After several books recently I am beginning to wonder how the institution of marriage survived the Victorian times - none of them have been happy and most of the husbands were monsters, this marriage was another to add to the list.
I enjoyed it but it was very slow - beautifully slow in its accuracy to describe fully a room, a look or a thought but it did mean that the action was subdued, almost to the speed of molasses!
My biggest criticism of the book however was the narrator. John Wood is a lovely narrator and I hope to hear him again, but he was completely wrong for this book. Its an American view of English and ex-patriate life in Europe, to have it read by an Englishman who can't do an American accent or a woman's accent without it sounding like he's in drag, was very disappointing.
I felt mean giving this book only four stars but unfortunately that's all it deserved.
John Wood's compelling reading demonstrates a true and deep understanding of this, one of Henry James's greatest novels. His characterizations were perfect, particularly the difficult and at times enigmatic character of Isabel Archer. I hope Mr. Wood will do many more of James's works.
John Wood's narration is just about perfect. The "American" accents are not "realistic," but that is a minor quibble, especially as it is offset so well by the perfect rendition of the narrative voice. Wood clearly understands the arc of the novel as a whole, so each chapter, paragraph, sentence has the right tone and nuance; the little refracted ironies strewn about everywhere are nicely expressed. Best of all -- I say this without having heard other readings -- is that Wood reads slowly. He savors the words, and we have time to understand them. The production values and audio quality are fabulous. I echo Linda's comment: Please, Mr. Wood, record more James!
John Wood did a perfect job on this wonderful classic. He didn't just read, he acted each character.
Mr. Woods was a wonderful actor, but his narration of Portrait of a Lady is, at best, distracting. This is one of my favorite books, so maybe, like reviewer Elinor below, I'm more picky than usual, but the frequent interruptions for episodes of panting, audible swallows, painful American accents and his unfriendly portrayals of the women made this hard going. Like other reviewers, I was particularly put off by the shrill women's voices. This isn't the first time I've been disappointed with a narration by a well-known actor. I think narration requires different skills than those of a movie or television actor.
If you can listen beyond Mr. Woods' theatrics, though, the book is wonderful. Granted, a great deal has changed for women since the book was written, and it makes it difficult for us to understand some of young
Isabelle's actions and choices. She can easily seem frivolous and overly self-involved. Maybe her experiences and challenges as a very young woman are too different from those experienced by young women today; maybe this part of the book does not withstand the test of time. But the adult Isabelle is another person altogether--along with her adult husband and friends. We've known these people, and unfortunately, we've known these situations. Henry James wrote of Isabelle with great love and sympathy. I think this book remains a classic because most readers will find the same love and sympathy.
I love this book, so perhaps I'm prone to being picky, but I was SO frustrated by the narration that I purchased another version just so I could continue with the book. I'm sensitive to male narrators who attempt female voices but just end up sounding shrill (it makes the female characters seem unlikeable), and this is one of the worst instances I've experienced. His Henrietta Stackpole, for instance, was so shrill & awful, I just had to turn it off. I'd recommend the Nadia May version, which I bought to replace this.
The narrator of this book is excellent, and adds a lot of verve to this story. Worth it, listen if you like the classics.
John Wood does justice to James's masterpiece with his excellent reading. I don't love his female voices, but the male voices are good, and his narration is superlative. I hope someone will hire John Wood to do more audiobooks.
"Portrait of a Lady" provides rich detail in both settings and character development. The concept of living behind such a veil of propriety and ritual is foriegn to us in current times, but the nuances of freindship, love and relationships is still interesting and relevant today.
Mr. Wood's voice, while deep and appropriate for the male character, fell short of enjoyable for the female parts. Also, his frequent swallowing, throat clearing and lip licking were quite obvious and distracting. Sounds that might not be noticed on the stage or film, are quite annoying in the audio version of a work. I purchased this version of the book because it had the highest ratings, but I would take a sample listen to others before purchasing.
"James's writing is sublime"
James's writing is wonderful and this version is very well read. The novel is character driven rather than plot driven. We see Isabel's character evolve, the effect money has on her life, the different male suitors show the marital options available to women at the time and the satelite female characters portray alternative forms of existence for women in C19th society. Isabel arrives on the scene framed in a doorway- like a portrait- and leaves the same way, but is much changed. When you look at a portrait it is static but you can read so much into it; the same is true of Isabel Archer.
"Took a long time but loved it"
I loved Henry James's descriptions. He takes his time and you have to be patient with the pace of the story but it's great. Didn't have quite the ending I wanted but then it was up to the writer not me!
The point where she realizes there's a betrayal and an undercurrent in her relationship to her best friend was pretty good. As was the description of her growing realization of the true nature of her husband's character. Very moving.
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