The Portrait of a Lady (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

The Portrait of a Lady (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)


$9.56 $11.95 Save 20% Current price is $9.56, Original price is $11.95. You Save 20%. View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Wednesday, December 18


The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

Widely regarded as Henry James’s greatest masterpiece, The Portrait of a Lady features one of the author’s most magnificent heroines: Isabel Archer, a beautiful, spirited American who becomes a victim of her provincialism during her travels in Europe.

As the story begins, Isabel, resolved to determine her own fate, has turned down two eligible suitors. Her cousin, who is dying of tuberculosis, secretly gives her an inheritance so that she can remain independent and fulfill a grand destiny, but the fortune only leads her to make a tragic choice and marry Gilbert Osmond, an American expatriate who lives in Florence. Outwardly charming and cultivated, but fundamentally cold and cruel, Osmond only brings heartbreak and ruin to Isabel’s life. Yet she survives as she begins to realize that true freedom means living with her choices and their consequences.

Richly complex and nearly aesthetically perfect, The Portrait of a Lady brilliantly portrays the clash between the innocence and exuberance of the New World and the corruption and wisdom of the Old.

Gabriel Brownstein is the author of a collection of stories—The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Apt 3W—which won the 2002 PEN/Hemingway Award. His essays, reviews, and criticism have appeared in the Boston Globe, the New Leader, Scribner’s British Writers, and on

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593080969
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 02/01/2004
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 672
Sales rank: 38,186
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.68(d)

About the Author

Date of Birth:

April 15, 1843

Date of Death:

February 28, 1916

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Place of Death:

London, England


Attended school in France and Switzerland; Harvard Law School, 1862-63

Read an Excerpt

From Gabriel Brownstein's Introduction to The Portrait of a Lady

The Portrait of a Lady is often discussed as a novel of manners, a sociological study of the contrasts in mores and styles of Americans and Europeans. It's also described as a psychological novel, charting the complex interplay between the minds of its major characters and exploring relentlessly and finely the consciousness of its heroine, Isabel. But these characterizations, while not entirely mistaken, obscure a central characteristic of the novel: The Portrait of a Lady is a fairy tale, or as James put it in the 1906 preface, a "fable". With whatever authority he presents the psyches and social milieus of his Europeans and Americans and Europeanized Americans, and however carefully observed the locales—and the authority and care are absolute—the project of The Portrait of a Lady is about as close to a work of social science as it is to a conventional potboiler. Americans and Europeans, in the novel, are types: As Leon Edel, James's great biographer and critic, has it, "In James' fiction, Americans are often presented as if they still possess the innocence of Eden;" and furthermore, "it is striking how often the adjective 'corrupt' precedes the word 'Europe'" (article in Scribner's American Writers, Vol. 2, pp. 320-323). As they appear in The Portrait of a Lady, these representatives of the old and new worlds are rendered vividly, and they may feel to the reader momentarily real, but in the end they are figures in a novelist's dreams and meditations; they are as conceptual as they are concrete. Similarly, "American girl" is not a category of mind or state of consciousness; it is a kind of representational ideal. In the author's terms, the phrase "American girl" is almost redundant. Both the words conjure innocence and (in their way) beauty. Both words also auger doom. If, as Edel argues, America is an Eden, then a fall will come, as surely as a girl will become a woman or die. The phrase "American girl" also carries with it a hint of contradiction, a fight between the two words: While an American is liberated, a girl is subject to all kinds of boundaries and limits. "American girl," then, is a phrase that conjures a story, a cheerful two words that together gather storm clouds. American girls are doubly doomed among the limits of European society; an American girl going to Europe is a pure white lamb bound to be ruined.

The Portrait of a Lady bears the details and precision of psychological and social realism, but the novel is structured like a kind of old-fashioned legend. We have an ordinary girl, Isabel, who on venturing into Europe becomes a sort of princess, an heiress related to her uncle, the banker Daniel Touchett, who in his kindness, power, and benevolence is as good as a king. Once in this strange land, Isabel is wooed by two Princes Charming, paragons of American and British manhood: Caspar Goodwood, the inventor-athlete-businessman, and Lord Warburton, the nobleman-politician-reformer. But she marries neither and is instead entranced by Madame Merle, a kind of witch—an evil sorceress of society and good manners—who marries her off to the "sterile dilettante," as Ralph Touchett puts it, Gilbert Osmond, an ogre of high aesthetics, who in the end does not find Isabel's beauty up to the mark. This story is beauty and the beast in its most primitive form: the princess enslaved by a monster. But the monster in The Portrait of a Lady is a monster of aesthetics; Osmond is a painter, a collector of fine things, a disparager of vulgarity. And Isabel is no ordinary beauty: She has beauty based in character, in potentiality, in innocence, and in liberty of mind—in her being an American and a girl. This novel is not just a beautiful story; it is a story about beauty, a story in which the destruction of beauty is threatened by beauty's great admirer.

