The Portrait of a Lady By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapter 14

Summary

Before Isabel leaves for London, she receives another visit from Lord Warburton. Henrietta Stackpole is delighted to meet a real English lord and interrogates him about all aspects of his personal life. As soon as he can, he escapes from Henrietta and approaches Isabel. He questions Isabel about her refusal. She tries to explain that in marrying him, she would be attempting to escape from her fate. She feels that she would be gaining so much that she would then have no opportunity to confront her real destiny. For some reason, she fears that she cannot find happiness by avoiding the perils of life, and in marrying Lord Warburton, she would be trying to do that.

The conversation between Isabel and Lord Warburton is interrupted by the appearance of Miss Molyneux and Henrietta Stackpole. Henrietta wants to get some more information out of Lord Warburton and asks for an invitation to his house. He tells her to come anytime, but that she will have to come alone because Isabel won't come any more.

After the company leaves, Mrs. Touchett tells Isabel that she knows from her husband about Lord Warburton's proposal and Isabel's refusal. Mrs. Touchett is baffled and can't understand why Isabel told her uncle first. She wonders if Isabel expected something better when she refused Lord Warburton. Isabel tells her that her uncle didn't say anything like that.

Analysis

James, in his typical fashion, continues to examine a situation. Again, we return to the subject of Isabel's refusal of Lord Warburton's proposal. By the end of this chapter, James will have explored almost all possibilities. To review his technique: James has the proposal made; then we hear Isabel's first reaction. Next, she ponders the subject by herself. Then she consults with Mr. Touchett. There follows a letter, and in this chapter we have Isabel encountering Lord Warburton again and finally her discussion with her aunt, Mrs. Touchett. In each scene we find out more, and the subject is additionally refined.

Her reasons are further delineated. She feels that in marrying Lord Warburton, she would be giving up a chance to struggle with life. It would be too easy to settle down and become his wife. She would then miss the great challenges presented by confronting life. She thinks that she can't be happy by withdrawal, and in marrying Lord Warburton, she would be trying to escape her destiny.

She is convinced that she can never be happy in any extraordinary way — "not by turning away, by separating myself." Thus, she must face the chances and dangers of life. These are part of Isabel's admirable characteristics.

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