Monday, February 2, 2009

But I'm a lady! I do lady-like things.

I just finished reading Henry James' "Protrait of a Lady". There's something soothing to the ego about finishing a 600-page 19th century classic novel. It was a good read too. Below is my synopsis from "goodreads":

Those who disliked the film version of this novel should not be put off reading it - the novel is far superior. However those without the disposition to tolerate loose ends may be displeased.

Like many great classics, reading this book is a journey in itself. Henry James was clearly fascinated by people - how they appear to others, what motivates their behaviour and what consequences their actions have. Few nuances are left unexplored in James' analytical style of writing - for someone like me who is hungry for rich characterization, this novel is a feast. One of the themes the book explores is the meaning of freedom and independence. Isabel Archer is dsecribed as literature's first feminist - unlike some heroines she doesn't always win, but in the end she takes responsibility for all her actions - is this perhaps the essence of liberation?

Some further comments: I thought Ralph was gay and perhaps the closest to Henry James' real persona. Certainly he seemed to admire more than desire Isabel. In a sense though he was trying to manipulate her like just about every other characters in the book - but at least in a very generous way. I grew rather fond of Ralph, and his mother.

It is possible to read the story as a "punishment" for Isabel's liberation and quest for freedom, but only if you ignore all the subtleties. For me the morals of the book are more that money can't make you happy and can even cause you some grief, and that marriage isn't usually all its cracked up to be.

But the sheer joy of Henry James' writing style gave me more satisfaction than any of the moral messages. I'd like to see an adaptation of this book into a TV serial, with enough time to do it justice, rather than a movie.

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