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The Portrait Of A Lady Summary [CBSE Class 11] By Henry James

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NameThe Portrait Of A Lady
BoardCBSE Board
AuthorHenry James

Short Summary – The Portrait of a Lady

The writer’s grandmother was described as being petite, healthy, and slightly bent. Her wrinkled face was covered in a patchwork of grey hair. She used to walk around the entire house dressed entirely in white. She continued to hold her rosary beads in one hand while keeping the other lying on her waist.

The writer does not find her to be very attractive, yet she is always stunning. He contrasts her peaceful features with the wintery surroundings. During their extended stay in the village, Grandmother would wake him up early in the morning, prepare his breakfast, plaster his wooden slate, and send him to school. The school and the temple had the same wall. While the kids learned the alphabet, she sat inside and read the holy books.

She used to feed the street dogs the stale chapatis on their way home. When they moved to a city to live, their wonderful relationship experienced a major shift. Even though they shared a room, their relationship began to decline. Now, the author used to ride a school bus to the city school where he learned subjects like English, physics, arithmetic, and many others that his grandma could not have possibly understood.

His grandmother was no longer able to accompany him to school. She was disappointed that the public school did not educate about God or the Bible. He was instead offered music lessons, but she remained silent. She found music to be awful. She claimed that it was only suitable for begging and prostitution. Not for gentlemen, that’s for sure.

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The author received a separate room in his home when he enrolled in college. The grandma and grandson’s connection no longer shares the common thread. Grandmother no longer spoke to anyone in the house very often. The author’s grandma accepted her loneliness in silence. She hardly spoke to anyone since she was so occupied with her spinning wheel and praying. In the late afternoon, she took a rest. She would split bread into bits and feed the birds as part of her daily practice. On her shoulders, head, and even her legs, the birds would perch.

The writer’s grandmother was not at all bothered when he left for a journey overseas to continue his studies. Instead, she went to the train station to bid him farewell, but instead of saying goodbye, she simply kissed his forehead. Her fingers were busy reciting the rosary’s bead-by-bead history while her fingers moved in prayer. Her lips were also moving in prayer. The writer had the impression that this might be his last time seeing his grandmother because of how old she was. But when he returned home after a five-year absence, his grandmother was waiting for him and was seen delighted in his presence.

After his grandson returned the next day, she fell ill. Even though the doctor assured them that she only had a small fever and that it would pass quickly, she was able to sense the approaching end of her life. She didn’t want to chat to anyone just to waste time. Her fingers were occupied with the narrative of the rosary beads.

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She prayed and recited the rosary beads as she lay in bed until her lips stopped moving and the rosary dropped from her lifeless fingers. After she passed away, her body was found on the floor, wrapped in a scarlet shawl. Thousands of sparrows came in to mourn her passing and sat scattered around her body. When the old lady’s lifeless body was taken away for the funeral rites, all the birds flew away silently.

About the Author

Henry James wrote a novel titled The Portrait of a Lady, which was released in three parts in 1881. The novel is a study of Isabel Archer, a young American woman of tremendous promise who travels to Europe but falls prey to her own provincialism. It is considered by many to be the best work of James’s early career.

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