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Henry James : Novels 1881-1886: Washington Square, The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians (Library of America)

by Henry James

ISBN 0940450305 / 9780940450301 / 0-940450-30-5
Publisher Library of America
Language English
Edition Hardcover
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Book summary

This volume in the Library of America's series on Henry James catches the author as he inaugurates his "middle period," the years when he wrote many of his best books. The three novels reprinted here concern women who must choose between competing alternatives. Catherine Sloper of Washington Square, plain and bookish, is romanced by the dashingly handsome Morris Townsend. But her father, sure that such a man could only love Catherine for her money, forbids her to see him. The young heroine of The Bostonians is torn between loyalty to her southern beau and her attraction to one of James's most unusual characters: a wealthy Boston feminist!

The Portrait of a Lady, arguably James's greatest novel, introduces us to Isabel Archer, a beautiful, vivacious, and independently minded American woman who travels to Europe and is seduced by its society. Her circle includes her terminally ill but deeply loving cousin, Ralph; the noble and adoring Lord Warburton; her witty and sarcastic friend Henrietta Stackpole; the meticulous aesthete Gilbert Osmond; the mysterious Madame Merle; and Caspar Goodwood, her passionate American suitor. Negotiating between the life each of them offers and represents, Isabel becomes part of one of the best books written about women's choices.

Movie buffs will be particularly interested in this volume, for all the novels in it have been made into films. The Bostonians was a Merchant-Ivory production in 1984. It starred Vanessa Redgrave as the feminist Olive Chancellor, sparring with southern gentleman Christopher Reeve! The Portrait of a Lady (1996), with Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich, was Jane Campion's opulent follow-up to The Piano. And Washington Square has been made into two major movies: the 1997 version starred Jennifer Jason- Leigh and Albert Finney; but the classic adaptation was William Wyler's 1949 film The Heiress, which starred Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson, Miriam Hopkins, and Olivia de Havilland in an Oscar-winning role. It's a real treat to read a superb book and then see how major filmmakers transform it into cinema that is compelling and entertaining it its own right. --Raphael Shargel [via]