I was drawn to this book by a friend who once commented that “Hemingway was great, but Henry James is the father of the modern American novel.” It is not an opinion I’ve heard anybody argue against, but I feel his writing style is too far removed from that of the modern novel for that claim. This is really only due to the dramatic difference in audience from one generation to another. Maybe the grandfather of the modern novel would be more appropriate. There is no question that his writing set a certain standard at the time and was a contributor to the way American literature shaped itself moving forward.
I found the work of this novel to be brilliant in plot and engaging in it’s events, but I would expect many fans of modern day literature to grow tired of James’ dense writing. My own attention drifted at times when there was apparently far more words and drawn out language than was necessary. Passages can feel laborious to read at times and, when I looked into some reviews online, that appeared to be the principle criticism.
As I mentioned before, this style is more a product of the generation than anything else. James was writing to an entirely different audience than we know today and his work is a result of that. The prose is quite dense in many areas but I don’t feel it takes anything away from the novel as a whole. While some writers can get carried away with their prose and add nothing to the story, James brings the reader into a deeper and more intimate connection with each of the characters.
I enjoyed this novel a great deal, enough so in fact that I’ve immediately gotten started on another of his books. Whether or not I would recommend this to somebody else would depend entirely upon the kind of reader I was speaking to. The Portrait of a Lady is not a book for an impatient reader intent on finding constant action. It is, without a doubt, a great work and is best appreciated with patience and in it’s entirety