November Books 3) The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James
The Portrait of a Lady is one of several long and slowly digested books that I have been reading recently (still working on the other two). I found it a remarkable book. Henry James has taken the traditional high-society romance, and recast it quite substantially into a story centred on his heroine Isabel, her early loves and her disastrous marriage, with no happy ending promised. There's a lot going on behind the scenes - we completely miss the first years after Isabel's marriage in which she bears and loses a child, and the astute reader will spot the truth about Madame Merle long before Isabel does. But James is also writing about the artistic experience of Americans encountering Europe - Isabel and many of the other characters are American, but only one chapter is set across the Atlantic, the rest being mainly in England and Italy - and also for the effect of art on the soul - not always positive; one of the many unattractive aspects of Isabel's husband is that he is more interested in antiquity than in her. There are a lot of memorable characters including the courageous Isabel herself, and not all of them are quite what they seem. I think it was F.R. Leavis' The Great Tradition that put me onto this one, and I am very glad that it did.