The Case of Isabel Archer

The Portrait of a Lady can rightfully claim to be the novel that began to edge fiction out of a Victorian concern with spectacle and plot and to introduce us to what became, in the early twentieth century, in the hands of Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner, and others, fiction that is concerned with the ebb and flow of individual consciousness as it ranges across the mundane events of daily life. James frequently pauses the action and allows us to eavesdrop on Isabel Archer’s most intimate thoughts, feelings, and fears, in a manner that readers in 1881 would have found both startling and thrilling. John Banville’s seventeenth novel, Mrs. Osmond, seizes the narrative baton from James.

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