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Search Results for 'PORTRAIT OF A LADY'

When Isabel Archer, a bright and independent young American, makes her first trip to Europe in the company of her aunt, Mrs. Touchett, who lives outside of London in a 400-year-old estate, she discovers a totally different world, one which does not encourage her independent thinking or behavior and which is governed by rigid social codes. This contrast between American and European values, vividly dramatized here, is a consistent theme in James’s novels, one based on his own experiences living in the US and England. In prose that is filled with rich observations about places, customs, and attitudes, James portrays Isabel’s European coming-of-age, as she discovers that she must curb her intellect and independence if she is to fit into the social scheme in which she now finds herself. Isabel Archer, one of James’s most fully drawn characters, has postponed a marriage in America for a year of travel abroad, only to discover upon her precipitate and ill-considered marriage to an American living in Florence, that it is her need to be independent that makes her marriage a disaster. (To see the full review, click on the title of this excerpt.)

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After I remarked to some book friends that one of the joys of having finished my schooling and my teaching career was that I would never again have to read a novel by Henry James, both of these friends responded that I really should read The Beast in the Jungle (1903), which they found to be quite different from many of his other works. Though I admit to having loved some of the films of James’s novels, I did not love reading any of the six novels I had had to read for classes, and I have always found James’s prose style to be so contorted, by today’s standards, and so artificial, that I have often had to reread and self-translate it into less formal English in order to come close to understanding what James is saying. My friends persuaded me by their enthusiasm, however, and I decided to try reading Henry James again after so many years of avoiding him. Voluntarily returning to his company, it turned out, was a mixed blessing. I admired much of the book and, for the first time, I really began to feel as if I were beginning to know who Henry James really was as a man, not just as a writer. The Beast in the Jungle parallels what we know of his life very closely, and it feels so autobiographical that the reader cannot help but believe that it is based on a very real inner turmoil in his life and may also explain some the mysteries which have always surrounded him.

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Focusing on the life of Henry James, Colm Toibin’s The Master goes way beyond the usual “novelization” of someone’s biography. Toibin has done a tremendous amount of research and has obviously read everything James has written, but he has so completely distilled all of this information, that in writing this book, he actually recreates Henry James. James, an American by birth, is a lonely and solitary figure throughout the novel, a man unable to form a committed relationship with anyone, either male or female, sometimes wanting companionship but not closeness, and always needing solitude to work. Through flashbacks, Toibin shows how James’s early upbringing may have been partly responsible for his feelings of isolation. Toibin’s dual focus on James’s life and how it is embodied in his fiction, give a powerful immediacy and sense of verisimilitude to this novel, so strong that one cannot help but feel an emotional connection to James, no matter how remote he may seem otherwise. (On my Favorites List for 2004)

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The imagined meeting of Sigmund Freud and Henry James at James’s residence, Lamb House, is the focus of this surprising novel of ideas, which conveys the intellectual ferment in Europe just prior to World War I in a style which is filled with warmth and good humor. Henry James and Sigmund Freud seem human and even fun-loving here, but the novel is no farce. Serious issues involving James’s writing, his style, his subjects, and his repressions all come into play, even as Freud admits to having his own problems trying to reconcile James’s creativity with the “scientific knowledge” which forms the basis of his psychoanalytical principles. Freud’s questions about his research become more acute when James agrees to undergo “short term analysis” during Freud’s stay at Lamb House. (My Favorite novel for 2007)

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Set in 1875, this Merchant-Ivory film focuses on the post-Civil War intellectual community of Boston and Cambridge, bringing to life the suffragist movement, which passionately involved many of its women. Verena Tarrant (Madeleine Potter) is a beautiful and charming young woman who draws large, paying crowds to hear her speak about “the just revolution,” which would free women from their second class status. Though Verena describes herself as “only a girl, a simple American girl,” her strength as a speaker quickly brings her to the attention of Olive Chancellor (Vanessa Redgrave), an older woman whose dedication to the movement, and eventually to Verena, is single-minded and all-consuming. When Verena moves in with the overly protective Olive, Olive wants her to promise that she will never marry, but the inevitable happens. Basil Ransom (Christopher Reeve), Olive’s cousin, arrives from the south, and is immediately smitten by Verena. (To see the full review, click on the title at the top of this excerpt.)

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