The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 13 - Summary & Analysis

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Chapter XIII


      Before giving her decision Isabel seeks the advice of her uncle, only to discover that Lord Warburton’s good manners have prompted him to inform Mr. Touchett. Mr. Touchett tells her that there is room everywhere for charming girls. When he learns of her desire for freedom, however, he does not encourage her. The two of them agree on what the ‘cost’ of such a union would be to Isabel.

      Mr. Touchett thought that perhaps Isabel was in love with Mr. Goodwood. Goodwood’s family has made money in the cotton mills of Massachusetts and now lives in Boston. Later he developed an interest in mechanics and now manages the family mill. She puts off answering his letter because she is a bit annoyed that he has pursued her to England and is seeking an invitation to Gardencourt.

      Three days later, she wrote to Lord Warburton, telling him that having “given your proposal the deeply respectful consideration it deserves” she may not accept him, that “these things cannot be reasoned about”.

      Henrietta enlists Ralph’s assistance to bring Isabel and Goodwood together again. Ralph, however, writes a note inviting Goodwood to Gardencourt. Goodwood writes back excusing himself on grounds of an engagement elsewhere. Rebuked in her attempt to bring Isabel and Goodwood together, Henrietta proposes trip to London. Ralph too accompanies them. Isabel of course would love to visit the London of Dickens’s novels, of Addison, and' of Dr. Johnson.

Critical Analysis

      Isabel’s letter to Lord Warburton is a masterpiece of studied control. This chapter also reveals Isabel’s impressions about Caspar Goodwood. He poses an even bigger threat to her intellectuality, her freedom of life, than Warburton does. His force, fierceness and masculinity pose a constant threat to the decorous, “sublime” world of manners in which she has chosen to live.

      The American-English contrast continues in the juxtaposition of the attitudes of Henrietta to the more sophisticated conversation of Ralph. That Isabel won’t accept any curbs on her freedom is again emphasized.

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