The Portrait of a Lady provides an excellent introduction to the subtle, refined, and complex world of Henry James. Unlike any author before or since, James delved deeper into the hidden worlds of his characters, in order to explore the toils and delights of their inner lives. In The Portrait of a Lady, James tells the story of one of his most enchanting heroines, Isabel Archer, a young woman from New York State whose life is changed when she is visited by her aunt, Mrs. Touchett, following the death of her father (her mother having died long before). Mrs. Touchett, who is an expatriate American living in Florence, invites Isabel to accompany her back to Europe, where everyone she meets is fascinated by her beauty, her intelligence, and her vivacity. Mr. Touchett, her uncle, makes a generous provision for her in his will, but this turns out to have unexpected and undesired consequences.
Henry James was born in New York in 1843, the younger brother of the philosopher William James, and was educated in Europe and America. He left Harvard Law School in 1863, after a year's attendance, to concentrate on writing, and from 1869 he began to make prolonged visits to Europe, eventually settling in England in 1876. His literary output was both prodigious and of the highest quality: more than ten outstanding novels; countless novellas and short stories; as well as innumerable essays, letters, and other pieces of critical prose. Known by contemporary fellow novelists as the Master, James died in Kensington, London, in 1916.