The Portrait of a Lady

The Portrait of a Lady Summary and Analysis of Chapters 10-14

Chapter 10

Isabel's friend, Henrietta Stackpole, the independent American journalist, arrives in England and visits at Gardencourt to see Isabel. She is described as a neat, plump person with a remarkably observant eye. Henrietta declares to the Touchetts that she would like to know if they consider themselves American or English, so that she will know how to talk to them. Ralph tells her that, in order to please her, he'll be an Englishman, or even a Turk. Isabel intercedes that Ralph is a cosmopolite.

Isabel discovers that Henrietta is writing an article on Gardencourt, and tells her that she should not write about the place. Henrietta thinks they will be delighted afterwards, and Isabel protests that Henrietta has no sense of privacy. Henrietta blushes. Later, she asks Isabel if there is some other place she can describe, and Isabel tells her that she could give her a glimpse of Lord Warburton, and perhaps she can observe him.

Henrietta finds it odd that Ralph spends his time so idly, without occupation. She asks how he can reconcile his idleness with his conscience, to which he responds, "I have no conscience!" (76.) Henrietta proceeds to interrogate him on having abandoned his own country, and Ralph responds that one's country is not a choice, but only an "element of one's composition" (76). Henrietta counsels Ralph to "take hold of something" -- that is, find something to work on. A few days later, Henrietta diagnoses Ralph: "I know what's the matter with you… you think you're too good to get married" (77). Ralph jokes that he thought so until he met Henrietta. She thinks that getting married would improve him, and that it is his "duty" (77). Ralph suspects Henrietta has ulterior motives, so he decides to test this by circuitously suggesting that he is proposing to Henrietta. Henrietta gives him a look of resentment.

Isabel later tells Ralph that Henrietta thinks Europeans have a low tone towards women. Ralph notes that perhaps he treats her too personally. He thinks though, that she has the "smell of the Future" (79).

Chapter 11

Henrietta gets along well at Gardencourt mostly, except that she begins to mistrust Mrs. Touchett. Mrs. Touchett thinks that Henrietta is both a bore and an adventuress. She detests her manners. Mrs. Touchett tells Henrietta: "We judge from different points of view, evidently… I like to be treated as an individual; you like to be treated as a 'party'" (81).

In a private moment, Henrietta tells Isabel that Caspar Goodwood came to see her for news about Isabel. Isabel thinks he is simpleminded, and not ugly. Henrietta tells Isabel that Caspar Goodwood is dying for encouragement, but she also notes that Isabel is affected by everything but Mr. Goodwood. She tells Isabel that she shouldn't let her new ideas affect her old ones. Basically Henrietta seems to hope that Isabel will marry Mr. Goodwood, and reminds Isabel that she has already encouraged him that he will be successful if he proposes. Isabel recognizes that Mr. Goodwood is a man of action, the type to "do something" (84). Henrietta tells Isabel that Mr. Goodwood will arrive in a few days.

Isabel is alarmed by the news. For the next few days she is in a state of ominous foreboding. One day in the garden she receives a letter from Mr. Goodwood. In the letter, Caspar Goodwood reminds Isabel that she had "dismissed" (85) him three months earlier when they last saw each other, but that he had refused to accept this, believing her character was not as arbitrary as she was presenting it as. He has arrived in England because she is there. He asks to come see her in half an hour. As Isabel is reading the letter, Lord Warburton appears.

Chapter 12

Isabel is aware that Lord Warburton has arrived with some intention, and she feels curious about this intention at the same time she wishes to elude this intention. Although the narrator does not tell us so, it is obvious that Lord Warburton is about to propose marriage to her. She perceives Lord Warburton as "looming up before her" (87) and he appears to demand something of her, as if he is about to draw her into the orbit of the system in which he lives. Her instinct tells her to resist though, especially because she has a system of her own. She also notes that Caspar Goodwood is a man with no system at all, even though he has certain definite intentions with her.

