When Isabel Archer, a beautiful, spirited American, is brought to Europe by her wealthy aunt Touchett, it is expected that she will soon marry. But Isabel, resolved to enjoy the freedom that her fortune has opened up and to determine her own fate, does not hesitate to turn down two eligible suitors, declaring that she will never be wed.
It is only when she finds herself irresistibly drawn to the cultivated but worthless Gilbert Osmond that she discovers that wealth is a two-edged sword. She becomes a victim of her own provincialism and the scheming of her friends, learning only too late that there is a price to be paid for independence. A tragic tale of love and betrayal, it still resonates with audiences today.
With its subtle delineation of American characters in a European setting, The Portrait of a Lady is considered the masterpiece of the first phase of James's career and arguably his most popular story. Within it we find a reflection of James's interest in the differences between the New World and the Old, often to the detriment of the former.
A film adaptation was made in 1996 by New Zealand director Jane Campion, starring Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, and Barbara Hershey.
Having begun his career on stage, John Wood spent seven years in television before eventually playing lead roles in Tom Stoppard's teleplays in 1967. After two Tony nominations for his performances in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead and Sherlock Holmes, he won the award for Best Actor for his role in Stoppard's surrealistic farce, Travesties, in 1976. He also had a long career with the Royal Shakespeare Company and continued his theatre work in both America and the UK, eventually receiving a Laurence Olivier Award nomination in 1997 for his role in Stoppard's Invention of Love.
In 1996, Wood performed in BBC Radio 3's audio production of Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw and in 2010 he narrated audiobook The Portrait of a Lady with Audible Studios. His appearances in feature films have included Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) and, later, television appearances have included Foyles's War (2004) and Lewis (2007). In 2007 he was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE).
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Mrs on 10-03-13
James's writing is sublime
James's writing is wonderful and this version is very well read. The novel is character driven rather than plot driven. We see Isabel's character evolve, the effect money has on her life, the different male suitors show the marital options available to women at the time and the satelite female characters portray alternative forms of existence for women in C19th society. Isabel arrives on the scene framed in a doorway- like a portrait- and leaves the same way, but is much changed. When you look at a portrait it is static but you can read so much into it; the same is true of Isabel Archer.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
By Su on 02-12-13
Took a long time but loved it
What did you like most about The Portrait of a Lady?
I loved Henry James's descriptions. He takes his time and you have to be patient with the pace of the story but it's great. Didn't have quite the ending I wanted but then it was up to the writer not me!
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
The point where she realizes there's a betrayal and an undercurrent in her relationship to her best friend was pretty good. As was the description of her growing realization of the true nature of her husband's character. Very moving.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By David on 26-06-10
John Wood's narration is just about perfect. The "American" accents are not "realistic," but that is a minor quibble, especially as it is offset so well by the perfect rendition of the narrative voice. Wood clearly understands the arc of the novel as a whole, so each chapter, paragraph, sentence has the right tone and nuance; the little refracted ironies strewn about everywhere are nicely expressed. Best of all -- I say this without having heard other readings -- is that Wood reads slowly. He savors the words, and we have time to understand them. The production values and audio quality are fabulous. I echo Linda's comment: Please, Mr. Wood, record more James!
16 of 16 people found this review helpful
By Amazon Customer on 19-04-10
John Wood's compelling reading demonstrates a true and deep understanding of this, one of Henry James's greatest novels. His characterizations were perfect, particularly the difficult and at times enigmatic character of Isabel Archer. I hope Mr. Wood will do many more of James's works.
13 of 13 people found this review helpful