October Read: The Portrait of a Lady
The fast pace of the world often sets my mind spinning. A quick exchange of emails replaces the journey of a letter between friends; a journey that includes time for the letter to rest on the desk for a while. In the race to feed our hunger for the new, online news media cram every square inch of space with updates on updates. Text messages do away with our very vowels.
In this onslaught of the quick and the new, I find myself longing for a different pace. I want to ditch my speedboat and paddle out in a beautiful canoe for a while.
In this onslaught of the quick and the new, I find myself longing for a different pace.
I know it might take a moment or two before I settle into the rhythm, but as the noise of the shore fades away behind me, I know I’ll hear and see things I’d never notice while ripping through the water.
This is how it felt to dip into the first chapter of Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady, our Book Club read for October. I was immediately immersed in a world of deep noticing. I forgot my to-do list and calendar and entered a vividly-rendered landscape, where there was suddenly plenty of time to watch the light change, to watch emotions pass through the expression on a face.
Considered one of the finest novels in the English language, The Portrait of a Lady was originally published in serial form in 1881, both in the U.S. and in England, James’s adopted country. James later revised and published the complete novel in New York in 1908. The psychological portrait of a young American woman named Isabel Archer, it’s also the portrait of James himself, and the cultural tensions, (and affinities), between European and American identities.
it’s an exploration of a young woman’s self-realization and the development of her sense of independence
It’s a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time now, and in its exploration of a young woman’s self-realization and the development of her sense of independence, it seems especially appropriate for Move. I’m excited to read alongside you this month. I’ve mapped out a general outline for reading and discussion. Feel free to read at your own pace, aiming to catch up or backtrack to the sections in question when we gather online to share our ideas.
October 2: Find The Portrait of a Lady at your local independent bookseller or library. Start reading!
October 16: Read my post and join in discussion of Part 1.
October 30: Final post and discussion of Part 2. (I’ll also announce November’s read.)
If you’re interested in critical work on the novel, consider Harold Bloom’s Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. For more on the writing of the novel, try Michael Gorra’s The Portrait of a Novel. And for James’s own perspective on his craft, you can read his essay “The Art of Fiction” online, thanks to Washington State University.