Category Archives: The Portrait of a Lady

Some Dads

Happy Father’s Day Sancho, Christian, Gulliver, Mr. Bennett, Fagin, Mr. Brockelhurst, Arthur Dimmesdale, Ahab, Arthur Shelby, Charles Bovary, Marmeladov, Vronsky, Damon Wildeve, Gilbert Osmund, Pap Finn, and Tom Buchanan.

Thanks for not being my dad.

You see, he’s pretty awesome.  And you guys, well, let’s just say that you’re best left where you are:  inside the covers of a book.

Dad Dance


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The House of Mirth chapter 2

She accordingly installed herself in the Madison Avenue house, and Percy, whose sense of duty was not inferior to his mother’s, spent all his week days in the handsome Broad Street office where a batch of pale men on small salaries had grown grey in the management of the Gryce estate, and where he was initiated with becoming reverence into every detail of the art of accumulation.

Just think if we could have gotten Americana collector Percy Gryce from The House of Mirth to go antiquing with art collectors Gilbert Osmond and Edward Rosier from The Portrait of a Lady.  They could have been BFFs.


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The Fastest 300 Years EVER!

Sancho and the donkey.  Christian.  Yahoos and Houyhnhnms.  Elizabeth and Darcy.  Oliver.   Bertha-in-the-attic.  Hester and Pearl.   Moby Dick.   Uncles and Madams.  Rascal.   Anna-Kitty-Levin-Vronsky-oviches.   The Heath.   Isabel.   Huckleberry.   The Journeys of Henry and Marlowe.   And now Lily, whose outcome, at least for me, is still uncertain.

While paging through the Well-Educated Mind list of fiction books, I realized that Don Quixote was published in 1605 and House of Mirth in 1905.   300 years!  I congratulate myself and you, fellow readers, on plowing through 300 years of literature.   May the crop be plentiful!  I suggest a glass of red wine and some good chocolate to celebrate.



Matchmaker, Matchmaker

James and Wharton

I’ve been known to play matchmaker a time or two in my life.  Not always successfully I’ll admit, well, rarely successfully might be more like it, and while I’ve sworn off the practice in real life, I’m not afraid to set up a fictional friend or two.

So when we learn in Chapter 3 that Lily’s preference in the husband category “would have been for an English nobleman with political ambitions and vast estates” I wanted to sit down an pen a missive to our dear Lord Warburton suggesting a blind date.  It would be a match made in literature.

Here’s the oddly fitting part, Edith Wharton and Henry James were good friends. So was Mrs. Wharton giving a little nod to her buddy’s characters?  I don’t know, but if Lily can’t get things to work out with any of these dudes we’ve met so far, I hope she hops the pond and looks up one of Isabel’s rejected.


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I Thee Read

Another blogiversary, another year of reading bliss.

Blogiversary Two

For better, . . .

Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Crime and Punishment
Anna Karenina
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Red Badge of Courage

for worse, . . .

Madame Bovary
The Return of the Native
The Portrait of a Lady

for richer, . . .

Rodolphe Boulanger
Augustine St. Clare
Stepen Arkadyevitch Oblonsky
Lord Warburton

for poorer, . . .

Berthe Bovary
Sofya Marvelodov
Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikov

in sickness, . . .

Nikolai Demitrich Levin
Ekaterina Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya
Ralph Touchett
Clym Yeobright

and in heath, . . .

Pansy Osmond
Huckleberry Finn

till death us do part . . .

Evangeline St Clare
Uncle Tom
Emma Bovary
Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladov
Alyona Ivanovna
Lizaveta Ivanovna
Anna Karenina
Mrs. Yeobright
Eustacia Yeobright
Damon Wildeve
Daniel Touchett
Ralph Touchett
Pap Finn
Miss Watson

So who did you love and cherish most this past year?


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Teach Your Children Well

Have you taken the The Portrait of a Lady quiz?  If you do, and get the answer to the first question right please explain in the comments.  I take issue with that one, but I’m not here today to complain (again) about the fairness and accuracy of the sparknotes quizzes.

I want to talk about a “What if . . . ” idea that they gave me.  Here’s the question that spurred my thought:

Where does Pansy Osmond attend school?

(A) A private school in Massachusetts
(B) A Lutheran school in Germany
(C) A convent in Italy
(D) A New York City orphanage


I don’t think I’m giving away to much by telling you that the answer isn’t B.  But what if it had been?

