Friday, December 09, 2005

A couple weeks ago I started Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady, being that it's one of the books that I always wanted to read, knew I should read, but hadn't read. It's a big book. I like in-depth books. I'm not adverse to picking up a 1000 page book. If it's well written, the reader becomes lost in the characters' lives, like in Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. I have never gained so much pleasure as when I read Proust. I haven't read his entire masterpiece, but I've read four volumes so far. However, Portrait is a different book. It's roughly 850 pages long and divided into two books. I'm halfway through the novel and I don't care for a single character. Not the lady, Isabel Archer, not her cousin Ralph Touchett, not his mother, not Isabel's friend Harriet Stackpole, not Isabel's suitor Mr. Osmond (who I presume she marries,) and certainly not Madame Merle and her passive aggessive sinister ways. Four hundred pages in to the dense novel and the only characters that I've even made a semblance of a connection with are the now dead Mr. Touchett, Ralph's benign father and Lord Warburton who professed his love for Isabel.
James has created vague characters, most who lack any redeeming qualities. Though Isabel may seem to be making her life her own, James somehow portrays her as a child unaware of her beguiling powers. When she is left a large sum of money by her uncle, Mr. Touchett, upon his death, she is to supposed to have the world at her feet, according to James. She can now travel and live as she likes, without a care in the world. True, money can buy such luxouries, but why did James have to make his lead character possess a large sum of money in order to live whatever life she chooses? Maybe I'm placing a modern ideal on a late-Victorian novel, but I don't buy it. Or perhaps James accomplished precisely what he wanted? He painted a portrait of the ideal woman. A woman who is not real. Who has no true emotions, ideas or cares. A woman who does not possess self-knowledge or know her self-worth. He created a 2-D character, not a real woman. She is unlike any woman I've met. And that's not a good thing.

Also reading: The Peabody Sisters by Margaret Mitchell
Off the Road: My Years with Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg by Carolyn Cassady

On deck: V by Thomas Pynchon
Old School by Tobias Wolff
The Big Sky by A.B. Guthrie, Jr.

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