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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Portrait of a Lady (1880) by Henry James

Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich starred in the 1996 movie versin of The Portarit of a Lady by Henry James.
Book Review
The Portrait of a Lady
 by Henry James
p. 1880 serial us/uk
p. 1881 book

Guide to 19th Century American Literature

Book Review: The Awakening by Kate Chopin ,1899,  9/26/13
Book Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, 1885, 10/15/13
Book Review: The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James ,1880 , 7/16/13
Book Review; Ben Hur by Lew Wallace,1880  6/13/13
Book Review: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott,1869, 3/9/13
Book Review: The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne 1860, 9/19/12
Book Review: Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe 1852, 9/12/12
Book Review: The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne,1851, 5/30/12
Book Review: Moby Dick by Herman Melville 1851, 8/27/12
Book Review: The House of the Seven Gables,1851,  6/21/12
Book Review: The Pit and The Pendulum  1842, 3/28/12
Book Review: The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe, 1844, 3/27/12
Book Review: The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe, 1839, 3/20/12
Book Review: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, 1826, 6/18/12

 Man I was so wrong about Henry James.   Now, having read what came before, I am in a position to appreciate James' role as the first modern novelist.  This much is clear from the intro where James discusses the position of the marriageable young woman as the central figure of the novel as an art form.  He's right, and the only other authors he name checks in this preface are George Eliot and d Ivan Turgenev, and, uh... he's a brilliant prose stylist, equally adept at describing inner thoughts and outward appearances.  His theme of New World vs. Old World in the context of the traditional marriage plot is as fresh thematically as anything- certainly more so then other proto-modernists like George Eliot let alone the Russians who are is his nearest competitors.

Nothing captures the essence of Isabel Archer like the cold, dead eyes of Nicole Kidman.  Good Job Jane Campion- you realize the only movie she's made since is In The Cut with Meg Ryan.  Yeah. Career ender.
     And of course, Henry James is an American who conquered London with his work- the first such novelist to ever do this.  I believe this is the first novel I've read chronologically that describes specific characters as being "modern."  He's like a blast across the bow of the Victorian literary establishment.  I haven't read enough secondary works to be able to speak with authority on the subject but I saw it with my own eyes- one of the benefits of the chronological method I've taken with this project.

  Isabel Archer- she's so REAL.  Reading The Portrait of a Lady the reader is drawn into her charms in a way that escapes the stereotypes and cliches that dominate Victorian literary female protagonists.   At the same time, The Portrait of a Lady is a book calculated to appeal to that very same Audience- it is a book with a standard Victorian marraige plot.  Only here, in The Portrait of a Lady you get a lengthy second and third act where it is made painfully, painfully, painfully clear that Ms. Archer has made a bad choice.  And she pays for it, and there is no happy ending.

 Welcome to the Modern World- Henry James was there in the 1870s.

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