The Portrait of a Lady

by: Henry James

Chapters 8–11

Summary Chapters 8–11


Lord Warburton is quite taken with Isabel, and he convinces Mrs. Touchett to grant her permission for the young woman to pay a visit to Lockleigh, his manor house. Here, he tells Isabel something of his family history, and they discuss English and American politics. Isabel realizes that Warburton does not think much of her understanding of political situations, but she is impressed nevertheless with his commitment to social progress and reform, unusual for a British nobleman. When she asks Ralph about him later, he says that he feels sorry for him, observing that Warburton likes being an aristocrat but disapproves of the idea of aristocracy. Mr. Touchett thinks much the same thing: like the other liberals in the House of Lords, he says, Warburton wants to change society without losing his own position in it. In Mr. Touchett's opinion, that sort of politics is merely a luxury with which the wealthy amuse themselves. He advises Isabel not to fall in love with Warburton, joking that the lord has a craving to become a martyr. Isabel replies that she would never make anyone a martyr, and Touchett says that he hopes she will never become one, either.

Lord Warburton's two unmarried sisters, the Misses Molyneux, pay a call on Isabel at Gardencourt. Though they are somewhat simple, leading a life of thoughtless luxury as daughters of the aristocracy, Isabel finds them sweet and even envies their uncomplicated lives. Ralph teases her for liking them so much, saying that Isabel could never be happy in such a routine existence. Isabel visits the young women at Lockleigh and tries to discuss politics and other serious subjects to learn more about them; she discovers that they tend to echo their brother's ideas, telling her sincerely that their family has been liberal for years.

She goes for a walk with Lord Warburton along the grounds of Locksleigh; here, he asks her if he might come to visit her more often. Isabel reminds him that the matter is really up to her aunt but says that she would like to get to know him better. He tells her that she has "charmed" him; Isabel notices that his tone is very serious, even romantic, and she reminds him lightly that she intends to leave soon to travel through Europe with Mrs. Touchett. Dispirited, Warburton blurts out that he thinks Isabel spends too much time judging people, saying that he always feels scrutinized by her. Isabel is shocked by his emotional intensity and slightly frightened by it; when he says that he will come to see her next week, she replies coldly, "Just as you wish."

Isabel receives a note from Henrietta Stackpole, telling her that she has arrived in England and would like to see her and to talk to her about the English aristocracy, which she is covering for the Interviewer. Thinking that Henrietta's modern attitudes might not mesh well with the more traditional life at Gardencourt, Isabel feels slightly uneasy about the prospect of inviting her there, but nevertheless, she speaks to Mr. Touchett and obtains his permission for Henrietta to visit. Ralph takes her to the train station to wait for Henrietta and asks what she is like. Isabel tells him that she is unconcerned with the opinions of men; Ralph assumes that she will be ugly. But when she steps off the train, Ralph is surprised to see that Henrietta is actually quite attractive. Henrietta surprises Ralph by asking extremely pointed questions, wondering whether he considers himself English or American. Ralph laughingly evades her examination.

After she has been in England for some time, Henrietta begins an article about life at Gardencourt. But Isabel asks her to keep the Touchetts out of her writing, saying that Henrietta should develop a stronger sense of privacy. She says that Henrietta should be modest about other people as well as about herself; Henrietta simply writes this down as a quote to include in an article. Henrietta feels slightly uneasy about Ralph; she is put off by his sickliness and his idle existence. She tells him pointedly that he should marry, and he, misunderstanding, thinks that she means he should marry her. When he declines, Henrietta storms away angrily. Isabel reveals to Ralph that Henrietta does not mean to be offensive; she simply asks personal questions without personally involving herself in the answer. Ralph and Isabel agree that Henrietta embodies the democratic attitude of America.

From that point on, Ralph cautiously reminds himself not to misunderstand Henrietta's interest in him. Mrs. Touchett, on the other hand, finds her extremely dull and annoying; the two women argue about hotels and servants, with Mrs. Touchett criticizing American attitudes and Henrietta defending them. Henrietta, who seems to disapprove of the Touchetts and England generally, criticizes Isabel for having been taken in by the conservative English environment. She chastises Isabel for not even having asked about Caspar Goodwood. Henrietta shocks Isabel by saying that Caspar Goodwood traveled to England on the same ship as Henrietta and that he talked incessantly about Isabel the entire time. Eventually, Isabel receives a letter from Caspar, telling her that he has traveled to England to see her and that he hopes she will change her mind about her earlier rejection of him. Isabel hears footsteps as she finishes the letter; she looks up and sees Lord Warburton coming toward her.

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