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The Portrait of a Lady

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.


The first part of this section focuses on Isabel's developing relationship with Lord Warburton, the aristocratic lord who uses his power to advocate anti- aristocratic political reform. Warburton's political leanings lead to one of the novel's brief, secondary explorations of the theme of social class, as Warburton advocates class equality, and the irascible Mr. Touchett declares that Warburton's radical stance is really just a kind of pleasing vanity—after all, he still goes home to Lockleigh every night.

Isabel has speculated that there must be "fifty" different social classes in England; Mr. Touchett replies that being an American in Europe means that one is free from the constraints of social class. While this may seem ironic coming from a man who lives in a mansion and has essentially limitless wealth, it is an important clue to understanding how James's europeanized Americans think of themselves—along with their displacement comes a greater amount of mobility and liberty. At least Isabel, who is in love with the idea of mobility and liberty, certainly hopes so.

Lockleigh provides Isabel with her first glimpse of an upper-class European existence, and though she is frightened by Warburton's obvious romantic attraction to her (Isabel is always frightened by romance, since its end result—marriage—would curtail her independence), she is strangely attracted to the sedate and conventional life at the manor house. Warburton's sisters, the Misses Molyneux, are not even individual enough to obtain first names in the novel; they are simply the height of conformity and convention, seeming placid, submissive, and thoughtless—exactly the opposite of what Isabel seems to want out of life. And yet Isabel likes them and even envies their lives.

While she is independent in her own mind, something in Isabel's character seems to crave stability, safety, and order—after all, the source of her independence is her disorganized childhood, when she was given the run of her father's library but was largely neglected by any authority figure. This may have been a mixed blessing for Isabel: it made her intellectually independent, but also made her yearn to be cared for and protected. In a sense, the conflict Isabel experiences between independence and social convention is really an outward manifestation of this inner conflict between the freedom of self- confidence and the desire for security. Social independence is a manifestation of Isabel's self-confidence, but her general tendency to accept social convention is a manifestation of her desire for security.

The second half of this section is largely made up of humorous scenes involving Henrietta Stackpole, who seems to represent the conservative Henry James's idea of a feminist. Henrietta is used broadly in the novel to represent the spirit of American liberty and democratic optimism—she is pugnacious, entirely without subtlety, and determined to get things done and make a mark on the world. Henrietta and Caspar Goodwood are the most important symbols of America in the novel, and they each tend to bring out the European qualities of those around them. Compared to Henrietta, for instance, Isabel often seems impractical, romantic, and sensual, which are important qualities in her personality that she rarely considers as important. As in the case of Ralph, Henrietta is an important peripheral character who is used to draw out a side of Isabel that we might otherwise miss.

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