Portrait Of A Lady

Written by:
Henry James
Narrated by:
William Roberts

Abridged Audiobook

Release Date
May 2017
2 hours 23 minutes
The Portrait of a Lady focuses first and foremost on the character and experiences of its heroine Isabel Archer. She is, in Henry James' words, the 'lighted' character; all the other people in the novel remain relatively obscure. Their dealings with Isabel, for good or ill, serve to reveal more of her character to the reader and to further her along the path of emotional development and maturity. The deep goodness of Ralph and the machinations of Osmond and Madame Merle are revealed only in relation to her.

1. Old World and New - A young American in England. Elderly American banker Mr Touchett is sitting in the garden of his English country home, Gardencourt, with his delicate son Ralph and Ralph's friend Lord Warburton. Touchett tells them that his wife has taken her niece under her wing and is bringing her home from America. The young lady, Isabel Archer, arrives; Lord Warburton pays court to her and invites her to lunch.

2. Suitors Abound - A friend from afar - Declarations of love. Isabel's excitable friend Henrietta Stackpole reveals that Caspar Goodwood, Isabel's American admirer, has followed her to England. Isabel is disturbed as she does not share his feelings. He writes, asking to see her. As Isabel reads the note in the grounds of Gardencourt, Lord Warburton arrives and proposes to her. She refuses him, seeing marriage as the end of her new-found freedom. Henrietta suggests Isabel accompany her to London and there Goodwood renews his advances. Isabel learns that Henrietta has encouraged him and feels betrayed. Later, Ralph informs Isabel that Mr Touchett is ill and together they leave London for Gardencourt.

3. Inheritance - A new-found friend - Sudden riches. At Gardencourt Isabel meets Madame Merle, also an American, and is charmed by her. They are frequently thrown together while Ralph and Mrs Touchett are occupied with caring for Mr Touchett, who wants Ralph to marry Isabel. Ralph refuses because of his heart condition but says he would like her to receive half his father's money so that she may be truly independent. On Mr Touchett's death, Isabel is shocked to learn of her inheritance. Madame Merle believes Isabel to have been 'clever', but Henrietta says that the money will do Isabel more harm than good. Ralph, however, encourages Isabel to enjoy her new wealth.

4. Italian Encounters - A meeting is engineered - Will love bloom? In Florence Madame Merle visits her friend Gilbert Osmond and his daughter Pansy. She tells him about Isabel and arranges for them to meet. Osmond begins to court Isabel, who grows to like him, much to Mrs Touchett's horror. Protective of Isabel, she questions Madame Merle, who defends Osmond. When Ralph and Isabel leave for Rome, the latter suggests that Osmond follow. Osmond cynically discusses Isabel with Madame Merle. In Rome Isabel meets Lord Warburton, whose feelings are unchanged. He is sad to learn that Isabel is attracted to Osmond.

5. An Unpopular Engagement - Deaf to opposition. Isabel travels with Madame Merle, then returns in Rome. Caspar Goodwood comes to see her there, in response to her letter announcing her engagement to Osmond, but she dismisses him. Mrs Touchett voices her opposition, regarding Osmond as a fortune-hunter. Ralph tells Isabel that she is giving up the freedom she once cherished and that he loves her without hope. However, Isabel says that she values Osmond because he has never striven for money, and that she is glad to share her fortune with him.

6. Matchmaking - An unhappy marriage - Hopes of an engagement. Isabel's marriage to Osmond does not prove happy and the child she bears dies in infancy. Three years later, Ralph arrives in Rome with Lord Warburton, who is attentive to Pansy. Osmond is pleased, forbidding Pansy's other suitor, Edward Rosier, to see her, and telling his wife to encourage her old friend. At a dance, Isabel realizes that Lord Warburton still cares for her and notices also that Rosier is in love with Pansy. She tells Rosier that she will help him and asks Lord Warburton to send a letter to her husband asking for Pansy's hand, thus challenging him to prove that he is in earnest.

7. Plans Fail - A suitor departs - Secret intimacy. Lord Warburton fails to propose to Pansy and leaves Rome. Pansy is delighted, but Osmond is furious with Isabel and accuses her of preventing the marriage. Isabel admits her unhappiness to Henrietta, who tells her Goodwood has come to Rome. Isabel asks him to take Ralph home as he is too ill to travel alone. Henrietta, too, volunteers her services. Isabel tells Ralph that she will come to him if he needs her. Madame Merle asks Isabel about Lord Warburton's change of heart. When Isabel says that it is none of her business, Madame Merle insists that it is. She then talks intimately with Osmond about his marriage and her previous relationship with him.

8. A Shocking Discovery - Choosing between love and duty. Osmond sends Pansy back to the convent and Isabel hears that Ralph is dying. Osmond refuses to let his wife go to him. Isabel then learns that Pansy is Madame Merle's daughter. Isabel decides to defy Osmond and visits Pansy to say goodbye. There she meets Madame Merle who tells her that Mr Touchett left the money to her at Ralph's suggestion. Isabel has an emotional reunion with Ralph, who soon dies. Goodwood surprises Isabel and kisses her, but despite being tempted for a moment, she rejects him again. Two days later, he follows her to London, only to learn that she has returned to Rome.
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