Henry James: The Portrait of a Lady - an audio guide

The Portrait of a Lady cover

“One ought to choose something very deliberately, and be faithful to that.” Isabel Archer is a young, intelligent, and spirited American girl, determined to relish her first experience of Europe.

She rejects two eligible suitors in her fervent commitment to liberty and independence, declaring that she will never marry.

Thanks to the generosity of her devoted cousin Ralph, she is free to make her own choice about her destiny.

Yet in the intoxicating worlds of Paris, Florence, and Rome, her fond illusions of self-reliance are twisted by the machinations of her friends and apparent allies. What had seemed to be a vista of infinite promise steadily closes around her and becomes instead a “house of suffocation”.

Considered by many as one of the finest novels in the English language, this is Henry James’s most poised achievement, written at the height of his fame in 1881. It is at once a dramatic Victorian tale of betrayal and a wholly modern psychological study of a woman caught in a web of relations she only comes to understand too late.

This audio guide to James’s novel is presented by Roger Luckhurst, who is Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature at Birkbeck, University of London.

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Introducing Henry James

Introducing The Portrait of a Lady

Reading The Portrait of a Lady, and Beyond