Meanwhile, Lord Warburton seems somewhat embarrassed. He was about to do something that would shock all his countrymen, even though he has only been in Isabel's company for 26 hours. Lord Warburton tells her he's in love with her, and that he will be forever. Isabel claims that he does not know her at all. He tells her if she is his wife, he will come to know her. She tells him that she believes in him, and does not need the recommendation of his friends to do so. But then, she thanks him for his offer. He tells her that this gives him some hope that she will come to accept him eventually. She tells him not to hope. She is sure that her opinion of him can only rise, but that his opinion of her will only lower with time. Isabel tells him she is refusing him not because she dislikes him, but because it's about what she herself can give to the marriage. Further, she is not sure that she ever wishes to marry anyone.

Isabel feels that she would give her little finger to have the impulse to accept Lord Warburton's proposal; she wishes she could believe it was the best possible opportunity she could have. However, she feels like a "wild, caught creature in a vast cage" when presented with this opportunity. This opportunity was not the greatest she could conceive of. Isabel tells him finally that he ought not to bring up the subject today again, and that she only needs time to think of some way to let him know that what he asks is impossible. Lord Warburton tells her he will live without purpose if she rejects him, and she protests that he will marry a better woman than she. She tells him that she only wants to collect her mind a little, and he responds that he is afraid of her "remarkable" mind (93). She responds, "So am I, my lord!"

As he leaves, Isabel feels that there had been no great difficult choice, as she simply could not have married him. "The idea failed to support any enlightened prejudice in favour of the free exploration of life that she had hitherto entertained or was now capable of entertaining" (94).

Chapter 13

Isabel decides to speak to her uncle, Mr. Touchett, about this event. Mr. Touchett, upon hearing of the proposal, tells her that he knew she would be a success here. He also already knew about Lord Warburton's intentions. Speaking with her uncle allows Isabel to feel that she has reasonable and natural emotions, rather than a vague intellectualism that rests upon an unfounded idea. She did not refuse Lord Warburton either because she planned on accepting Caspar Goodwood. In Caspar Goodwood's presence, she feels deprived of a sense of freedom, and she is often haunted by the sense that he might disapprove of what she did. Sometimes she thinks of Caspar Goodwood as the "stubbornest fact she knew" (98).

The narrator informs the reader that Caspar Goodwood is the son of a proprietor of cotton-mills in Massachusetts, and therefore a man of means. He even had managed to invent an improvement to the process of cotton spinning and was seen as accomplished because of this. Isabel likes the idea that he is a character and a mover of men (100), but he does not move her imagination in any other ways. He did not correspond to her idea of a delightful person, although Lord Warburton did correspond to it exactly. However she was still unsatisfied.

Isabel decides not to reply to Mr. Goodwood. She writes to Lord Warburton after three days. She tells him, "We see our lives from our own point of view," and that she can never see hers from the point of view of his wife (101).

Henrietta tries to get Ralph Touchett to allow Caspar Goodwood to visit, taking him for a stroll in the garden. Ralph hesitates, but finally agrees when Henrietta accuses him of being in love with Isabel. He tells her he will invite Caspar Goodwood to prove that he is not in love with Isabel. Henrietta tells him that he is inviting Caspar Goodwood to prove it to himself. Ralph writes to Caspar to invite him to Gardencourt, but Caspar refuses. This puzzles Henrietta.

Henrietta and Isabel decide to go on to London together, and Ralph joins them.

Chapter 14

Lord Warburton and his sisters arrive at Gardencourt right before Isabel departs for London. Henrietta meets Lord Warburton and tells him that she does not approve of lords as an institution. Lord Warburton agrees, and Miss Stackpole asks why he does not give it up. Lord Warburton jokes that they'll make a ceremony of it.

