The Portrait of a Lady has been a real pleasure to read because of its multiple layers and varieties of possible interpretations. At first glance, it explores the thoughts and dreams of a young American girl having come to Europe with her rich aunt. The plot, however, is definitely not what this novel is about, or at least not all. The development of the characters, the deep exploration of the human mind and the ways social conventions define people’s destinies are only some of the aspects I was really hooked on. The subtle irony, the mockery of stereotypes and the constant parallels between Europe and America representing the old and the new, together with the visible intertextuality (I find much of Middlemarch’s narrative techniques and themes developed here, as well as some references to Pride and Prejudice) make this novel one of the greatest late-Victorian works of fiction.
To sum up, this novel has depth and psychologism, it tells a lot about people’s relationships and communication skills, but it does not count on the plot. It has many layers to interpret, most obvious of which are the parallels between the old and the new – Europe and the USA, as well as the misinterpretation of expectations what ladies really want. Moreover, ladies and gentlemen are products of the decaying old world, so they are being dominated (Daniel), rejected (Lord Warburton) or dying (Ralph). Their values seem outdated, so the new heroes such as Madame Merle and Osmund seem to be the future. The final is open, which makes sense, since we do not read the novel for the plot, so there is another layer for the reader to contemplate. The Portrait of a Lady is a very adequate text even in the 21st century, so I really think people should give it a chance.