The book opens with a meditation on a kind of perfect scene, Ralph and Daniel Touchett, along with Lord Warburton, taking tea on the lawn of Gardencourt. The time of day is aestheticized, "the perfect middle of a splendid summer afternoon," which the narrator tells us "could be only an eternity of pleasure." The house is aestheticized, even its brick face, "with the complexion of which time and the weather had played all sorts of pictorial tricks, only, however, to improve and refine it." Daniel Touchett, for his part, has an "aesthetic passion" for Gardencourt, and even Touchett's "beautiful collie dog" gets into the rapture, "watching the master's face almost as tenderly as the master took in the still more magisterial physiognomy of the house." This sort of highly aestheticized contemplation and pictorial scene-setting is replete throughout the novel, notably at the introduction to Osmond's villa in Florence, where the narrator describes "a small group that might have been described by a painter as composing well." The windows of Osmond's place, we are told, are "extremely architectural." Osmond's beard is "cut in the manner of the portraits of the sixteenth century," and he is described as a "gentleman who studied style." Not only are the settings beautiful, but these beauties are contemplated by a narrator whose precision and delicacy and aesthetic passions are rivaled only by his characters'.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

The Portrait of a Lady 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 139 reviews.
Mariposa More than 1 year ago
I approached the book with trepidation because of what I recalled of James' writing style. I was totally surprised how easily I got used to it and became totally engaged with the book. I loved every word. The characters came alive for me. I thought it would be stilted and dated. Instead it was fascinating and also provided so much material for conversation. Highly recommended.
Adeline79 More than 1 year ago
Classic literature at its best. Henry James is a master craftsman who delves deeply into the layers of the human consciousness. It is very detailed and requires considerable effort on the part of the reader if you are to gain full enjoyment and connection with the story. This book is worth the time and effort. It can stand multiple readings even in close succession due to the plenitude of detailed descriptions of setting and characters. It spans such a range of human emotion. It is full of intelligent characters and touches upon important themes such as marriage, love, female freedom, social constraints, wealth, etc, etc. This is an excellent choice for a book club and for those who enjoy immersing themselves in a long and detailed story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Beautiful. That's all I can utter, it was so unfathomably beautiful. I would recommend this to anyone who loves old books, and has an imagination. It takes a certain person to really appreciate this work of art. Mr. James is an excellent poet. I will always keep this one next to my heart.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is not a Romance novel...but a study in narcissitic tendencies and how they attract and find each other in the heroine Isabel Archer. I read this book in one week. Saw the DVD with R. Chamberlain, awesome. I had to get the book even though the DVD had a copy on it. There are some memomorable quotes I extracted and actually did some journaling simultaneously to excavate my painful feelings of having psychological battle with a control freak. There are delightful characters of various layers, not a smut read, but intellectually stimulating and surprising ending. Only wish someone could write a second part to see how Isabel's marriage turned out, if she went back that man! Best fiction I ever read! Recommend for late teens and up
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love Henry James but found this one a bit boring. The actual events of the book were well written and at times I did find it to become a page turner but all in all I found it to be just okay.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was blood chilling. How some humans can calculatingly make others lives miserable without so mach as twitch amazed me. I think that Isabel really loved Ralph but couldn't admit it. It was a very well written book and I thought it worth reading. But I liked Wurthering Hights better.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would recommend The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James to young adults and adults who seek to read the classics and enjoy romance and suspense at the same time. This book is a complicated read and much of this reading involves thinking. Because of the way James wrote this book, things are not specifically stated in the story and you must interpret these things the way you see them. The story of Isabel Archer is told by her cousin, Ralph Touchett. When Isabel first visits her cousin in Europe she is lively and seems as though she doesn¿t wish to be tied down. Her desire to be free from the bonds of marriage is expressed many times throughout the book. When she meets Gilbert Osmond and his daughter everything changes. Osmond tells Isabel what she wants to hear to encourage a possible marriage. Isabel¿s life suddenly has lost its vitality and becomes miserable when she marries Osmond. Osmond begins to