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Lark

Congrats on finishing your first full-length Henry James novel; he's not the easiest to read, but I've always been a fan of his writing. I find his stories...beautifully sad, if that makes sense? But I know they aren't for everyone. As a modern woman, I always want Isabel to tell Osmond where to go, and to run off with Lord Warburton, but she is from a different time, where honor and personal integrity seem to reign supreme. But I hope, after Osmond's daughter is grown and gone, that Isabel makes her escape and finds her happy ending.

Janakay

Congrats! I had wondered how this project was going. I love Henry James--quite some time ago, I spent a wonderful year, reading Leon Edel's classic multi-volume biography of James, along with the major novels & short stories (I had a boring dead end job and lots of time and mental energy, so it was possible for me to do this). I actually re-read Portrait early this year, along with a great recent book by Michael Gorra called "Portrait of a Novel,"which gives you a lot of background about James, the novel and the characters (such as their real life prototypes). Isabel is a wonderful character and I totally agree that she shares a lot of characteristics with Dorothea from "Middlemarch" (also with Alice Vavasor from Trollope's "Can you Forgive Her?"): an idealistic, beautiful young women of talent, energy and means who makes a very, very bad choice when it comes to the only choice that matters in her culture: who she chooses as her husband. It was interesting to me to see how my reaction to Isabel has varied over the years. The first time I read the novel, I was pretty detached. This time around, I felt a huge and growing sense of dread as the story progressed--a "please, please, please don't fall into the trap" kind of thing! I'm afraid that I disagree with you about the ending---I really think there's very little chance that Isabel will make a different life for herself. This is what makes her story so tragic--only a magnificent soul could make the particular mistake that she made and then have the honor and strength of character to make the choice that (I think) she makes at the end.
Regarding your next "classic" project: I admire your ambition! I'd probably lie low for awhile but if you're determined: "Cranford" by Elizabeth Gaskell??? Kidnapped by RLS? (a wonderful book) or for an American turn, maybe tThe Great Gatsby" (I recently re-read this one as well--at least it's short!). Another great reading project is a series by Trollope, either the Palliser novels ("Can You Forgive Her" is the first in the series) or the Barsetshire novels (both series are great and both are easy to read. The difficulty is that both include five or six volumes, so it can take you some time to get through them). If you want another ambitious James project in the future: "The Ambassadors" (this one took me four tries) or "Wings of the Dove" (a very great but very difficult novel).

Danielle

I hope so, too. I loved Washington Square and really liked The Turn of the Screw, but this is the first 'mature' (?) James novel that I've read. I have to admit it was at times something of an uphill read, but I am glad I stuck it out. And I know just what you mean--a perfect way to describe it--beautifully sad. I was only disappointed that after she had turned down the other proposals and said she wouldn't marry that she decided on Osmond after all--but then he must have been quite attractive compared to the other men who asked her to marry them. Which is your favorite James novel?

Danielle

I fear you are right in your assessment of how Isabel's future is likely to turn out, which I just couldn't quite face this time around. I feel like (as with so many other great classic novels) that now that I have read the book for the 'Story' aspect that I should go back and read more carefully for all the details and nuances which I know very well that I missed. But I think a little time between reads would be better and maybe some other James novels, too. I think you might have mentioned the Gorra book, which I forgot about--I will have to see if my library has it so I can take a look--I like pairing books like that. I think it is very cool that you have read so much of James's work and at least your job was more bearable (at least it seems so) since you could use the extra brain power for a project like that. I am not sure I am ready quite yet for another James novel, but I like your suggestions. I have read Gatsby at least three times, but not for a very long while. I think there was an interesting sounding NF book about it, that would also make for a very good pairing. And now that you mention Trollope, I like that idea, too. I tend to agonize over these sorts of choices and then pull a bunch of books from my shelves to peruse and then spend too much time thinking about all the possibilities. Maybe I should just grab one and get reading and that's that. I try and always have a classic on the go at all times, but as you can see it took me ages to get through this one--maybe something a tad shorter for the next read. I love your suggestions--thanks!

Stefanie

Thanks for sticking it out! I kind of enjoyed that Isabel was so infuriating. I kept worrying James was going to kill her off with some tragic accident or illness so when he didn't I was very happy in spite of the ambiguous ending!

