Portrait of a Lady by Henry James


Audiobook.  Listening to Henry James is truly a treat.  The language is languorous, circuitous, beautiful and funny, which makes him a wonderful companion for the tedious business of the elliptical or a walk around the track.  For example, take the following:

Isabel, however, gave as little heed as possible to cosmic treacheries; she kept her eyes on her book and tried to fix her mind. It had lately occurred to her that her mind was a good deal of a vagabond, and she had spent much ingenuity in training it to a military step and teaching it to advance, to halt, to retreat, to perform even more complicated manoeuvres, at the word of command. Just now she had given it marching orders and it had been trudging over the sandy plains of a history of German Thought.

Apparently my mind is less of a vagabond when I am walking and listening than when I have a book in hand.

Although the story is not the point, here it is briefly.  Isabel Archer is snatched up from her lonely state by an aunt and is to be taken around Europe.  They stop first in England to visit the aunt’s husband and son, both of whom are in terrible health.  Isabel makes a great impression on everyone and receives offers of marriage from several quarters which she turns down. The Touchett men (her cousin and her uncle) are quite taken with her and the son suggests the father leave her a ton of money that would have been his.  He hopes to live long enough to see how Isabel deals with being rich.  Well, the treacherous Madame Merle comes along and when she learns that Isabel has a fortune, contrives to have her marry her (Madame Merle’s) former lover.  And of course the lover is a stinker; everyone tells Isabel this is the case, but does she listen?

The story is just ludicrous enough so that it is not distressing, but it remains of interest.  What a wonderful book.

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