After just finishing this book, I’m still not sure how to react to it. I read this as part of the Classics Reading Group, but also included it in the By the Decades challenge (for 1880s). Many hail this book as one of James’s finest, but since I’ve only read a handful of his short stories, I can’t really judge on that.
The story is about a young woman, Isabel Archer, who travels from her native America to Europe after her father dies. She claims to be an independent woman and takes every measure to prove herself to be just that. The book asks questions about how independent can a woman at this time truly be and at what does it cost to be independent (I’m not referring to monetary costs, although that subject also arises in the book).
For me the book was a little tragic–for the costs of Isabel’s independence seem rather great. If you’ve read my review for Dinner at the Homesick Diner you know that I like to have complete little redemptive endings, and once again I did not find this here.
Recommendation: Not for the light reader. James relies heavily on character development in this book, and often times my eyes would begin to glaze over at the lengthy descriptions that often lasted pages. I guess one literally gets a great “portrait” of all of the characters once the book is through. The dialogue was enjoyable, and I grew to appreciate the descriptions, but it took a lot of patience and a lot of time to get through this one. I’m glad that its over and I can put it back on the shelf.
*picture courtesy www.bookcourt.org