The Portrait of a Lady (1881) is Henry James's early novel of psychological realism, in which various types of American character are transplanted into the European environment.
Upon her father's death, the high-minded heroine Isabela Archer is visited by Mrs Touchett, who decides to give the girl the advantage of cosmopolitan experience, and Isabela is taken to Europe to see the world of culture and fashion. But what does she actually find there? How does the penniless girl inherit a property through the persuasion of a terminally ill cousin, who wants to make her economically independent, and how after turning down two proposals of marriage eventually she gets trapped in an unhappy marriage with the selfish, dilettante Osmond? Would she leave Osmond on realizing his vileness or would she continue with the worthless man?
The novel illustrates the Jamesian method of using an individual temperament as a prism to refract life.
Henry James (1843-1916) novelist, short-story writer, playwright, critic and essayist, was born in New York City. His father was a famous theologian and philosopher. His elder brother, William, was also a famous philosopher. He was educated by private tutors until the age of 12 and then at schools in Boulogne, Paris, Geneva, Bonn and--when the family returned to the United States--at Newport, Rhode Island. He entered Harvard Law School in 1862 but withdrew after a year and began to spend his time on writing. In 1860s his early reviews and critical essays were published in The North American Review and The Atlantic Monthly. In 1875, after two prior visits to Europe, he lived for a year in Paris, where he met Flaubert, Turgenev and other literary figures. Next year he moved to London where he became very popular in society. In 1915, a few months before his death, he got British citizenship. In January 1916 King George V conferred the Order of Merit on him. He died in London on February 28, 1916.
In addition to many short stories, plays, books of criticism, autobiography and travel, he wrote about twenty novels, which included The Europeans, Washington Square, The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, The Princess Casamassima, The Tragic Muse, The Spoils of Poynton, The Awkward Age, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl.