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24 February 2009 @ 06:25 pm
The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James

hatoyona, I know you had to read this for college ... if you can, please to inform me WHAT THE HELL THE ENDING?!?!

That makes two out of three for Mr James. A few more like these and I'll forgive him the Bostonians.

I got to know these characters so intimately that I felt they actually existed. I started the next book with the vague thought that I was going to see Isabel tomorrow. I wasn't, of course, and the realisation left me somewhat bereft.

I guessed the secret about Pansy just before Countess Gemini revealed it, although up to then I had no clue. There was just something off about Madame Merle from the very beginning - even when she was playing the piano at their very first meeting - and I congratulate James for managing that while describing Madame Merle as ever so charming and such a good friend to Isabel.

Although the facts of the matter are not so heinous as you would suppose - Osmond had an affair and a lovechild with Madame Merle; he then married Isabel for her money - the whole narrative is so choked with menace and ill-feeling that you can't help but agree that he's committed the basest of crimes. I like the descriptions of Isabel's hopelessness very much. I'm just puzzled as to who, if anyone, she really loved. Ralph as a brother, but not as he wanted; she only seemed intimidated and latterly scared by Caspar; Osmond charmed her to death; and Warbuton turned out to be a little freak, in the end. Who does conceive such a lasting passion on the basis of four hours' acquaintance? It's weird, that's what.

My favourite characters were, in order: Ralph, Henrietta and Countess Gemini. Ralph because his touching scene on his father's deathbed actually made me cry, which no classic has never done before (he called him daddy!); Henrietta because she was such an original, in the truest sense of the word, although I agree with Isabel that she betrayed her originality by marrying Mr Bantling; and Countess Gemini because she was the only one to say consistently interesting things. I wonder if Isabel was not a little of a Mary Sue - so many men wanting to marry her, even before she had money! And presented as such a unique gem, although she tarnished very easily. I'm not sure.

I think James can be funny, too, which is a huge mark in his favour.

"[...] How's your tea?"
"Well, it's rather hot."
"That's intended to be a merit."

the mistress of a wedge of brown stone violently driven into Fifty-third Street

while they had recognised in the late Mr Archer a remarkably handsome head and a very taking manner (indeed, as one of them had said, he was always taking something)

"Ah, you must send me the paper! My husband won't like it, but he need never see it. Besides, he doesn't know how to read."

Ralph had had Sir Matthew Hope, but he had got tired of this celebrated man, to whom he had asked his mother to send word he was now dead and therefore without need of further medical advice. Mrs Touchett had simply written to Sir Matthew that her son disliked him.

More proof of why Henrietta is cool:

"It's very easy to laugh at her, but it is not easy to be as brave as she."

But this base, ignoble world, it appeared, was after all what one was to live for; one was to keep it for ever in one's eye, in order not to enlighten or convert or redeem it, but to extract from it some recognition of one's own superiority.

I finally GOT what was so wrong with Osmond when I read that.

Deep in her soul - deeper than any appetite for renunciation - was the sense that life would be her business for a long time to come. And at moments there was something inspiring, almost enlivening, in the conviction.

I don't really know what to say about that, but ... I've felt it. I know it. I think it's why Isabel went back to Gilbert in the end (if that is indeed what she did).

Previously, on Book Glomp 2009:
He Knew He Was Right, Anthony Trollope
The Bostonians, Henry James
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
For Esme - with Love and Squalor, JD Salinger
The Outsider, Albert Camus
The Princess Diaries: Ten out of Ten, Meg Cabot
The Vicar of Bullhampton, Anthony Trollope
Molesworth, Geoffrey Willans
Villette, Charlotte Bronte
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Riakessie on February 24th, 2009 06:42 pm (UTC)
I love, love Portrait of a Lady. :) (The film with Nicole Kidman is so-so.) You might like The Europeans by him as well, though he can be a little hit or miss.

Havemercy is in the post for you tomorrow morning. (I, uh, kind of didn't get out of my PJs until 3pm today to celebrate having two days off in a row for the first time in five weeks. I apologise for my fail. :/)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Fashion: Alexis Bledelscoradh on February 24th, 2009 09:50 pm (UTC)
I have never seen the film. So tell me, what WAS the ending about? I still don't understand!

No worries! I won't be home for a few weeks anyway, so I won't get it for ages yet. :D
peripatetic extemporizationshatoyona on February 25th, 2009 01:30 am (UTC)
Um YES to all of the above except perhaps your great love of the book. I mean, okay, I agree, the in-depth talk about Isabel was interesting, even if she was sort of a little bitch. But. Well. Okay the ending was a really big wtf moment for me. Idk. Then again, her other option was to go off with Caspar, and he was kind of creepy like you said.