Isabel and Lord Warburton have a moment alone in the gallery together. He tells her he does not understand why she rejects him, and he interrogates her as to what her reasons are. Isabel at least tells him the reason is that she feels she cannot escape her fate. "It's not my fate to give up," she tells him. She does not want to give up other chances. "I can't escape unhappiness. In marrying you I shall be trying to," she explains (113). She claims it is not that she wants to be miserable, but rather that she does not want to separate herself from the "usual chances and dangers" of life (113). Lord Warburton promises to separate her from nothing.

The rest of the group then interrupts Isabel and Lord Warburton. Isabel tells Miss Molyneux that she will not be able to visit Lockleigh again because she is going away. Henrietta declares the whole party very dismal and bad material for any article she would write about them.

Before Isabel leaves, Mrs. Touchett informs her that she knows about Lord Warburton's offer. She claims to know Isabel better than Mr. Touchett does, and she says that when she refuses such an offer it is because she expects to do something better.


Ralph and Henrietta do not seem to really get along -- perhaps they might remind us of friends in a TV sitcom who always make fun of each other, never see eye to eye, yet nevertheless get something out of each other's company. Ralph finds it fun to evade straightforward answers to Henrietta's questions about his own identity and function in the world, and Henrietta persists in pinning him down with one. Ralph seems to represent Europeans here -- a sick and idle, but cultured, person -- and Henrietta is the American of the "Future" (79) who is bold, persistent and hard working. This is representative of Henry James' well-known "American Theme" in which Americans arrive in Europe, and seem to offer something new to a decadent culture. But what is it, exactly that they offer? Henrietta seems to offer straightforward, puritan values. (Here, that is represented by Henrietta's belief that it is Ralph's duty to marry, and that he do something in life.)

In Chapter 12, we have what will be seen as her first great action, her refusal of Lord Warburton's marriage proposal. For any American without a fortune, this would have been seen as a great opportunity: marrying a rich, well respected Lord from England. Why does Isabel reject his marriage proposal? She tells him she has nothing to give: she could mean this in a financial sense, but she could also mean that she believes she must develop as an individual, original and independent person in order to enter into a marriage. She furthermore believes herself to be capable of an even greater opportunity: does this mean she believes another man of greater status will propose to her? Or does she think she will be able to occupy herself in life in some other way? The great idea upon which her ambition settles is unclear. What could it mean to engage in "the free exploration of life" (94)? It would appear that Isabel's great idea is to assert some sort of independent freedom of character, but the means of expression of such freedom does not seem to be readily available to her. It does not seem to lie in any possible occupation she could have, especially because she is not a very practical person, but rather a theoretical one. It does not seem to lie in her social relations to others, because this seems to mean that she will have to submit to a particular social system thereby losing her freedom. This leads to a more existential question that is being posed in the book: What is freedom? Can it be asserted in any other way, other than negatively?

Meanwhile, the fact that Caspar Goodwood has arrived at the same time that Lord Warburton has decided to propose forms something of a climax of the first section of the novel. Isabel is presented with two possible, concrete realizations for her "idea" as to what she will do in life, and she rejects them both, although she rejects them for opposite reasons. One man is not at all likeable, and not at all her ideal; the other is perfectly an ideal of a person, and she likes him perfectly well, but she intuitively feels that she does not want to marry him. Her idea thus assumes expression only negatively here.

In Chapter 14, we get some more exploration into Isabel's motivations for rejecting Lord Warburton's marriage proposal. She claims that she does not want to separate herself from "life" - from the usual chances that most people suffer. She seems to have a lust for a vague notion of experience, and she believes such experience cannot be found when one is protected from dangers through marriage. Mrs. Touchett's simple declaration ironically is the most adequate for describing Isabel's rejection -- she does think that she can "do something better." However, Mrs. Touchett is also a character that is not depicted in a flattering light; she is not the kind of person who can explore deep psychological motivations and intimate emotions. Thus we are presented with the contradiction that Isabel's "idea" on the one hand can be described adequately in a superficial manner, but that it nevertheless breeds a lot of psychological interest and vague emotions.