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 happening that was 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.
It 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.
And 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.
I feel 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.
Crossposted to Smorgasbook