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The Portrait of a Lady | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady | Chapters 14–15 | Summary



Chapter 14

Lord Warburton replies to Isabel Archer's letter after a few days, saying he and his sister will come to visit for lunch. Henrietta Stackpole talks to Lord Warburton over lunch, expressing her disapproval of "a privileged class," a view Lord Warburton shares to some extent. He speaks to Isabel as the two admire the art collection at Gardencourt. Lord Warburton tries to understand Isabel's reasons for refusing him, and she tells him she can't marry him because it would be giving up on her fate. She tells him cryptically she "can't escape unhappiness."

When Miss Molyneux reminds her brother they must leave, he doesn't seem to hear her, and Henrietta remarks that in America, men do what their sisters wish. Henrietta says Miss Molyneux's position requires that she only exist, but Henrietta still wishes to visit Lockleigh. She misinterprets Lord Warburton's solemnity for guardedness. Lord Warburton learns of Isabel's plans to visit London.

Mrs. Touchett learns Isabel has refused Lord Warburton, a choice she concludes is born of Isabel's pride.

Chapter 15

Henrietta and Isabel travel to London, escorted by Ralph Touchett. They see the sights. Henrietta is disappointed that most of the distinguished people she would like to observe and write about are out of the city during September, but she is delighted to learn from Mr. Bantling, a friend of Ralph's in the city, that his sister, Lady Pensil, the wife of a baron, would love to host Henrietta in her vibrant home where she frequently entertains writers and other influential people. Henrietta likes Mr. Bantling a great deal. Mr. Bantling offers to find a cab to take Henrietta to dinner with some American friends also in the city.

Isabel and Ralph comment that Mr. Bantling and Henrietta will most likely both end up in the cab together, noting their new friendship. Ralph says Mr. Bantling is taken with Henrietta and guesses the new relationship "may go far." Ralph asks if he may join Isabel for dinner, but Isabel wants to have dinner alone in her hotel room. Ralph asks if she has plans with someone else, which she denies. He reveals that Lord Warburton told him of Isabel's refusal and asks her why. She says she refused Lord Warburton because she didn't want to marry him. She says that, like Henrietta, she doesn't want to get married until she has experienced Europe.


In Chapter 14 Isabel Archer must explain her reasons for refusing Lord Warburton's proposal yet again when he comes to lunch. Her reasons are somewhat different than they were when he proposed, or in her letter, or in her explanations to Mr. and Mrs. Touchett. In this conversation, Isabel says she cannot "give up" and accept because it would be trying to avoid her fate, which she says is to be unhappy. This rather dramatic proclamation can be read as a desperate attempt to forestall further questioning, or as a realization that has occurred to her upon further reflection. If it is the latter instance, the author foreshadows the ending of the novel.

Henrietta Stackpole's criticism of British aristocracy and how women and servants are treated stands out in Chapter 14. She certainly doesn't hold anything back when she tells Lord Warburton she disapproves of the aristocracy, and she is downright rude to his sister when she says all that is expected of British ladies of her rank is "simply to exist." The author's fondness for the British way of life and admiration for the upper class's sense of duty to society may be what gives rise to the characterization of the critics of aristocracy as somewhat provincial and crass.

In Chapter 15 the author shows the beginning of a relationship between Henrietta and Mr. Bantling. Mr. Bantling, Ralph Touchett's friend, is the first English person who seems to genuinely like Henrietta, and he completely charms her, offering what she desires most: choice material for her column in the form of his sister's home full of distinguished, lively Britons. He seems unfazed by her bold personality, independence, or job. In fact, Ralph says Mr. Bantling is quite attracted to Henrietta and guesses a relationship may soon blossom between the two. The two seem well matched in personality and lack of concern with strict adherence to social protocol, as evidenced in the likelihood they will share a cab, unchaperoned.

In Chapter 15 Isabel embarks on her exploration of London, something much closer to her goal of experiencing Europe than the quiet pace of life confined to her uncle's country home. They tour the capital city, taking in all the landmarks as they sightsee. To her cousin Ralph, she reiterates her intention to travel and experience life before marrying. She enjoys meeting new people and enjoys a bit more freedom away from Mr. and Mrs. Touchett's home.

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