In case we haven’t explained this before, all three of us (not to mention all three of our husbands) have been Lutheran school teachers.  And although we all taught in the good ol’ US of A, to some extent all Lutheran schools are just an extension of Germany.

So, what if Pansy had learned English from Christine, science from Jeannette, and music from me?  What if she had memorized Luther’s Small Catechism by heart?  What if she had been schooled in Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone?  What if she had been taught the doctrine of vocation?

Well, the fourth commandment would have told her to honor her father (and mother.)  So, that might not have impacted her respect for her father, but would she be so strictly obedient to his every wish and command?  It’s hard to say, but I believe she is reacting in fear toward him, and I’d like to think that the love of her Heavenly Father and forgiveness through his son would have curbed that paralyzing reaction to his demands.

I’d also like to hope that having teachers who were preparing her for a life in the world, while actually living a life in the world would provide her models of adult women to respect.

I think James paints an accurate picture of the sisters in the convent loving Pansy and certainly doing their best within their means to provide her with the education for which they have been trusted.  But the poor child, who should actually be an adult, is imprisoned in a life without an understanding of familial love, independence, and a proper understanding of how to love her neighbor.

It’s silly to think a Lutheran education would solve her every problem.  It wouldn’t.  There are no panaceas.  But, I can pretty much guarantee this much:  No Lutheran School I know would ever take back a 20 year-old student just because their Daddy didn’t approve of their choice of husbands.


Posted by on February 24, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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Not Lying Down on the Job

As we’ve discussed earlier, James isn’t a big fan of dropping his character’s names into every paragraph, or even page.  Sometimes it seems he’s set himself a one-use-per-chapter rule.  And while that can be mildly annoying/confusing it does allow for some entertainingly descriptive moments.

It was in virtue of this principle that he [Osmond] gave himself the entertainment of taking a fancy to a perpendicular Bostonian whom he had been depended upon to treat with coldness.

I plan to use this helpful adjective next time I’m asked to describe someone.  You know, when asked who it was at church that we prayed for because he fell and broke his arm I’ll reply, “Oh, that formerly perpendicular man that sits on the front right side.”


Posted by on February 22, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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So Long, Farewell, Let’s Try to Stay Alive

Boys GoodbyeDespite the nearly 650 pages we spent with her, there are not a lot of occasions for me to relate to Isabel’s life. But there was this touching goodbye scene with those wily boys of her sister’s.

Isabel watched the train move away; she kissed her hand to the elder of her small nephews, a demonstrative child who leaned dangerously far out of the window of the carriage and made separation an occasion of violent hilarity, . .

This is exactly what it’s like saying goodbye to my sons, and I don’t think my sister would mind me adding, my nephews, too.  It’s demonstrative.  It’s dangerous.  It’s violent.  It’s hilarious.

It’s less “Goodbye” and more “Let’s not extend this visit any longer by adding a trip to the ER.”


Posted by on February 21, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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Stupid Question: What to Expect Edition

What does “knocked-up” mean?

And if Caspar was in that delicate condition shouldn’t Isabel have married him?

Um, I mean . . . uh . . . okay, I don’t know what I mean, or what James meant either, for that matter.

Here’s the quote at the very end of Chapter XXXII.  Mr. Goodwood has come to see his former love after she’s written to inform him of her engagement.  There conversation is all but over, and he’s headed out the door.

‘How little you make of these terrible journeys,’ she felt the poverty of her presently replying.
‘If you’re afraid I’m knocked up – in such way as that – you may be at your ease about it.’ He turned away, this time in earnest, and no hand-shake, no sign of parting, was exchanged between them.

I’m guessing that he meant “put out, what do you think?


Posted by on February 18, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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Is he or isn’t he?

POAL Collateral ClassicMy copy of The Portrait of a Lady, the one with the Reader’s Supplement, has a section of critics’ quotes about Henry James and his novel(s).  After reading this quote by Mr. J.B. Priestly, I decided Mr. Priestly and I could be friends.

Did Henry James breathe the finest oxygen or make do with one collapsed lung?  In other words, have we in him one of the supreme masters of the novel, as we are so often told now that he is in fashion, or a novelist of great skill and originality who yet leaves us dissatisfied and dubious?…
Whatever our attitude toward fiction, whatever our personal response to him my be, we cannot possibly deny him a kind of greatness.  But there remains the question–is he one of the supreme masters of the novel?

Literature and Western Man by J.B. Priestly, Harper and Brothers, 1960.

What do you think?  Is Henry James one of the supreme masters of the novel?


Posted by on February 16, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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