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The Portrait of A Lady

The Portrait of A Lady: Summary

Henry James‘s novel The Portrait of A Lady depicts the bond of the familial relationship between a grandmother and her son. The grandson (author) lives with his grandmother in their village house.

Life in Village

His parents have moved to the city and for the time being, he is under the guardianship of her widowed grandmother. She is a pious and beautiful woman even though she has grown old and wrinkly.

She moves slowly with slumped shoulders but is in a constant mode of spiritual and religious enchantment. This gives her an air of calmness that the author likens to that of snow-capped peaks under the winter sun.

The author studies in a school attached to a temple complex so the grandmother escorts him to it and spends her time in religious devotion until he finishes his school day. In the evening they both return home and feed stray dogs along with their journey.

Change in Lifestyle

The daily routine is finally disrupted when they both are relocated to the city where the author’s parents reside. The settling-in period in the big city brings its own set of forces for both the grandson and his grandmother.

Even though they share the same room, they grow apart gradually. The author is enrolled in an English medium school where he learns Science and Mathematics in place of religion and spirituality.

He also stars taking interest in Music which is a taboo for the austere grandmother. She fills her time in spiritual endeavors and tending to the sparrows that visit their city house.

Growing Separation

The grandson then moves to University and is given a separate room for privacy and independence. This alienates the two further. As time goes by the author decides to move abroad for higher studies.

His stay would last 5 years so he assumes that it would the last time he would get to see his grandmother who was not getting any younger. She goes to see him off to the railway station and they say their warm good-byes.

Author’s Return

When the author returns home 5 years down the line, he is pleasantly surprised to see his grandmother lead the welcoming party. Back at home, she keeps busy with her sparrows but arranges a celebratory function for the returning grandson.

She, along with other womenfolk from the vicinity, partakes in festive song and dance to rejoice the return of her grandson.

Grandmother’s Death

However, the festivities do not last long as the very next day the grandmother falls sick. Even though the doctor allays fears of serious illness, she could feel a nearing demise.

She asks to be left alone and devotes herself to prayer and appreciation of God. Suddenly, her rosary drops to the floor as her soul departs to the heavens.

The funeral is arranged and has some special guests in the form of her beloved sparrows that gather around the house in a poetic procession for the dearly departed. As the body of the grandmother leaves the house, so do the sparrows, untying another string of love, care, and familial concern.

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