Bookslut links to this fine piece by the novelist Claire Messud, but seemingly misreads it. Messud returned to Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady twenty years after first reading it. Less prone to idealization than her younger self, she recognizes complexities (“ragged truths”) in the characters that she missed the first time around, finds some of her sympathies relocated, and deems the novel even greater than she thought:
[Isabel] reveals her essential self, and it is less clear-sighted, less natural, less shining a vision than she, or the youthful reader I was, would have wished. But she is all the more human for her failings, just as The Portrait of a Lady is all the more magnificent for its novelistic imperfections. What is true is beautiful, more surely than the inverse; and therein lay my joy in rereading this masterpiece.
The nice thing about this essay is how, aside from offering a clear-eyed appreciation of the novel, it tracks Messud’s changing values as a reader. And though she’s glad to have moved on to this fuller appreciation, she’s not at all dismissive of the easier novel she used to love.