The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James with Rhoda Flaxman - In Person
Section I: Monday afternoons from 4-5:30 p.m.
In person if possible at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre.
Otherwise on Zoom.
October 25, November 1, 8, 15, 22.
Course limited to 20 participants.
This semester we’ll tackle James’ best –known and most popular work. Besides being a fabulously interesting read, “Portrait” is extremely important to the history of the novel. Janus-like, James writes a gripping story in the realistic novelistic mode of 19th Century fiction yet points ahead to the 20th century modernist novel of Joyce and Woolf. Driving the action inward, he explores the psychology of Isabel Archer, whose consciousness—her perception and internal life--is the primary focus of the novel. James is also modern because he experiments with the form of the novel (the medium, i.e., the point of view and structure) in his works after 1890s and is no longer interested only in the content (plot, characters, themes). He is one of the first to create a body of theory about the novel (its point of view and structure in particular), often employing the terminology of art. Finally, he paves the way to dispense with linear time and conventional plots to capture the flow, drift, and associations of minds.
Class in person will be conducted through a combination of mini-lecture and discussion using organizing questions sent in advance. Class on Zoom will rely more on directed discussion.
We will be reading approximately 80 pages for each class. If you can, I highly recommend you do a first reading of this book before class begins. In order to savor the style as well as James’ fascinating characters and plotting, I suggest you read only a few chapters a day. This is not a novel to be swallowed in one gulp.
I will be reading the novel in the Norton Critical Edition, which offers you access to critical articles as well as his very important “Preface to the New York Edition (1908),” which I will summarize in class. If you don’t have time for or interest in secondary readings, I suggest you buy the Penguin Classic edition ($5.89 on Amazon). For optional supplementary reading I recommend Michael Gorra’s new approach to the James biography, “Portrait of a Novel.”