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The Portrait of a Lady | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady | Chapters 12–13 | Summary



Chapter 12

Lord Warburton tells Isabel Archer he has ridden over from Lockleigh to see her and asks her to stay outside to walk with him. She feels conflicted about his intentions, worried he will renew his romantic attentions, but at the same time interested to hear what he might say. He professes his love for her, telling her he fell in love with her at first sight. Isabel intimates that while she likes him a great deal, she does not return his feelings. He knows few people will understand or approve of his choice to propose to an American with no fortune, but he is convinced she is the only person he wants. He tries to convince her he could provide her with a happy life, saying they could live anywhere in the world. Isabel tells him she will let him know her answer later. He leaves, and she realizes she already knows her answer. She cannot marry him, no matter how advantageous the match may be. She realizes just about any other woman would have accepted the proposal, and she wonders if she might be a "cold, hard, priggish person" for saying no.

Chapter 13

Isabel tells Mr. Touchett Lord Warburton has proposed and that she intends to refuse. Mr. Touchett says Lord Warburton wrote him a letter three days prior, letting him know of his intentions to do so. She declares, "I don't wish to marry anyone just now." He comments that perhaps an English life would cost her too much.

Isabel finds Caspar Goodwood domineering. He makes her feel less free. Before she left Albany she hadn't given his presumed proposal a definite answer, and he has followed her to England to get one. The narrator says Caspar Goodwood is the manager of his father's cotton-mill. He is Harvard educated, athletic, and clever with machinery. Isabel finds his jaw "too square." As much as Caspar deviates from what Isabel finds "a delightful person," Lord Warburton conforms to every aspect. Still, she writes Lord Warburton, refusing him.

Henrietta Stackpole asks Ralph Touchett to help her save Isabel's old ideals and prevent her from marrying a European by inviting Caspar Goodwood to visit Gardencourt. Ralph invites Caspar, but he declines, saying he has other plans. Ralph, Henrietta, and Isabel plan to visit London. Henrietta is used to traveling and does so in America with complete freedom, but Ralph gives Isabel advice on what is proper for women traveling in England.


In Chapter 12 Isabel Archer experiences her first proposal in Europe, in the most romantic setting from the mouth of a British Lord, but she feels compelled to refuse. She is conscious of just how romantic the experience is, but she is still unable to bring herself to accept, despite the many inducements Lord Warburton offers her. She has the chance to live anywhere in the world because of his wealth. He seems to truly adore her. Readers may wonder along with Isabel, what makes her better than the majority of women who would jump at the chance to marry Lord Warburton. In Chapter 13 Isabel states she doesn't want to marry anyone at this point in her life, and something in Mr. Touchett's comment about the cost of certain choices resonates with her. If she were to marry, she would lose her liberty in many respects, and that cost is too high.

In Chapter 13 the author further develops the character of Caspar Goodwood, giving him a dark side. Isabel describes the domineering power of Caspar's presence. She describes even the thought of him as making her feel less free. Although the narrator's account of Caspar's accomplishments makes him seem to be a fine man, Isabel judges him completely outside of what she deems "a delightful person." The description of his jaw as "too square" suggests Caspar has the character trait of bullish determination. Readers may wonder from Isabel's description of her last meeting with Caspar Goodwood if one of the benefits of coming to England has been to escape his advances, giving his renewed contact with her a rather sinister tone. Caspar's refusal of Ralph Touchett's invitation to Gardencourt is a bit puzzling. Readers are left with no explanation of his stiff refusal, which creates interest to know more about Caspar and his intentions toward Isabel.

In Chapter 13 Henrietta Stackpole inserts herself into Isabel's love life. Her intention is to reverse the changes she sees in her friend since coming to England. She asks for Ralph's help to return to Isabel her old ideals and prevent her from marrying a European. Henrietta seems to think it is in Isabel's best interest to marry an American; Caspar Good, specifically. Readers can assume such intervention will not be appreciated by Isabel who wants to avoid Caspar Goodwood and, above all, to be free to make her own choices. In this action Henrietta shows herself to be condescending, if well intentioned. She clearly thinks she knows what is best for Isabel, even though Isabel told her earlier she wishes Henrietta hadn't encouraged Caspar on the boat.

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