The Portrait of a Lady By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapter 5

Summary

Ralph Touchett had been educated in America and England. He was a small boy when his father came to England as a partner in a bank. Mr. Touchett has retained all of his American qualities, but Ralph grew up transformed into an Englishman. He has discovered that he is dying and has adjusted to this fact. He knows that he will not survive his father by many years, and he has resigned himself to the pleasures of life accessible to him.

When Ralph meets his mother before dinner, he asks her what she plans to do with Isabel. Mrs. Touchett tries to explain that Isabel has potential and she wants her to have the opportunity to see and learn more about the world. Isabel has only a limited amount of money, but has a great deal of imagination and independence. Ralph reveals to his mother that he is already interested in his cousin. He finds her to be quite exceptional and is interested in observing her adventures in Europe.

Later, Isabel asks Ralph to show her the pictures collected in Gardencourt. In their discussion, Isabel asks if the house doesn't have some famous ghost. Ralph explains that one must suffer a great deal before one can see the ghost. He hopes that she will never have to suffer, and Isabel admits that she is afraid of suffering. She tells him that she came to Europe to be as happy as possible and has every intention of devoting herself to that end.

Analysis

In the first part of this chapter, we find out that Mr. Touchett came to England some time ago, but has retained most of his American sympathies. He has, however, gotten along famously with the British. Ralph is, however, considerably less American than the father.

As so often happens in a James novel, a person such as Ralph, who is dying, will possess an extra sensitivity. He will be the person who will most directly understand and affect Isabel's destiny.

Ralph's first interest is to know what his mother plans to do with Isabel. Her motivations are many. Essentially, she wants to give Isabel the chance to see the world and to develop her capacities to a greater degree, but Jamesian characters seldom act without some extra motivations. Mrs. Touchett also admits that Isabel will "do her credit." She says that she likes to be well thought of and she thinks that an attractive niece will contribute to her general reputation.

An early and essential point of the novel is soon established. Isabel "seemed averse to being under pecuniary obligations." Consequently, Ralph will later conceive the idea of providing Isabel with enough money to allow her to be completely free so as to develop to her fullest potential.

In her conversation with Ralph, Isabel asks him if this old house doesn't have a ghost; she thinks that all famous old houses should have ghosts. Ralph tells her that before a person can see the ghost, that person has to suffer a lot, and he maintains that Isabel was not made to suffer. Thus, at the end of the novel, when Isabel returns to Gardencourt and feels the presence of someone else in her room, we may assume that she has then suffered enough so as to see the ghost.

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