The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 8 - Summary & Analysis

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Chapter VIII


      Isabel’s visit to Warburton’s estate equip her with a deeper and broader view of the English scene. Isabel gathered that Lord Warburton was a nobleman of the newest pattern : “a reformer, a radical and a condemner of ancient ways”. He protests to Isabel that Americans are medieval and superstitious - she is one of them. Yet both like each other personally.

      In a discussion, regarding her visit, with her hosts, Ralph, like Mr. Touchett, asserts that Warburton is a contradiction in his own terms “he has ceased to believe in himself and he doesn’t want to know what to believe in?” Daniel also feels that Lord Warburton is complex — he wants to remove institutions and privileges, but he also wants to remain himself—a refined individual of the privileged class. He sees his own lands threatened by the ‘progressive ideas’ of Warburton and his friends insist in a jovial mood that Isabel does not develop too much interest in their wealthy young neighbor. He says that Warburton is more to be pitied than loved or understood.

Critical Analysis

      The contrast between the two cultures, the refined and intellectual but idle English aristocrats, and the democratic and culture-conscious Americans continues in this chapter. The picture of English society as it was then is analyzed here in full detail, but without any prejudice on James’s part.

      We also get a good view of the ambitious and hopeful Isabel Archer in conversation with the first three important men in her life. She remains open-minded and we are sure that she will never accept the things blindly. Her views regarding the prospective “revolution” make her a charming, but puzzling character.

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