The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 7 - Summary & Analysis

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Chapter VII


      Isabel enjoyed social intercourse only with a few persons at Gardencourt. She was very critical, but very sentimental as well. In this chapter the focal point is generally the conflict between two cultures the English and the American. Mrs. Touchett loves “to stick pins” into the English constitution which Isabel often defends. Mrs. Touchett’s point of view is personal. Isabel comprehends the superiority and maturity which it grants, however, and tries it out on Ralph who, in spite of his teasing (he calls her ‘Columbia’ and imagines her dressed in the stars and stripes) finds himself engrossed with her fresh and witty presence.

      A few days after Isabel’s arrival at Gardencourt, Lord Warburton came to visit the Touchetts and stayed with them for two days during which he addressed many of his remarks to Isabel. A rather sharp difference between Isabel and her aunt emerges one evening in the presence of Lord Warburton as the bedtime approaches. Her aunt refuses to let Isabel stay alone with the men since she is not now in her “blest Albany”. Isabel complies but insists on knowing precisely what is expected of her, not so that she might promise to conform, but so that she might ‘choose’.

Critical Analysis

      James’s chief concern in this chapter is the delineation of American and European viewpoints on social problems. It is a humorous and an amusing discussion.

      Some new facts of Isabel’s character also come to the fore. Confrontation is her intense passion. The conventions, the traditions and their subsequent acceptance is not in tune with Isabel’s ideas and ideals. The freedom of “choice” and independence is there, in every layer of her personality and she always asserts it.

      The house-imagery used in this chapter demands attention. The fantastic metaphors that James uses, the relics of the Hawthornesque ‘romance’ in James, give a ‘poetic beauty’ to James's novel.

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