The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 9 - Summary & Analysis

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Chapter IX


      The two Misses Molyneux, Lord Warburton’s sisters, call on Isabel. There is a mutually satisfactory meeting between them, and Isabel is invited by the Misses Molyneux to visit them on the 29th when they are having a party. Isabel accepts and finds the noble ladies in a “wilderness of faded chintz”, primarily occupied by embroidery and such other trivial concerns.

      She also meets Lord Warburton’s clergyman-wrestler brother. Lord Warburton shows her around his estate, which Isabel views as a “castle in a legend”. Seemingly they have been enchanted with each other. Soon they part as it is getting late for Mrs. Touchett and Isabel, who return to Gardencourt. Lord Warburton tells Isabel that he would see her soon again, but her reply to him lacks enthusiasm. She recognizes a ‘certain fear’ that he may be about to suggest a stoppage to her freedom.

Critical Analysis

      Isabel’s first formal party is not a grand success for her. Her conversation with the Misses Molyneux is flat and colorless, and the intimate ring in Lord Warburton’s voice leaves her cold and frightened. It raises the question, is Isabel frigid ? In the life of chintz and embroidery, in which Lord Warburton’s sisters are buried, we see the possible drawbacks of inherited wealth, position, and power. It is an almost discordant note in the lap of English society already shown to us.

      The “international situation embodied in the conflict and contrast between the two cultures continues in the ‘archaeological’ guidance that Lord Warburton gives her, as he shows her around at Lockleigh.”

      The phrase ‘a certain fear’ invites discussion and consideration.

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