The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 3 - Summary & Analysis

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Chapter III


      Mrs. Touchett, formerly an American, has been virtually separated from her husband for many years. “The English style of life” is just too much for her and she spends most of her time in Florence, apart from her husband, as a result of a mutual agreement. She visits him for the period of one month in a year. She occasionally travels to America, where she has investments (not made by her husband, but by her own choice).

      It was on this last visit to America that she called on her sister’s children at Albany. She met Isabel in the library of the old rundown Albany house, which had not the beautiful Thames for a view but an ugly “Dutch house”, pondering over the pages of a history of “German Thought”. Isabel is the youngest of her three nieces and the boldness and liveliness of Isabel does leave a mark on her heart. They make friends easily, and Isabel finally admits her very limited experience. Mrs. Touchett wants Isabel to go away with her to Europe beyond the present ugly and squalid surroundings. Isabel is cautious; she wants to visit, but she demands her freedom.

Critical Analysis

      This chapter emphasizes the Americanness of Isabel. We find her trying to quench her thirst for knowledge and experience. This is one of the qualities which establishes this novel as a further exploration of one of the oldest themes in literature: the innocent in search of experience. Closely allied with this is Isabel’s habit of viewing life through the medium of literature.

      The description of the Albany House and the Dutch House forcefully unleash some of James’s strongest criticism of America symbolized by the ugly run-down architecture which he found most distasteful. While going through these pages we should keep in mind the compliments which James heaped on the Touchett estate.

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