Lark

My favorite seems to change over time; I really love The Awkward Age and The Wings of the Dove...but there's something about the words and writing in The Spoils of Poynton that I really admire. The Bostonians is one of my favs, too. See? I have a hard time picking just one. :)

Janakay

I believe the NF book about Gatsby that you refer to is Maureen Corrigan's "So We Read On: How It Came to Be and Why It Endures" or something like that. I had only read Gatsby as a high school kid and wasn't overly wowed by it (big surprise at age 16 or so). Coming across Corrigan's book gave me the impetus to re-read Gatsby as an adult, which needless to say made for a different experience than my callow first attempt. I followed this with Corrigan's book, which added a lot to the experience. There's a well-thought of book by Rebecca Mead, "My Life in Middlemarch;" it'll probably take me years, but I've been thinking of reading it, in conjunction with a re-read of Eliot's great novel (which for quite some time was one of my absolute favorites). Like you, I love to pair my reads!

iliana

Yay for finishing the novel and who cares that it took a while. I would like to read this one day but I'll be honest and say that I probably would start with Turn of the Screw. I don't know if I'm ready for quite the challenge that this one poses. Can't wait to hear which classic you'll pick up next.

Danielle

Yes, it's the Corrigan that I saw that I want and will order soon. I think there was another one that looked interesting related to Gatsby or that era anyway. I like reading 'extracurricularly' like this! I read Gatsby in high school, but it was one that I really liked then and later on as well. High school has a way of crushing some good books for young readers doesn't it?! I've seen that Mead book--it would be fun to read in tandem with Middlemarch. I read Middlemarch several years ago and someday I will try and reread it as well!

Danielle

I am so glad I did. I will always appreciate having finished this and I think over time it will mellow in my mind. I was really hoping she was not going to go back and really thought Caspar Goodwood had convinced her at the end--and even a kiss and still she resists! I'd like to meet up with her again in five (or maybe more) years and see how we get on together then! And yes, so glad he at least left her with an ending that is open to interpretation. I wonder what the movie is like, but I am not sure I will watch it.

Danielle

Actually I was almost thinking it was longer than four months! Some books just need more time, I guess. I would happily also recommend Washington Square--I liked it a lot as well. I think I liked it more even than Portrait. And Turn of the Screw is a most excellent ghost story! I have a little pile going now for that next choice! :)

Kathy

Good for you, Danielle. Sometimes a book is worthwhile to read even if it is a bit hard and not so much fun. I do find that many of those types of books stay with me, and insinuate themselves into my thoughts from time to time. I read Portrait in college (and wrote a paper on it), and I remember next to nothing about it. I would like to reread it now, as a more mature person and reader.

I've been pretty lax in my classics reading this year. Perhaps I have time to fit one more in before the end of the year? I'm currently (and still) reading Edith Hamilton's Mythology, which I count as a non-fiction classic. It's really quite interesting, but I am taking my time with it and reading a little bit every day. I've almost reached the point of no return, though, so should probably consider what to read next.

Danielle

I wasn't at all familiar with The Awkward Age and had to look it up! It sounds really good actually. I aw the movie adaptation of Wings of the Dove. I've not read hardly any of Henry James's work, so it is cool that you have read so much and can compare and contrast--I like being able to see how an author works across several novels. He really is very good and I can see why it is hard choosing one favorite. I do want to read more of his work, though I think I will save Wings of the Dove for later! Isn't that one of his most difficult?

Danielle

I don't think I tell you about any of the books I read in college--even the ones I might have written about, so I sympathize. I took a great short story class and an African American Lit class that I recall enjoying on both counts, but could I tell you what we read now? Not at all! It is fun revisiting books later, though. I have not read many classics this year at all either (and one book over the course of Four months!!), and I had hoped to do much better. But I guess there is always next year. I loved the Hamilton Mythology book--but it took me quite a while to get through as well. Will you pick a novel now or another nonfiction?

Lark

It's a little more challenging than some of his other novels, but I didn't find it difficult, although a lot of people seem to have issues with it. Maybe I'm not as critical of it as they are, but then I'm not an English major who deconstructs plots; I just know I really liked Merton Denscher and Kate Croy, although Kate is a little cold and conniving at times. I actually found The Golden Bowl a more difficult read than The Wings of the Dove. James dictated that book to his secretary, and the writing feels more convoluted.

Kathy

Probably a novel. And probably something much shorter!

Danielle

It's good to switch back and forth--not sure I could read back to back long/hard books. I like variety very much in my reading!

Danielle

I read mostly for enjoyment and probably am not as critical as I should be when it comes to certain books. I am very much a forgiving reader when it comes to story or style or characterization. Henry James is a bit more challenging than most of my normal reads--but that's okay, too. I will read more of his work for sure, but I need a little something different next.

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