Saturday, May 2, 2009

Five best: books on reputation

For the Wall Street Journal, Tina Brown named a five best list of books on reputation.

Number One on her list:
The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James

Reputation is a timely subject, now that nobody has one. Whether you are erstwhile financial wizard Bernard Madoff or former Federal Reserve chairman and no-longer-sacred-monster Alan Greenspan, it's not a good time to imagine that your legacy is a done deal. A trio of reputations lie at the heart of Henry James's "The Portrait of a Lady." There is, of course, the reputation of our protagonist, the bright, independent-minded American heiress Isabel Archer. Then we have her suitor and eventual husband, Gilbert Osmond -- a vile American expat in Florence who has a completely unearned reputation for being gifted and special. In fact, he is a vain and cruel narcissist. Finally we have the scheming but sociable Madame Merle, who is reputed to be the most intelligent woman in Europe but who ends (in James's unforgettable dismissal) as "almost as universally 'liked' as some new volume of smooth twaddle." Only Isabel manages to live up to her advance publicity.
Read about all five titles on Brown's list.

The Portrait of a Lady was among the six best books named for The Week by Elizabeth Edwards, a lawyer who also happens to be the wife of former vice presidential candidate John Edwards.

--Marshal Zeringue