12 December 2005

The Portrait of a Lady

I'm nearly finished with The Portrait of a Lady and it has been an excellent read. I brought along a few classics that I had had trouble getting into because I knew my options would be limited here. I had started PoaL a year ago but never got very far. But this time it was very easy to get into it- I don't know what my problem was before. It's a long book, but definitely worth reading.

It's been interesting to read PoaL and Return of the Native and House of Mirth one after another. All are about women who marry (or want to marry) for the wrong reasons. They all think that what they are striving for will make them happy. And, obviously, it doesn't. Of course, things do work out reasonably nicely in RotN, but none of the books are exactly cheery.

I think the unabridged Les Mis is next. I've never tackled that one, at least unabridged. I think I'll be ready for something a little more upbeat after that. I could borrow my friend's LDS romance collection...


  1. (Nathan typing this round)
    I really liked PoaL. I love how it opens in creating setting at the houses; James fittingly takes a time to paint a verbal portrait of his settings that is very rich.

    When I read it a few years after my mission I was caught up with everything Isabelle did and felt I was along for the ride. I was as sucked in by Madame Merle and Osmond as Isabelle was, and it took me a little while to finish reading it due to my disappointment. Maybe for that reason, I still think of the first and second halves of PoaL as being almost two different books

    I remember not particularly liking the ending at the time, but I think that was because I wasn't mature enough to appreciate how Isabelle could still internally make some happy life for herself in a bad situation. That she is able to so convincingly reject Goodwood at the end as a lesser alternative underscores that point. Either way I'm very glad that James didn't fall back on some deux ex machina solution.

    My two most favorable characterizations from the book are:
    1. That Madame Merle could put down her diversions as easily as she could pick them up.
    2. That Osmond was the kind of person that would have been able to do noble things during the day if only he could have woken up in the early hours of the morning instead of sleeping in.

    I wish I could better emulate the former characterization and recognize the latter in myself all too often.

    This is a tough novel to understand if you haven't lived (like James) outside of your native country for some time. The reason he is able to be such a precise observer of the English landscape (I don't say correct--that is for others with more England-specific experience to decide; he is precise, though). There is a distinct freedom that comes from the larger culture at large treat you as a knowable, normalized element. I think I take less for granted in such a position myself.

    This freedom of sorts is what leads to James' as well as Isabelle Archer's different perspective on the culture. In the end perspective it would have been better for Isabelle had she never received her "inheritance", but I am selfishly glad she did because the observations of her adventures in the first part of the book are sharp enough that I feel that I got to spend the money myself. :)