book review, Quotes

The Portrait of a Lady – Henry James

I have been wanting to read this book for a long time and finally got around to it when I found a beautiful used leather bound copy on Thriftbooks. Here is a picture of it on my Instagram.

The book started out wonderfully but got a little slow and depressing at the end. Overall, it was a really good read. It is less of a story and mostly an in depth look at the personality (a portrait?) of the main character, Isabelle. Henry James really focuses on character development and analysis rather than plot; any plot that does exist only serves the purpose of further illuminating the players by changing the stage on which they are performing. It is also really enjoyable to read because of the elegant writing – even if you don’t love the story, you won’t be able to deny the exquisite language. Read this if you enjoy classic literature, poetic feeling prose and character-focused novels.

The only thing that I found annoying about this book is that every single man that came into contact with Isabelle fell in love with her – it got old after a few hundred pages and made her character feel flatter than it should for one on which the author spends so much time. Despite the overabundance of eligible men, this isn’t a love story in the traditional sense and is definitely a realistic account of flawed personalities. It makes for a less stereotypical, but messier feeling read. Do not read this book if you like neat packages with happy endings, but if you enjoy lifelike consequences for fictional decisions, this is a book for you.

I found so many quotes in this book and I have included a selection of them below.

Quotes:

“Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

“Her imagination was by habit ridiculously active; when the door was not open it jumped out of the window.”

“Her reputation of reading a great deal hung about her like the cloudy envelope of a goddess in an epic; it was supposed to engender difficult questions…”

“There was such a world of hereditary quiet in her.”

“There’s no more usual basis of union than a mutual misunderstanding.”

“I try to judge things for myself; to judge wrong, I think, is more honourable than not to judge at all. I don’t wish to be a mere sheep in the flock; I wish to choose my fate and know something of human affairs beyond what other people think it compatible with propriety to tell me.”

“We know too much about people in these days; we hear too much. Our ears, our minds, our mouths, are stuffed with personalities. Don’t mind anything anyone tells you about anyone else. Judge everyone and everything for yourself.”sw

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