Tag Archives: Henry James

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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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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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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Strategy Games

We had a snow/ice day earlier this week.  I always view these bonus days as the perfect opportunity to take on a “project.”  You know, projects like Dinah’s kitchen drawer, things that would make Miss Ophelia proud.

The disaster area of choice this time was our game and puzzle closet, and I was going to need some sort of fortification or mental stimulation to take on this task.  My weapon of choice:

Portrait of an Audio Book

Surprising, right?  I have done pretty much nothing but complain about Henry James since the beginning of this month, and yet I chose him as my companion while facing this horrendously mundane sorting nightmare.  What was I thinking?  I’ll tell you:  I was thinking that it couldn’t get any worse.

Also, if I could knock off some pages by means of audiobook, that would improve the dismal chapter-a-day average I was barely managing to eek out.  So, I put on the lovely voice of Wanda McCaddon and started separating Uno Attack from Cars Uno and plain ol’ Uno.

As the stacks of cards, dice, and meeples grew, I found time flying.  I even began to regularly smile.  It turns out that The Portrait of a Lady makes a fairly decent read-aloud.

I suppose there are a couple of factors at play here.  The first is that the sweet sound of words replaces the text stretching endlessly for pages without the slightest hint of white space.  I don’t know why paragraphs are so important to me, but they are.

The second, is that when read by a skilled orator, the somewhat laborious descriptions of people and places come off as interesting details delivered with clever and witty poignancy.

So, although never-played games and puzzles missing more than 75% of their pieces are no longer present in our home, I think I may look for some more opportunities to throw down the needle on the old Henry James album.  Who knows, I might survive this novel, yet.


Posted by on February 2, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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A Reader’s Supplement

POAL Collateral ClassicMy copy of The Portrait of a Lady was published in 1966.  It’s a Collateral Classic, originally priced at ninety-five cents.  Although my book is more than forty years old, it is in great shape.

Let me share what is the best part of my version:
the forty-eight page Reader’s Supplement found in the center of the novel.Henry James

After my indiscretion last week, I’m trying hard to stay on task.  I haven’t spent lots of time skimming the “extras”, but I can share this dramatic black and white photo of our novel’s author.

My Reader’s Suplement also has…”Pictorial Background of Plot Highlights”.  What’s that?
Here’s a quote from the editors’ explanation:

In presenting the materials that follow, we have chosen to depart form a common practice in book illustration.  you will find no direct representations of important characters or scenes.  We believe that drawings or motion pictures stills, designed to help you visualize people or places the author describes, actually may interfere with the exercise of your own imagination  No artist can duplicate the pictures your mind creates as it reacts to the words in a book.  Even photographs depicting prominent actors who have portrayed the roles are poor substitutes for the images suggested by the language of a great writer.

Background info: that’s what’s being provided.  So, let me do a little show and tell.

Here’s an example of “An Old English Country Estate–1800’s (left) and “Double Houses in Albany-New York, 1800’s” (right).  See, we can imagine the Touchett’s estate and also see where Isabel was living in the US.

English Estate.double houses

Take a look at this illustration.  On the left side is “A ‘Specimen’ of an English Gentleman–1877“.  I see a proper Englishman.  This helps me imagine how Isabel Archer saw Lord Warburton  The picture on the right shows “A Young Woman of Imagination–1800’s“.  Could this be Isabel?

English gentleman

May I present “English Fashions of the 1880s“.  Remember how enamored we were with the Anna Karenina-inspired line at Banana Republic?  Perhaps JCPenny will pick up “The Portrait” line.  The hats are fantastic, but I can’t say I’m a huge fan of bustles.  Then again, if my waist can look that tiny…

English Fashions

Did you notice the text at the top of each illustration?  Those quotes from the novel are “to direct your attention to passages where the background material can be most helpful for visual purposes.”  Nifty!

Fellow readers, do any of your versions of The Portrait of a Lady contain “bonus” material?


Posted by on February 1, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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No Sweat

Classic Word of the Dayperspicacity – n.  discernment, shrewd mental understanding

Classical Usage:  After Mr. Touchett gives his niece a large inheritance, discussion begins in Chapter XXI about how she will handle her sudden richness.  Madame Merle had predicted to Mrs Touchett that after their young friend had put her hand into her pocket half a dozen times she would be reconciled to the idea that it had been filled by a munificent uncle; and the event justified, as it had so often justified before, the lady’s perspicacity.  In other word’s:  Madame Merle was right?

Classically Mad Usage:  Getting through this novel, and dissecting James’ complex sentences and never-ending paragraphing requires a great deal of perspicacity.  I’m not sure I’ve got it.

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Posted by on February 1, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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Next up: Invidious

Last week we learned about the word incommoded.  It seemed like a silly word to me, but I didn’t want to say anything, you know how much I respect Henry James.

But then I found out that Isabel felt it was a difficult piece of vocab to swallow herself.

“You (Osmund) don’t offend me; but you ought to remember that, without being offended, one may be incommoded, troubled.” “Incommoded”: she heard herself saying that, and it struck her as a ridiculous word.  But it was what stupidly came to her.

It’s okay, Isabel, it happens to the best of us – the author’s words begin to become our own.  You should hear how many times I use the ignominy now.

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Posted by on January 31, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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Maybe If I Diagram It

Classic Word of the DayI’m sure your assiduity to yesterday’s Classic Word of the Day made you realize that there would not be a new word today.  Now, if you have not already done so, please use your trenchancy to help me decipher that complicated sentence.

Thank you.

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Posted by on January 31, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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Forever Forty

Fortieth Birthday CakeThe three of us at A Classic Case of Madness are roughly the same age.  Roughly.  We do straddle a milestone birthday, which made this quote from Madame Merle in Chapter XIX stand out.

“I judge more than I used to,” she said to Isabel, “but it seems to me one has earned the right.  One can’t judge till one’s forty; before that we’re too eager, too hard, too cruel, and in addition much too ignorant . . . I often think that after forty one can’t really feel.  The freshness, the quickness have certainly gone.”

So, what do you think dear friends?  I’m not sure whether or not I’m happy to be on my particular side of the decade divide.


Posted by on January 30, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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Two for One

Classic Word of the Dayassiduity – n.  diligence, close attention to what one is doing

trenchancy – n.  keen perceptiveness

Classical Usage:  James throws these two words into one big sentence in Chapter XX about the ex-patriots that Mrs. Touchett spends time with in Paris.  Isabel saw them arrive with a good deal of assiduity at her aunt’s hotel, and pronounced on them with a trenchancy doubtless to be accounted for by the temporary exaltation of her sense of human duty.

Classically Mad Usage:  Huh?  I have no idea what our dear friend Henry is trying to say about these Europe loving Americans.  Maybe if I do that old vocabulary trick that I use on my son and substitute a bunch of words I can figure out what he’s talking about.  Let’s try it:  Isabel saw the Americans arrive very diligently at the caravansary where her aunt stayed, and declared on them with a keen perceptiveness that was because of the short-lived importance of her understanding of respecting people.

That made it worse.



Posted by on January 30, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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