The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James
I tackled this giant intimidating chunkster with the aid of the WEM ladies at Classical Quest and A Classical Case of Madness. I really like Adriana's idea of a readalong on Facebook--she figured on reading 3 chapters a day and we would check in report progress. It's fun and not too overwhelming to manage such a small amount--and since I was reading Anna Karenina at the same time I needed all the help I could get!
Isabel is a young American woman from Albany, and her crotchety aunt whisks her off to England to live and to see Europe. Nothing much happens in the first 400 pages, except that every man she meets falls in love with her and asks her to marry him. She successfully fends them off (if I were her, I'd want to be left alone to explore Europe without constant hounding from these guys!), until she meets Gilbert Osmond. Although her other suitors are all good upstanding men, she of course has to marry the rotter.
Virtually every man she knows treats her more as an object to be owned than a real person; they are more interested in her graceful and attractive appearance than in her as a personality. Osmond is the worst of these and literally wants her to be an unthinking thing of beauty for him to take over and possess. When she resists this by having a few opinions, he grows to hate her--even though she always acts as a perfect wife.
I really don't understand the character of Pansy, Osmond's daughter. If you've read this book, please tell me your opinion of her! I think I understand partly what James wants us to think about her. But really, I've never met a less realistic 15-year-old girl than Pansy when she is first introduced. She comes off as about 8 years old, and I thought that either James didn't know any teenage girls (I figure that's the real case), or that she was secretly a conniving and manipulative little minx (this would be true if Pansy were a real person).
The last 200 pages are gripping (for James) and I hardly put the book down. It was interesting to read Henry James--he is slow and wordy, and I don't know that I will read a whole lot more, but I'm glad I read this one. And I feel pretty accomplished, too.