The Portrait of a Lady (By Henry James)

The Portrait of a Lady
The Portrait of a Lady


ISBN: 9780141441269Number of Pages: 768
Publisher: Penguin ClassicsBook Title: The Portrait of a Lady
Publication Year: 2011Target Audience: Trade
Author: Henry JamesReading Age: 12+


The Portrait of a Lady is Henry James‘s early work and one of his masterpieces. It was published in 1881. This work is rich in connotation, rigorous in structure, and meticulous and wonderful in depicting the psychology of young women. Western critics regard it as the beginning of modern American novels.

Isabel Archer, the heroine, is a young and beautiful American girl. After her parents died, she was taken out of a small town by her rich aunt to see the world in the Europe where her dreams haunted.

She stayed in the “Garden Villa” temporarily outside London, and successively rejected the marriage proposals of British aristocrat Warburton and American rich merchant Goldwood. Her cousin Ralph also fell in love with her secretly, but he knew that he was incurable and could not be married, so he just persuaded his father to leave a huge inheritance to his cousin.

Isabel got to know Madame Mayer, who was elegant and talented, and was fascinated by the American woman who had become completely European.

After her uncle died, Isabel got her inheritance and went to Italy for a tour. While she was intoxicated with the historical sites of Florence and Rome, she also gradually entered the trap carefully laid by Madame Mel.

Madame Mel introduced her to Osmond, an American artist who had lived in Italy for a long time. He seemed to be refined and cultured. Isabel was enthralled by him, and his lovely daughter, Patsy, also aroused her affection.

She defied repeated warnings and objections from her relatives and friends around her and married him on her own. After marriage, she gradually found that she had been cheated. Osmond was indeed a snake in a selfish and hypocritical flower bush.

She also found that Madame Merle had long been Osmond’s mistress, and that Patsy was their illegitimate daughter. When she was in great pain, she forced herself to smile and hid the truth of her unhappy marriage from outsiders.

Cousin Ralph is critically ill in England. Isabel goes to see him regardless of her husband’s objection. After Ralph’s death, Isabel unexpectedly returned to Rome.

The Portrait of a Lady is one of the best ap lit book, Best AP Lit Book List (2022)

About the Author

Henry James (April 15, 1843 – February 28, 1916) was a British American novelist, literary critic, playwright and essayist. His representative works include novels like The American, The Portrait of a Lady, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl.

He was born in New York City on April 15, 1843. He grew up mainly in Albany, New York, and New York City. From 1860 to 1862, he lived in Newport, Rhode Island. Later, he went to Boston to write literary reviews, travel notes and short stories.

In 1875, he decided to settle in Europe. At first he lived in Paris and got to know Turgenev, Flaubert, Maupassant and Zola. The next year, he moved to Britain.

In 1876, the first novel Roderick Hudson was published. In his early stage of creation, he wrote The American, The Portrait of a Lady, Daisy Miller, Washington Square and Espoon’s Remains, and traveled around the United States, France and Italy.

In 1889, he tried to become a playwright, but failed. He only performed two plays,The American and The Immature Childhood.

In the 1890s, he published The Miserable Poet, What Maisie Knew, The Treasure of Boeing, The Turn of the Screw, etc.

From 1904 to 1905, he paid a visit to the United States and wrote What the United States Saw after the visit. During the First World War, he became a British citizen and was awarded the highest civilian medal.

Henry James died on February 28, 1916, aged 73.

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Table of Contents


1 Historical Background: Modernism and Eliot’s Poetry

2 Eliot’s “Portrait of a Lady”

3 Portraits in Eliot’s “Portrait of a Lady”

4 The Modern Portrait in Eliot’s “Portrait of a Lady”

  • 4.1 Different media of expression
  • 4.2 Cubistic destruction
  • 4.3 Perspectives
  • 4.4 Incomprehensible image
  • 4.5 Self-portrait
  • 4.6 Flatness and Imitation