Henry James & The Portrait of a Great Trifle

In many cases, the characters in the books that I read, in certain circumstances and in-between great dialogue, resonate among all things with me. Take Isabel Archer as a great example: a young lady who found herself intertwined in high society through a family member whom  offered her a chance of great reference for travel and riveting characters in the all too familiar English portrait (one that is often infused with high tea and English lawns). Her tenacity in acquiring knowledge, through printed text and life experience, spoiled her for choice over the tremendous advantages that came from her awareness in initiating the leap from London to America.

My agreement with Isabel stems from the incredible dialogue of Henry James. The expressive, intellectual, and fruitful prose often stops me in my tracks, awaits me as I fold the tip of my page with a smug look on my face –  half smile, half self-righteously satisfied in what I have read. It is my first Henry James novel that I mainly picked up over a quote I felt completely reciprocal to my feelings at that moment. Funny how words could create this correspondence between what is written on paper and ones’ emotions –  a task rarely successfully accomplished.  It takes genuine creativity and linguistic intelligence to create words capable of being that powerful with the reader. And that is what Henry James has done here for me. He allowed me to live with Isabel as though I might be her. In retrospect, as though I might have been her.  Her and I: intertwined, interrelated, and sometimes encompassing identical thoughts. In my books, that is a sign of a great writer- or, perhaps, a great novel.

There’s a complimentary example of that here. Henry James narrating Isabel’s constitution: her disposition and frame of mind, which, said without a pint of narcissism, seems awfully similar to me.

“She was a young person of many theories; her imagination was remarkably active. It had been her fortune to possess a finer mind than most of the persons among whom her lot was cast; to have a larger perception of surrounding facts, and to care for knowledge that was tinged with the unfamiliar…It may be affirmed without delay that She was probably very liable to the sin of self-esteem; she often surveyed with complacency the field of her own nature; she was in the habit of taking for granted, on scanty evidence, that she was right; impulsively, she often admired herself…Every now and then she found out she was wrong, and then she treated herself to a week of passionate humility. After this she held her head higher than ever again; for it was of no use, she had an unquenchable desire to think well of herself. She had a theory that it was only on this condition that life was worth living; that one should be one of the best, should be conscious of a fine organization, should move in the realm of light, of natural wisdom, of happy impulse, of inspiration gracefully chronic.”
― Henry JamesThe Portrait of a Lady

Mind you, I am still in the process of finishing the novel. Who knows if Isabel and I might agree on the prodigious of life events that are yet to unfold. She still has decisions to make concerning significant life matters- and so do I.

One of the Best Trifles (my mother’s recipe)


Total time: 20 minutes


  • 1 pound cake (you can make it at home, or store-bought: usually, it is store-bought when I make it)
  • 1 can of low-fat condensed milk
  • 1 can of water (use the same can of the condensed milk)
  • 1 dry packet of Vanilla pudding
  • 1  low-fat Dream whipped cream (store-bought, in the frozen isle)
  • 1 can of cherries


  1. Combine condensed milk, pudding, and water and mix together. Place in the fridge for about 15 minutes so they hold firm. The texture will be jello-like once you take it out of the fridge.
  2. In the meantime, cube your pound-cake.
  3. Take the mixture out of the fridge and add whip cream. Mix well.
  4. From here, you begin to layer your trifle.
    1. I usually start by putting the pudding mixture at the bottom, then I sprinkle the cubbed pound cake, and then I put a tablespoon of the cherry mix, and then I repeat the process until I am done. See the picture for reference 🙂

Lessons learned: The only lesson I am hoping to perfect each time is portion control. This is unbelievably delicious, and possibly the reason why I only make it during special occasions. Give it a try, and enjoy!