‘Mrs. Osmond’ by John Banville – An Appropriate Sequel to ‘The Portrait of a Lady’


‘Mrs. Osmond’ by John Banville   (2017)  –   369 pages

About two years ago, I read and was fascinated by the novel ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ by Henry James, so it is only right that I read this sequel. ‘Portrait’ is the story of a young American woman Isabel Archer who goes to England and stays with some of her rich relatives there.  Ultimately she travels to Italy and winds up getting wed into a disastrous marriage with Gilbert Osmond. This all takes place in the 1880s.

As ‘Mrs. Osmond’ by John Banville begins, Isabel Archer Osmond is no longer a naïve innocent young woman. A few years have passed since ‘The Portrait of a Lady’.   Trapped in a terrible marriage, she knows she has made a huge mistake.  Now she has a new resolve and a strong determination to set things right again.

In both ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ and ‘Mrs. Osmond’, the villains are Gilbert Osmond and his lady friend Madame Merle.  In ‘Portrait’, after hearing of Isabel’s new inherited fortune, they schemed and plotted to trap her into this marriage to Gilbert Osmond.  Henry James dislike of his character Gilbert Osmond bordered on hysterical frenzy.  How dare these poor Italian nobles scheme to marry into English or American money?  Banville takes a more analytical approach to this insolent devious vindictive man Gilbert.  Few of Gilbert’s actions are unpremeditated. Now Gilbert and Madame Merle are plotting daughter Pansy’s marriage into a rich English family.

Most of the characters from the first novel show up in ‘Mrs.  Osmond’. There is talk of Lord Warburton and Caspar Goodwood, two of Isabel’s old suitors.   Isabel discusses strategy with her independent reporter woman friend Henrietta Stackpole.  She meets Madame Merle and her step-daughter Pansy’s suitor Edward Rozier in Paris.  Finally she returns to Italy in order to confront Gilbert.  Sadly, her cousin Ralph Touchett who was such a lively presence in ‘Portrait’ has died, but his mother does make an appearance.

Writing ‘Mrs. Osmond’ is obviously a labor of admiration by John Banville.  Banville is paying homage to perhaps the greatest novel by Henry James or at least the one which is most accessible.  What is really impressive is the way Banville captures Henry James’ style of writing which uses the longer sentences of the Victorian era. Modern sentences are streamlined, direct, and to the point.  However, back in the time of Henry James, sentences were more involved and intricate than they are today.  Longer sentences allow for more nuances, more shading, and more subtlety. I have read my share of 19th century literature, and it seems to me that these longer sentences allowed for greater depth both in characterization and physical description. I am not so sure that the move to shorter sentences has been totally such a good thing. The shorter sentences of today may be the result of a briefer attention span.   Perhaps our modern short streamlined sentences cause us to stay more simplistic, more on the surface of things rather than going deeper into motivation and implication.

I would recommend ‘Mrs. Osmond’ for anyone who has read and enjoyed ‘The Portrait of a Lady’.  I’m not sure it would work as a stand-alone novel.


Grade :   A         


4 responses to this post.

  1. I have this on the table beside me, for reading “soon”. I’ve taken note of your review and will be back to chat when I’ve read it:)

    Liked by 1 person


  2. […] See also Tony’s review at Tony’s Book World. […]



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