The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 10 - Summary & Analysis

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Chapter X


      The next day, after her visit to Lockleigh, Isabel receives a letter from her friend Henrietta Stackpole, an American Lady journalist, on an official visit to London. The purpose of her visit was to observe the English nobility and contribute an article to The Interviewer, an American paper she represented.

      During her stay at Gardencourt, Miss Stackpole passes much of her time with Ralph and finds him obviously non-serious. She blatantly attacks his uselessness. He also disturbs Isabel by insisting on capturing Gardencourt and its alienated Americans in articles for her newspaper. Isabel charges her with lacking any concept of privacy, but Henrietta replies that she has never exploited herself in print. Isabel’s suggestion that makes her (Henrietta) note so that she can work into an essay sometime.

      Henrietta continues to upbraid Ralph for his useless life. She advises Ralph to “take hold of” some idea, “some big work”. In a talk between Ralph and Isabel, Ralph reminds Isabel that Henrietta walks in without knocking at the door i.e. she is too probing. Despite everything Isabel likes her because she is so typically American— “She’s a kind of emanation of the great democracy”.

Critical Analysis

      Henrietta Stackpole’s entry sparks off some sharp differences between the American and the European values. Her brash letter, which introduces Henrietta is one of James’s briefest, but most revealing portraits of the journalist. The ‘reflector system’, an important and interesting part of James’s technique, is admirably demonstrated here, for Isabel, Ralph and Henrietta alternately reveal themselves and each other as they talk.

      We come to know a lot about Henrietta. She is too familiar too intense for Ralph’s restraining sense of manners and comfort. In short, she represents the less noble characteristics which James recognized in his countrymen. The introduction of the theme of marriage is significant here, as Isabel’s search of values will end with a marriage.

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