• The Portrait of a Lady

  • By: Henry James
  • Narrated by: Wanda McCaddon
  • Length: 21 hrs and 31 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (202 ratings)

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The Portrait of a Lady  By  cover art

The Portrait of a Lady

By: Henry James
Narrated by: Wanda McCaddon
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Publisher's Summary

The Portrait of a Lady is the most stunning achievement of Henry James' early period - in the 1860s and '70s, when he was transforming himself from a talented young American into a resident of Europe, a citizen of the world, and one of the greatest novelists of modern times. A kind of delight at the success of this transformation informs this masterpiece.

When Isabel Archer, a young American woman with looks, wit, and imagination, arrives in Europe, she sees the world as "a place of brightness, of free expression, of irresistible action". She turns aside from suitors who offer her their wealth and devotion to follow her own path. But that way leads to disillusionment and a future as constricted as "a dark narrow alley with a dead wall at the end". In one of the most moving conclusions in modern fiction, Isabel makes her final choice.

Public Domain (P)2008 Tantor

What listeners say about The Portrait of a Lady

Average Customer Ratings
Overall
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Bleak and believable

Beautifully read, but oh so bleak. You have to love James to love this one. I like James, and liked this.

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Complex and absorbing

Listening to this audio book was one of the great literary experiences of my life. Like most of James's novels it is complex; but once I got absorbed in the story I was completely hooked. Wanda McCadden's reading is phenomenal.

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Marvellous and still so relevant

Achingly beautiful, sad, complex and perplexing, and in places funny, The Portrait of a Lady should be followed by a strong dose of Luce Irigaray; for Henry James, like that good French feminist did some 100 years hence, exposes the circulating commodity of women - bought, sold, bartered and discarded by men, and what that means for that "sex which is not one".

"In still other words: all the systems of exchange that organize patriarchal societies and all the modalities of productive work that are recognized, valued, and rewarded in these societies are men’s business. The production of women, signs, and commodities is always referred back to men (when a man buys a girl, he “pays” the father or the brother, not the mother … ), and they always pass from one man to another, from one group of men to another. The work force is thus always assumed to be masculine, and “products” are objects to be used, objects of transaction among men alone." (Luce Irigaray, The Sex Which is Not One" (1985)

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Interminable

That this novel is considered a classic is beyond me. It is painfully long and dreadfully boring. It’s characters, despite ample opportunity without depth or credibility. James’ view of women must have been both uninformed and shallow, clearly his opinion of them was dim if not overtly hateful.
Run away from this terrible book.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Loved it

Would you listen to The Portrait of a Lady again? Why?

Probably. It's a very detailed book and explains the characters' motives and thought processes so thoroughly, yet without taking you out of the story in the least, that you feel very connected to everything going on. Some people find this a drawback in James' work but I find it a highlight. This sort of exposition makes the story much more realistic and connectable.
With so much detail, rich characters, great dialogue and an engaging story, I could definitely see myself re-reading this in future.

What did you like best about this story?

The storyline between Ralph and Isabel.

Which character – as performed by Wanda McCaddon – was your favorite?

Ralph.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes. The pacing is very good.

Any additional comments?

Wanda McCaddon's performance is quite excellent in many aspects but she does have a difficult time maintaining separate voices for each character sometimes and will slip even in a conversation between only two characters. It can be slightly confusing from time to time but I would still recommend her as she's good with conveying the right emotional tone.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Stunning

James uses a lot of words! Not a casual read. Very much a book to be reading now when women are moving forward in their potential and men are struggling to navigate the challenges of equality.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

More complex than I'd imagined

More complex than I'd imagined. A good presentation of how a narcissist draws in and then abuses his victims (re Gilbert Osmond). Isabel is not a perfect character, but she is capable of wrestling with hard decisions and living with them, which makes her worthwhile to read about.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Wonderful narrator, exquisite writing, but something is off

Basically, I do not like how little we actually get to know the characters so that James can pull off the grand reveals and plot twists (of sorts) at the end. Will reread at some point but I felt a little betrayed as a reader, and underwhelmed.
Stylistically he reminds me of John Singer Sargent, a master of his craft, an absolute master, but somehow without revealing enough about his subjects.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent in every way.

Having read the novel before, I can quite honestly say that Wanda McCaddon’s excellent performance as narrator captures every nuance of the characters and differentiates them beautifully. It was a pure pleasure to listen to.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Good story

I was about a third of the way through this when I went on vacation. After a week of being back I decided to start where I had left off. I am glad I did. It takes awhile to get going but it pays out in the end. The narration is quite good and helped to bring me back into the story.