control Isabel¿s life but she continues to stay for love of her stepdaughter. The end of this book leaves you in suspense with no final conclusion. Although this book¿s plot develops slowly, its suspense keeps you from putting it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book truly touched me as an incredible insight into the female spirit. Never have I read such an articulate and accurate account of how women struggle in their decsions relating to love and how those choices can shape your life. I came away from this book with a wealth of inspirational quotes that remind me of the female strength and what it truly means to be a lady - inspired and hopeful. This book has become my all time favorite, simply for its reference quality. You can pick it up at any time, read a few pages and be given a refreshed outlook on your womanhood. It is truly a beautiful piece.
Guest More than 1 year ago
its a good story on the whole but the writer has lengthened it a lot.At some times i couldn't understand the deep philosophys of Henry James about human nature and of the whole world .If at some places it would be less philosophical and more sentimental it would be better.Its ending though tragic but in my opinion is well.
updraught on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A young American lady thrown into 19th century European bourgeois society, into a balancing act between freedom and possession.Henry James takes his time in making us acquainted with the lady to be portrayed: The story unfolds rather slowly only to gain immense momentum in the final third. I especially enjoyed reading James' vivid descriptions of settings and situations and the witty dialogues. While at the end of the novel I feel I 'know' many of the book's prominent characters, the central figure, Isabel Archer, remains more complex and mysterious to some extent. A trait of her character and a fine mist on her portrait. All in all a delightful read.(By the way: I don't think the lady looks one bit like the one shown on the Wordsworth cover.)
pre20cenbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book got me to journaling again! I call it a psychological study of how narcissitic-like people can attract each other, marry and learn to live with it for the sake of appearances. I originally watched the old version on DVD. The production put enough in and left enough out to stimulate interest to get the book. I read in one week and couldn't wait to see what happened next to the heroine, so young, really inexperienced with a head full of who knows what ideas. The narrative of Mr. James for me was outstanding and several of the characters remarks make interesting, humorous, and thought provoking quotes. Loved it. This was not a smutty novel--very classy stuff.
lauralkeet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Portrait of a Lady is a story of Americans abroad, and a story of love and loss. Isabel Archer arrives in England with her aunt, Lydia Touchett, who is intent on broadening her horizons. Lydia is the mother of Isabel's cousin Ralph, who lives with his father on their English estate, Gardencourt. Within a few weeks of her arrival at Gardencourt, Isabel turns down two marriage proposals, insisting on maintaining her independence. She inherits a considerable sum of money, and it appears she will be able to achieve her goal. Unfortunately, her "friends" have other ideas, and when Isabel travels to the continent, she soon finds herself falling for Gilbert Osmond, an American living in Italy. Sadly, their marriage is not a happy one and Isabel is stuck making the best of a bad situation.The story evolves quite slowly, but there's much more to this rich novel than can be described in a simple plot summary. Henry James' writing is complex, but not as difficult to read as I'd feared. James was himself an American living abroad, and he clearly loved his adopted country. Speaking through Ralph Touchett's father, James offers a delightful point of view of an American living in England:I've been watching these people for upwards of thirty-five years, and I don't hesitate to say that I've acquired considerable information. It's a very fine country on the whole--finer perhaps than we give it credit for on the other side. There are several improvements I should like to see introduced; but the necessity of them doesn't seem to be generally felt as yet.And the characterizations are superb. Ralph cares deeply for Isabel, but never acts on his feelings. Lydia is self-centered, but in an amusing way. Madame Merle, a good friend of Lydia, is quite eccentric and takes Isabel under her wing; however, there is a mysterious side to her as well. Isabel's friend Henrietta is assertive and brash, perhaps representing the "typical American" in Europe. Gilbert Osmond is completely unlikeable, and his sister Amy, the Countess Gemini, is vapid and self-centered, but pulls off a major feat near the end that shows there's much more to her than meets the eye.Throughout this novel Isabel is caught between a desire for independence, and societal pressures and expectations. James' understated prose delivers surprising emotional intensity, through a collection of memorable characters. Highly recommended.
markbstephenson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Isabel Archer and her dear dying friend Ralph Touchett are easily one of my favourite non-items in literature. And what would we do without Miss Henrietta Stackpole?
