Lord Warburton: Character Analysis - The Portrait of a Lady

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      Lord Warburton is the English Lord about whom Isabel might have dreamt while quenching her thirst of knowledge through the leading of books.

      Lord Warburton is rich, cultivated and charming. His intellectual capabilities are not very high though he is quite intelligent. In his letters James once commented : “The English have such a moral distrust of anything like ‘criticism’ or keen analysis.’’ Very much like all the English, Lord Warburton too is not critical or analytical. On the other extreme is Isabel, who is extremely critical and analytical. Lord Warburton has “a brilliant exceptional look — the air of a happy temperament fertilized by a high civilization—which would have made any observer envy him of a venture”. He is the perfect English specimen. He is the first person whom Isabel meets after; her arrival in England—a “nobleman of the newest pattern, a reformer, a radical, a contemner of ancient ways”.

      He has a noticeably handsome face, fresh-colored, fair and frank, with firm straight features, lively grey eyes and rich adornment of a chestnut beard. Being the owner of about fifty thousand acres he draws about a hundred thousand pounds a year. He has half a dozen houses to live in, a seat in Parliament, elegant taste in literature, art, science, and in charming ladies. Despite everything he is extremely bored with life. He desperately needs the company of an interesting person. When he meets Isabel, he frankly tells Ralph that Isabel is the embodiment of his idea of an interesting woman.

      Lord Warburton has two sisters - the Misses Molyneux who have buried themselves in a ‘wilderness of faded chintz’ primarily occupied by embroidery and such other trivial concerns. He also has two brothers, one in the church and the other a scapegrace.

      The boredom of Lord Warburton starts receding as his familiarity and conversations with Isabel increase. He is simply enchanted by her and proposes to her only after the third meeting. He is rejected. The rejection of Lord Warburton is an important event of The Portrait of a Lady. The letter that Isabel writes to Lord Warburton is a masterpiece of studied control. The problem that keeps intriguing the reader right from the beginning to the end of the novel is Isabel’s rejection of Warburton and Goodwood and acceptance of Osmond. Every reader tries to ponder over the question - why is Warburton rejected? One of the obvious reasons is that she is not in love with him, “I mean, I mean I don't love Lord Warburton enough to marry him”. Other reasons that she had advanced are as follows : that she “was disposed to believe that on the whole she could do better”, that she was not sure she wished “to marry anyone” that “the idea failed to support any enlightened prejudice in favor of the free exploration of life”. That she simply did not know why”, that by marrying Warburton she would be attempting to ‘escape’ her ‘fate’, that “furthermore there was a young man lately come from America”.

      The reasons advanced reveal to a great extent Isabel’s ideas and ideals but they also make us understand Lord Warburton’s character better.

      Caspar Good wood, who is also rejected by Isabel is in many respects a contrast to Lord Warburton. Yet both of them are presented in terms of vigorous masculine images. As Isabel feels both these men pose a threat to her freedom her “free exploration of life”. The most remarkable feature of Warburton’s character is his complete and perfect simplicity. Throughout the novel his actions illustrate the absorption of a high culture in him. His conversations with Isabel at Gardencourt reveal his explicitness and Isabel tells Ralph that Warburton “appears to have everything, to know everything, to be everything.” He found Isabel to be medieval and superstitious like most American girls.

      Towards the end of the novel, we come to know that Warburton is engaged. He is going to marry a lady from the English artistocracy. We know that he proposed to Isabel and was rejected, the age of forty, he wanted to marry Pansy aged nineteen. This shift from Isabel to Pansy is semetimes considered to be an unadmirable aspect of Lord Warburton’s character. The shift of his love from Isabel to Pansy is explained by James stating that his interest in Papsy was the outcome of his deep-seated desire to be near Isabel. The situation is quite pathetic and we finally see him withdrawing without making a proposal when he learns that Pansy is not in love with him. As far as his marriage with an aristocratic lady is concerned, some readers will say that his love for Isabel is not strong enough. But we know that Lord Warburton is not a person who would succumb to the gestures of ‘sacrifice’ in the sense of remaining unmarried. It can never be argued that Warburton represents the best choice Isabel could have made in England. However, the admiration for Lord Warburton and the impressiveness of his world are essential to the significance of Isabel’s negative choice. There is something of the ideal civilization about the England he evokes, in that mellow and spacious world of Gardencourt, the manner and the arts of social intercourse which express something truly human and spiritual.

      It is also relevant to glance at Ralph’s attitude to Warburton. Ralph thinks that Lord Warburton does not take himself seriously. When Isabel asks Ralph if Warburton regards himself as a joke, Ralph replies : “Much worse; he regards himself as an imposition as an abuse” He adds : “Later once, he occupies a position that appeals to my imagination. Great responsibilities, great opportunities, great consideration, great wealth, great power, a natural share in the public affairs of a great country. But he’s all in a muddle about himself, his position, his power and indeed about everything in the world. He’s the victim of the critical age} he has ceased to believe in himself and he doesn't know what to believe in” Old Mr. Touchett too sees Lord Warburton as the victim of a lost cause. He feels that instead of love or understanding we can only pity him. However, he is a good friend of Ralph up to the last instant. He is also made the sole executor of Ralph’s will after his death.

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