The Portrait of a Lady
By Henry James
This novel seems to me to contain some of the most beautiful sentences written in English in the 19th century. The first one, for example: "Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea." Pull a chair up to the delicate little outdoor table, pour yourself a cup, and stay for the whole show. A few minutes later the lovely, bright, rich, strong-willed Isabel Archer will walk on stage, and a few acts later she will marry the wrong man. Gilbert Osmond, aesthete and slime-bag, is one of the century's most satisfying, subtle villains; he even falls in love, to the best of his abilities. My great-grandmother's favorite book.