carlym on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I LOVE this book and have read it several times. Yes, James's sentences tend to be long and involved, but I like that--it slows down my reading and makes me pay attention to all the words.
LynnB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What can I possibly add that hasn't been said?Henry James has painted a masterful portrait of the life of Isabel Archer, especially her thoughts and feelings as she comes of age in Europe. And every character is similarly well drawn, vivid and real. I read mostly comtemporary fiction, so it took me a while to get used to the flow and cadence of this book; after about 100 pages, I couldn't put it down. The writing is so beautiful, with a flair for description so many of us have lost in this screen-based culture. As in real life, it is mainly the characters who carry the story, rather than the opposite.Isabel is a young woman with opinions and a strong sense of herself; one of the great heroines of classic literature. I only with Mr. James had shared with us how Isabel decided to marry Osmond in the first place!
mthelibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fascinating to think about (and possibly disagree with) the heroine's choices throughout the book. I didn't love the ending, but I believed that Isabel would have made this choice. I didn't find this an easy or quick read; in fact, it took me most of a busy June to finish it. I started it in Modern Library edition (500+ pages) but was too overwhelmed by it and switched a to a Barnes and Noble edition that was a Nook freebie some time ago. Somehow the smaller e-page size was right for me with this book. It's fun to remember that the book originally was published in Atlantic Magazine and Macmillan's over the course of years - similar to how some Dickens novels were published. Members of book club who did not have time to read "Portrait" tackled the shorter "Daisy Miller" by Henry James instead; one of them liked it well enough to continue on to "Washington Square."
bookworm12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Isabel Archer, a young headstrong American, arrives in England and everyone she meets is completely taken with her. Three separate men pursue her, but she¿s unwilling to settle for a marriage without mutual love. She smart, kind and witty, but not easily swayed in her beliefs.I was in love with this book for about the first 1/3 (maybe more), but then it took a drastic turn. I loved Isabel¿s character and her refusal to take the easy road in life. Unfortunately her decisions seem to lose all logic at a certain point and that¿s when I lost my respect for her. I never want books to have a perfectly happy ending just for the sake of pleasing the reader, but I was heartbroken for Isabel and incredibly disappointed in her choices. I always root for characters I love, but it¿s easy to feel betrayed by them if they make a choice that you wouldn¿t have made. Despite the plot, James¿ writing is beautiful. He catches the nuances of importance in a single glance or polite conversation. He makes you question who is acting out of Isabel¿s best interests, who is making selfish choices, who should you trust, etc. The book isn¿t just about Isabel in the end, it¿s about the delicate balance people maintain in their own lives, often choosing the lesser of two evils and settling in, even if they¿re unhappy, instead of rocking the boat.I loved much about this book, but I don¿t think I could bring myself to read it again now that I know how it all turns out. ¿You¿ve lived with the English for 30 years and you¿re picked up a good many of the things they say, but you have never learned the things they don¿t say.¿ ¿The great thing about being a literary woman was that you could go everywhere and do everything.¿
BookAngel_a on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Portrait of a Lady is the story of an interesting woman, an attractive woman with many "theories".Isabel leaves America to travel to England with her aunt, rejecting an offer of marriage from a good and successful man. She arrives at the home of her uncle and cousin, Henry and Ralph Touchett. In no time she has captivated everyone. An English lord proposes marriage to her, and again she refuses, saying she is not interested in marriage.Henry and Ralph are intrigued by their lovely relative who keeps refusing marriage offers from these very good, suitable men. When Henry is on his deathbed, he and Ralph decide to leave Isabel a fortune. With a fortune, she will have independence and the freedom to remain unmarried if she chooses. Ralph in particular is very interested in seeing what she will do with her life.Sadly, Isabel's life is not as easy or as happy as her friends had hoped for. What will she do with her life when her "theories" don't work out?This book was my first by Henry James. It was much easier to read than I expected. HJ does write very long paragraphs, but I got used to them. I like the way HJ pulls the reader inside Isabel's mind. The more I read, the more I was determined to find out what would happen to Isabel and her friends. There are a lot of great characters here, to analyze and enjoy. This is a book to sink your teeth into.
br77rino on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ralph Touchett has to be one of the saddest characters I have ever come into contact with.
