The Portrait of a Lady | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady | Chapters 8–9 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 8

Isabel Archer learns more about Lord Warburton's family and his radical political views during his stay with the Touchetts. Isabel admires him very much. The narrator says Lord Warburton has traveled to America and knows more about the country than Isabel, although she teases him about thinking of her as a barbarian. Mr. Touchett believes Lord Warburton and friends with similar views are the "radicals of the upper class" who want to "disestablish everything." Mr. Touchett claims people like Lord Warburton like to "FEEL earnest" but doubts they will ever act on their theories. Isabel is enamored of the idea of Lord Warburton renouncing his position and property for his ideals, and claims, "I should delight to see a revolution." She hopes in such a situation that she would act as a loyalist because they "behave exquisitely." Mr. Touchett jokes that she needn't go "gracefully to the guillotine just now." Ralph says he feels sorry for Lord Warburton, who he says sees himself as an abuse.

It is agreed that Ralph, Mrs. Touchett, and Isabel will visit Lord Warburton's home, Lockleigh, soon.

Chapter 9

Two of Lord Warburton's sisters, the Misses Molyneux, pay Isabel a visit and invite her to Lockleigh for lunch. Isabel finds the two women sweet and shy. At the lunch at Lockleigh, Isabel asks the sisters if they think their brother would give away his property as a result of his progressive views, and they don't seem to understand what she means. They say with certainty that he would not, although he might rent one house if needed. Isabel worries Lord Warburton is "an impostor."

Lord Warburton shows Isabel around his home and says she has charmed him. Something in the tone of his voice warns Isabel that something serious is about to happen. It reminds her of something she has experienced before, and she changes the subject. She wonders to herself if he has romantic feelings for her. Lord Warburton seems offended and accuses Isabel of only caring about herself, but shortly his good manners take hold. He says he will visit her next week.

Analysis

In Chapter 9 Lord Warburton reveals his romantic feelings to Isabel Archer, although not explicitly. She can simply tell from his voice tone, which is "the prelude to something grave," and it reminds her of something she has experienced before. Readers can infer it makes her think of her meeting with Caspar Goodwood before she left New York, because she goes on to wonder if Lord Warburton is becoming romantic toward her. It seems Lord Warburton will fare no better than Caspar, as Isabel shuts things down by changing the subject. As with Caspar, she really seems to like and admire Lord Warburton, but she does react in a rather fearful way when she thinks he may be getting ready to profess his love to her. Readers can deduce that it is the proposal of marriage she wishes to avoid, not the man himself, as the narrator has already made it clear that Isabel wishes to maintain her freedom.

As a member of the peerage, Lord Warburton gained his title and property, as well as a seat in the British government parliament in the House of Lords, simply by virtue of his heredity. He was born into his position. He seems to think the vast property to which he is entitled is immoral in some way, but as Isabel ascertains and Mr. Touchett predicted, he is not uncomfortable with his privilege enough to give it up. Indeed, the idea alone seems incomprehensible to his sisters.

Isabel's naïveté is perhaps nowhere so baldly revealed as in her wish to see Lord Warburton's political views tested and delight in the idea of a revolution. She seems unaware of the bloodshed and upheaval caused by political revolutions, despite growing up during the American Civil War. She says she hopes she would be a loyalist because she admires how they act in such a conflict. In a reference to the slaughter of the French aristocracy some 100 years prior in the French Revolution, Mr. Touchett laughs that she shouldn't proceed straight to the guillotine. Mr. Touchett seems amused at Isabel's enthusiasm on the subject, and perhaps readers, like he, will find her naïveté endearing.

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