Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Can you feel it? The love?

Current book: The Portrait of a Lady
Pages read: 3 - 57

All right, I admit it: I was procrastinating yesterday because I didn't want to read Henry James. Again. And I was right to be reticent. I've found, upon thinking about it, that James and Tolkien have something in common in that they both feel the need to explain the entire history of each character upon the audience's first meeting him. It really drags on the narrative flow. Then again, I'm not sure Henry James is familiar with the idea of narrative flow.

I have to say, I was rather enamored of the first few sentences of this one.
Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. There are circumstances in which, whether you partake of the tea or not - some people of course never do, - the situation itself is delightful.
It's just so...charmingly English.

Anyway, it doesn't take James long to get boring, but the first 50 or so pages boil down to the following. Mr. Touchett is an American banker who came to England 30 years ago and bought a manor house and is now something of an invalid, confined to a wheelchair. His wife, Mrs. Touchett, is virtually separated from him because, as she says, she's "not suited to England." She comes back once a year or so to see him, but spends the rest of the time traveling. They have a son, Ralph Touchett, who is of marriageable age but is single, and that son has a friend, Lord Warburton, of a similar age and situation. On Mrs. Touchett's recent trip to America, she went to see her niece, whose father (Mrs. Touchett's brother) had recently died. She swept the niece, Isabel Archer, along with her and has now brought her to England to stay at the estate. Ralph meets Isabel and is instantly attracted to her, as is Lord Warburton. Isabel is an independent, strong-minded young woman who think she's always right and has a dim view of marriage.

Blah blah blah, love triangle, Isabel's eventual acceptance of the inevitability of marriage and the value of love over high-minded independence, etc, etc. Lots of complex sentences with too much description and not enough exposition. The end. Gosh, I just love Henry James so much.

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