Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson (Simon and Schuster, 2003) is a fantastic portrait of a complex man. I have always loved Ben Franklin (ever since I read Ben and Me by Robert Lawlor as a child). Reading Isaacson’s biography helped me to see why I liked it him so much: he was, in general, a likeable man.
When the confident orphaned young American woman at the center of The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (published 1881) receives a fortune, it seems she will be able to live her dream life of happiness. Yet, James’ portrait of Isabel Archer’s character, emotional development, and her choices is a complex one. As a relatively independent woman, Isabel is still restricted by the social and cultural restraints of being a woman in the mid-nineteenth century. As with my read of The Mill on the Floss (discussed last week), The Portrait of a Lady annoyed me because of the limited perspective Isabel Archer was able to embrace as a woman, and her story in general frustrated me because of what did and did not happen based on Isabel’s perceived “duty” as a woman.
Although I try to avoid spoilers below, there may be some thematic discussion that could “spoil” the novel for the particular reader. (more…)