The Portrait of a Lady By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapters 10-12

Summary

After returning from her visit to Lord Warburton's, Isabel receives a letter from Henrietta Stackpole, who has come to Europe to do a series of articles on European life and wants to meet people. Isabel mentions the letter to her uncle, who immediately extends Henrietta an invitation. Ralph accompanies Isabel to meet Henrietta. He is told that Henrietta is the type who does not care what men think of her.

When Henrietta arrives, she tells Isabel that she already feels cramped in Europe. Later, she begins to write an article about Mr. Touchett and Gardencourt, and Isabel reminds her that it would not be in good taste. Henrietta doesn't understand, but defers to Isabel's wishes.

Henrietta finds it difficult to understand Ralph. When she is told that Ralph is a cosmopolite, she instinctively dislikes the word. She cannot understand a person who does nothing, and apparently Ralph spends his days doing absolutely nothing. She tries to pry into Ralph's mind and motivations until he has to admit that Henrietta is "too familiar." Isabel defends Henrietta, saying that it is Henrietta's vulgar quality that she finds appealing. There is something of "the people" in Henrietta and Ralph concedes that there is an odor of the future about Isabel's friend.

Henrietta and Mrs. Touchett could not agree on anything. Henrietta resents the fact that Mrs. Touchett has denied her American ties, and Mrs. Touchett finds Henrietta too vulgar and forward.

Henrietta later tells Isabel that she and Caspar Goodwood came over on the same ship and that he is now in England. Henrietta is worried that Isabel is changing too much and she wants Isabel to come to an understanding with Caspar Goodwood. She fears that Isabel is being too affected with European ways and manners. The next day, Isabel receives a letter from Caspar Goodwood telling her how much he admires her and how he followed her to Europe because of his devotion to her.

Isabel has just finished reading Caspar Goodwood's letter when Lord Warburton appears. As they stroll through the grounds, Lord Warburton takes the opportunity to tell Isabel how much he cares for her. He then proposes to her. Isabel is rather stunned and maintains that they do not know each other. Lord Warburton points out that he knows himself very well and knows that Isabel is the only person he will ever care for.

Isabel explains that she simply does not want to marry and that she certainly cannot accept his proposal now. He suggests that she consider it and write to him later. She promises to write very soon but warns him not to hope for a favorable answer.

Analysis

Chapter 10 is devoted to establishing the character of Henrietta Stackpole, who, as the name suggests, is a rather formidable person. James uses her as a confidante and also as a contrast to Isabel. We must see that Isabel is not so liberal as are some of her fellow Americans. We also see, by comparison, that Isabel has much more taste and fits into a situation better than most people.

Furthermore, by contrasting Isabel with Henrietta, we see that — in spite of their differences — Isabel still likes her. It is impossible for people like Madame Merle and Gilbert Osmond to see the good qualities that Henrietta possesses; instead they see only the loud, brassy, and objectionable characteristics. Henrietta is aggressive, she has no sense of the private and she goes too far in her personal comments. But at the same time, she does possess a sincerity and honesty, an admirable candor and directness that are missing in most Europeans. Isabel, however, is capable of appreciating the good qualities in a variety of people.

Henrietta sums up so often the difference between the typical American and the typical European (or cosmopolite as Ralph is described). She says to him: "If you've got any charm it's quite unnatural. It's wholly acquired . . . . It's a charm that I don't appreciate . . . make yourself useful in some way, and then we'll talk about it." Thus, we see the American emphasizing the utilitarian aspect of life and stressing the natural in place of the acquired.

Chapter 11 continues the contrast between Henrietta and the European society. It also introduces Caspar Goodwood again. We find out that he has a "grand passion" for Isabel and according to Henrietta, there is "nothing so simplifying as a grand passion." Thus, at the end of the novel, when Caspar makes his last desperate plea to Isabel, we see that she is somewhat taken aback by this grand passion, even though she has undergone a series of complex relationships.

At the end of Chapter 11, one suitor has written to Isabel at Gardencourt requesting an interview. At the same time, in the next chapter, Isabel is going to receive a proposal from a new suitor.

Lord Warburton's proposal places Isabel in a new position. Thus is exemplified James' technique of allowing his main character to confront new experiences and observing how the character reacts to these new experiences. Certainly Lord Warburton's proposal is somewhat unexpected, and we see how Isabel receives it. Our opinion of Isabel is raised by her refusal. She does sincerely like Lord Warburton, but her reasoning now is that she does not wish to marry. We will later discover it is because she now treasures her liberty too much and thinks that by marrying Lord Warburton her course of life would be set out for her. It would be too easy.

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