The Portrait of a Lady

  • by Henry James
  • Narrated by John Wood
  • 23 hrs and 56 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Exclusively from Audible
When Isabel Archer, a beautiful, spirited American, is brought to Europe by her wealthy aunt Touchett, it is expected that she will soon marry. But Isabel, resolved to enjoy the freedom that her fortune has opened up and to determine her own fate, does not hesitate to turn down two eligible suitors, declaring that she will never be wed.
It is only when she finds herself irresistibly drawn to the cultivated but worthless Gilbert Osmond that she discovers that wealth is a two-edged sword. She becomes a victim of her own provincialism and the scheming of her friends, learning only too late that there is a price to be paid for independence. A tragic tale of love and betrayal, it still resonates with audiences today.
With its subtle delineation of American characters in a European setting, The Portrait of a Lady is considered the masterpiece of the first phase of James's career and arguably his most popular story. Within it we find a reflection of James's interest in the differences between the New World and the Old, often to the detriment of the former.
A film adaptation was made in 1996 by New Zealand director Jane Campion, starring Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, and Barbara Hershey.
Narrator Biography
Having begun his career on stage, John Wood spent seven years in television before eventually playing lead roles in Tom Stoppard's teleplays in 1967. After two Tony nominations for his performances in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead and Sherlock Holmes, he won the award for Best Actor for his role in Stoppard's surrealistic farce, Travesties, in 1976. He also had a long career with the Royal Shakespeare Company and continued his theatre work in both America and the UK, eventually receiving a Laurence Olivier Award nomination in 1997 for his role in Stoppard's Invention of Love.
In 1996, Wood performed in BBC Radio 3's audio production of Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw and in 2010 he narrated audiobook The Portrait of a Lady with Audible Studios. His appearances in feature films have included Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) and, later, television appearances have included Foyles's War (2004) and Lewis (2007). In 2007 he was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE).

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

An American Jane Austen

I have read a few Henry James before but it was this book that really made me aware of the fact that he was the male, American version of Jane Austen but without the wit and insight.

The Portrait of a Lady is a tale of manners, of might bes and being careful of what you wish for. After several books recently I am beginning to wonder how the institution of marriage survived the Victorian times - none of them have been happy and most of the husbands were monsters, this marriage was another to add to the list.

I enjoyed it but it was very slow - beautifully slow in its accuracy to describe fully a room, a look or a thought but it did mean that the action was subdued, almost to the speed of molasses!

My biggest criticism of the book however was the narrator. John Wood is a lovely narrator and I hope to hear him again, but he was completely wrong for this book. Its an American view of English and ex-patriate life in Europe, to have it read by an Englishman who can't do an American accent or a woman's accent without it sounding like he's in drag, was very disappointing.

I felt mean giving this book only four stars but unfortunately that's all it deserved.
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- Neil Chisholm

Highly recommended

John Wood's narration is just about perfect. The "American" accents are not "realistic," but that is a minor quibble, especially as it is offset so well by the perfect rendition of the narrative voice. Wood clearly understands the arc of the novel as a whole, so each chapter, paragraph, sentence has the right tone and nuance; the little refracted ironies strewn about everywhere are nicely expressed. Best of all -- I say this without having heard other readings -- is that Wood reads slowly. He savors the words, and we have time to understand them. The production values and audio quality are fabulous. I echo Linda's comment: Please, Mr. Wood, record more James!
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- David

Book Details

  • Release Date: 04-02-2010
  • Publisher: Audible Studios