The Portrait of a Lady (First Edition) by Henry James



2015-06-26 10:26:40

The Portrait of a Lady is a novel by Henry James (1843-1916). It was first published as a serial between 1880 and 1881 in The Atlantic Monthly and Macmillan’s Magazine, and in book form in October 1881 by Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston. The first English edition was published a month later in November 1881, by Macmillan and Co, London. Background

The last and most accomplished work of fiction during James’ apprentice years, The Portrait of a Lady was well received at its time of publication. James began with the simple idea of a young American woman confronting her destiny, and from this created the character of the protagonist, and a detailed plot. It presents, typically of James, a trans-Atlantic panorama, and an examination of the old affluent world of Europe and Britain colliding with the new harsher world of America. James examines the psychology of human consciousness and motivation.

Plot, Characters, Themes

A young and spirited American woman named Isabel Archer loses her freedom despite or because of a vast inheritance. After rejecting several marriage proposals, she takes her money and travels Europe. She meets some American expatriates, who trick her into marrying one of them so they can take her money. It is an unhappy marriage. The ending is ambiguous.


Henry James is a writer known for his examinations of trans-Atlantic tensions and anxieties.

Notable auction sales and collecting tips

First editions were composed of three volumes. The first English edition had a first run of only 750 volumes, so these are extremely valuable, much more so than the first American edition, despite this being printed a month prior. It would be exceptional to find an edition of this work in its original parts in either of the two magazines, and very valuable.

A first English edition (1881 Macmillan, London) was sold by Christie’s for $10,925 in October 1995, and for $21,600 in June 2007. Sothebys sold the first English edition for $22,800 in June 2005.

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