Susan Crosland

The Portrait of A Lady

The Portrait of A Lady

By

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The best thing about the first of these three CDs is the reader, Gayle Hunnicutt. Her accents for the various types of Americans transplanted abroad are spot on: they bring to life each character in Henry James’s masterpiece, first published in 1881. Like most Jamesian plots, it is slow to get going, but Hunnicutt’s skill keeps us patient as the large cast is assembled. The action and characterisations that follow are worth the wait. Isabel Archer is the ‘Lady’ of the title (‘well-born for an American’) who has all the gifts except judgment. Her charming invalid cousin, Ralph, lives at Gardencourt, a delightful English country house, with his old banker father whom Ralph persuades to give half his legacy to Isabel: ‘I want her to be rich so she will not have to marry for support,’ he explains – adding, with unconscious foresight, ‘The risk is she may fall victim to a fortune-hunter.’ A popular English nobleman, Lord Warburton, proposes, but as Isabel tells her other suitors, she prizes her liberty. Then without warning to the reader, she marries another American abroad unlike anyone she knows. What does this remarkable lady do when she then discovers he is vile and has married her for her money?

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