Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

This book proves that Henry James is a master at fleshing-out characters and weaving relationships. Each individual was so well-developed they felt more like my dear friends rather than strangers I eaves-dropped on. In fact, the slow moments in the book were due mostly to character and setting development nearly to the point of overkill.

This story contains little action, which in my view, can easily be sacrificed to the great characters and relationships, so that wasn’t a problem for me.

The big flaw of this piece was the sudden drop at the end. I know I’ve complained about this more than once lately, but this ending was by far, the most frustrating! After several hundred pages of build-up, with one beloved character in terrible trouble, and immediately after a life-altering event takes place between two other main characters, we are notified that our main character has figured out what to do, and there the book stops.

There is no hint about how any of these situations resolve (or don’t). The reader is left to drown in a puddle of their own assumptions. Worse still, there is no hope of Henry James (who died in 1916) producing a sequel to tie up the loose ends!

I have stewed for days, wondering about my dear friends who simply ceased to exist. Even though the ending of this book fully invites the reader to do so, I feel I have no right to draw my own conclusions as these people are entirely fictional, and I did not invent them.

*Grrrr* Unless you’ve no problem exercising your imagination upon the work of others, you may want to skip this one.


6 responses to this post.

  1. I feel your pain. Henry James’ books are soooo slow. He describes everything from multiple angles, and it takes forever to get through some of his stories. Not my favorite writer ever. I’m more of a Hemingway fan; tell the story in as few words as possible.

    Sorry for the let down at the end. I hate when that happens. It’s like you’ve invested all of your time working at something only to find out you’re not getting paid at the end.

    Oh, well. Happy Reading from here on out!


    • Perfect metaphor! You’re absolutely right. I would like to try another of his books, but at this point I’d like a recommendation. Any suggestions?

      I don’t mind all his lovely descriptions and the slow pace, but I would like a nice, closed-off ending. It doesn’t even have to be a happy ending. I just want the book to actually have an ending!


  2. Great review! I love reading books with lots of action and intrigue, but I think I may pick this one up…despite being slow, simply to see how the characters are developed. At least I know what to expect and I am so bad…I read the last chapter, first. I know! I should not do that. 🙂

    Take care,


    • I hope you do get a chance to read it. The characters are fantastic. I can’t say enough about that.

      In this case I think you’d smart to read the end first. Hopefully anticipating the sudden drop at the end will make the cliff seam less steep when you get there!


  3. Posted by ElaineW on September 9, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    i just finished the book. All I could think was “What?!!”.


  4. Posted by schillingklaus on July 4, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    The works of Henry James are now public domain, thus there is absolutely no reason for not writing and publishing a sequel.

    James is one of my most detested authors, side by side with Mark Twain and Samuel Richardson, anyways; as he is opposed to idea-driven fiction, expositions, reader address, footnotes, editorial omniscience, self-conscious narration, and many more great devices deployed by the true masters of literature.


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