I just...I don't know. I have now read The Portrait of a Lady and I'm just feeling a little flat. Like I stubbed my toe on something invisible, and I'm not quite sure what. I'm not sure why this book didn't grab me, I only know it didn't.
I didn't hate it, I was
just a little bored by it, and that's an unusual way for me to react to a
proclaimed "classic." The story was too sparse, the characters, for all
the time we spent with them, not that well-drawn. I didn't really care
about anyone, and had no reason to.
The last section of the book
was the strongest - it's really what the whole book has been leading up
to. But four hundred pages of lead-up for barely a hundred of something pressing and urgent and upsetting seems to be taking
the very long way around. But still. I don't demand a quick-driving
plot. I liked Swann's Way. So why not this?
I'm trying to think this through as I write.
wasn't that this was meandering. It wasn't that meandering. It was more
like stasis. People talked to each other about how much they liked
Isabel Archer. And then they travelled somewhere. And talked about how
much they liked Isabel Archer. And Isabel fretted over being liked. And
yet, I still don't feel like I could tell you a damned thing about
Isabel's personality. With that much space in which to talk about her,
you'd think she'd leap off the page and stand before me, vibrant and
alive. It just never happened.
Bad marriages you can't get out of
are certainly an interesting topic, but it took so long to come to this
one. And the tension felt much less exquisite than in something like The Age of Innocence.
Heck, almost every other woman we saw in the novel, barring Henrietta,
had left her husband, so the extreme pressure to stay with someone no
matter what was kind of a misfire. And none of those ladies really
seemed to have suffered overmuch from the experience.
Not a lot
of plot, characters I never really believed in. (Except perhaps
Henrietta Stackpole, who was a bit of a caricature, but at least she was
vivid.) And the prose didn't knock me off my feet. Any of those three
might be enough to intrigue me, but for whatever reason, The Portrait of a Lady didn't grab me on any level.
if James was trying to say something about Europeans as opposed to
Americans, I just wasn't getting it. I got some broad strokes, but not
the nuance of his argument. If there was nuance.
apologetic when I don't enjoy a book so generally lauded. I'm feeling
that way now. And I'll probably try another Henry James eventually, or
read this again in a few years and see if that makes a difference.