Young and naive, Kathleen Hill moves to newly independent Nigeria with her husband to teach at Igbobi College. It is the early 1960s, and Hill is soon caught up in the swirl of the times: The legacy of colonialism, chaos back in America, and violence and racism across the globe that touch even the quiet school where she teaches English literature. As a way of steadying and finding herself in this new place, she begins reading Henry James's Portrait of a Lady, and there discovers disturbing resonances with her own life. Dedicated to Chinua Achebe, "Portrait" is an essay that pays homage to a vanished world and to the striking power of a novel, read at a particular moment, to illuminate the life of a reader.
Ploughshares, the literary magazine of Emerson College.