Smiler69 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"She was looking at everything, with an eye that denoted clear perception ¿ at her companion, at the two dogs, at the two gentlemen under the trees, at the beautiful scene that surrounded her. 'I've never seen anything so lovely as this place. I've been all over the house; it's too enchanting.'" These are the words of our spirited and lovely heroine, Isabel Archer when she arrives at Gardencourt, an English country estate which features a Tudor mansion with a long lawn sloping down to the Thames. Isabel's father had recently passed away when her aunt, Mrs. Touchett came to visit her in Albany, New York and proposed to take Isabel away with her to Europe with a first stop in England. On her arrival, Isabel meets with a trio of gentlemen which includes the ailing Mr. Touchett Senior, a retired banker with a vast fortune who is attended to by his son Ralph, who suffers from very serious lung disease, and who nevertheless possesses a warm and loving spirit, and finally Ralph's good friend Lord Warburton, who is immediately smitten with our young lady. Before long, Warburton proposes to Isabel; he is an attractive gentleman with good manners and a fine intellect, who also commands a vast estate and a seat at the House of Lords. In short, the sort of man any woman would be thrilled to take on as a husband, but not Isabel. Our heroine is a headstrong young woman who feels she must face her destiny, which she believes doesn't include a husband. Shortly thereafter, Isabel's longtime and determined admirer Casper Goodwood arrives from Boston, also to ask her to marry him, but Isabel is adamant that marriage is not in the cards for her and turns him away as well. When a longtime friend of Mrs. Touchett comes to visit at Gardencourt, Isabel immediately takes to Madame Merle, an accomplished, mature woman of many talents, who is equally appreciative of the young woman. Soon, as Mr. Touchett Senior lies on his deathbed, Ralph secretly makes an arrangement with his father so that his cousin may inherit half the fortune meant for him. Ralph adores Isabel, and believes that by making her a rich woman, she will truly be independent and will be able to accomplish great things. But of course, this being a 19th century novel, our heroine is in for her share of troubles in the form of one Mr. Gilbert Osmond, a sinister character and a poor American expatriate, who's main virtues are a love of beautiful things and a desire to secure a brilliant future for his docile young daughter Pansy.This was my first time reading a novel by Henry James. Having long believed that he was difficult to read, I had tested the waters with two short stories first, and found his prose imminently approachable. It's true that he can be verbose and that this novel plods on at a slow pace, with little action and an accent on his character's interactions and inner workings. But I found myself quite wrapped up in the rich complexity of these characters, and can fully understand why this novel is an enduring classic. I already look forward to reading it again.
bohemima on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book flows smoothly, gently propelled by James's magnificent prose. Not over-written, but rather a precisely-written work designed to tell a very specific story. Isabel, a young woman from New York, recently orphaned, is swept up by her aunt and carried off to England and Europe. She's a wonderfully intelligent, beautiful girl, inherits a fortune, and makes an unfortunate marriage. The unfolding of Isabel's sad decline from being an earnest, eager young woman who wants to experience everything to a much sadder but much wiser woman is amazingly done; James really understands psycology and motives. There are many well-drawn supporting characters, none of whom seems far-fetched or unreal. A most ingruing and marvelous novel.
michaelbartley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
this is a wonderful book, while the language is more flowering and complex then current speech, the story is very modern. the story of the mystery of love, who we love, what happens to that love, and how love with the right people can endure. the main character, Isabel, is a strong intellegence kind woman that struggles to be true to yourself and to find values that endure beyond her. excellent book
charlie68 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very good, although a bit dense in places. The ending a little strange as it stops almost in mid scene.
schmal06 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this down. I absolutely adored it. James' analysis of human character is unparalleled. I was on spring break in Italy as I read this and I simply could not get Isabel's world out of my mind. It was so vivid and real all around me. Highly recommended.
mynote on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Scintillating dialogue, fine observation, antithetical development, The style is breathtaking. yet I have rarely been so annoyed with the characters depicted in a fiction. Increasingly as the tale unravels they seem to merge into a portrait of an under-employed over-privileged class of snobs, preening around European palaces like ancestral jet-setters with too much time on their hands. Despite this the heroine is complex and compelling and the loose ends of unresolved lives illuminated