The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 1 - Summary & Analysis

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Chapter I


      The opening pages of the novel present to us a vivid description of the Touchett estate, which is about forty miles up the Thames from London. It is a delightful late summer afternoon in 1871. Daniel Touchett, who is rich, old, and ill is having tea in the company of his son, Ralph Touchett (a “lame duck” like him) and Lord Warburton, their neighbor from the adjacent estate of Lockleigh, Their witty and felicitous conversation turns to Mrs. Touchett, who is coming back from America with a young niece. A gay and enlivening note enters the conversation. There are some jokes about American girls who come to Europe for a husband, but Mr. fouchett warns Warburton that he must not fall in love with his niece. Lord Warburton wants to see her before making any commitments.

Critical Analysis

      The amount of information included in the first few pages is in direct contrast to the pace of this chapter, which is rather slow. As a brilliant exposition it suggests themes, ideas, some characteristics of some characters, etc, which reverberate throughout the novel and which will be dwelt on at length in the coming chapters.

      The description of Gardencourt is very significant because it articulates a lot about the Touchett family, their neighbor Lord Warburton and the overall atmosphere. The very opening sentence sets in the tone of the novel. The tea-taking is referred to as a ‘ceremony’ so that it becomes a peculiarly English event. Hyper- boles like ‘Votaries of the ceremony’, “an eternity of pleasure’ and so on add a touch of stylistic beauty and wit to this chapter.

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