Portrait of a Lady Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Portrait of a Lady: Chapters 3-4

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Summary – Chapters Three and Four
Chapter Three begins by describing Mrs. Touchett as having her own way of doing ‘all she did’ and although she does a great deal of good, ‘she never pleased’. Early in her marriage, she went to live in Florence as she is not fond of the English lifestyle. She comes back to England once a year for a month to be with her husband.  Occasionally she also goes to the United States to take care of her own personal affairs.  At this time, she went to the United States to see her niece, Isabel, after her brother-in-law passed away.
Isabel has been staying at her grandmother’s house in Albany, which she thought of as being romantic.  At the time her aunt arrives, she is reading in the office where she liked to sit when she was younger. Although she has a love of knowledge and a strong imagination, she also has ‘a want of fresh taste in her situation’.
When the two first meet, she introduces herself as Isabel and as the youngest of three sisters. Mrs. Touchett had a falling out with her brother-in-law (Isabel’s father) years ago after her sister died and when she disagreed with the way he raised his daughters. She has not been in touch, but knows that the elder two are now married and the house in Albany is to be sold for the girls’ benefit as their father left little money.
Isabel does not know how much it is worth or what she will receive when it is sold and her aunt is not surprised. She blames this on her upbringing as she thinks Isabel was raised as if she were to inherit a million. Her aunt surmises that it will be pulled down to build shops, but Isabel does not want to hear this and says that she is too fond of it as too many ‘things’ have happened here. Her aunt responds by saying this place is bourgeois and she should go to Florence if she likes such connotations. This leads Isabel to say she would very much like to go there and they talk for an hour. Isabel finds her a ‘strange and interesting figure’.
In Chapter Four, a reference is made to how Mrs. Lilian Ludlow, the eldest sister of Isabel, is usually thought the most sensible of the siblings. Edith is regarded as a beauty and Isabel the ‘intellectual superior’. Lillian, who has taken it upon herself to look after Isabel when their parents died, would like to see her ‘original’ sister (Isabel) married whereas her husband. Edmund, says he prefers translations of originals and thinks his sister-in-law is ‘written in a foreign tongue’. After learning of Mrs. Touchett’s visit, Lilian hopes Isabel will be shown some sympathy and be taken abroad as this will give her a chance to develop.
Isabel has the desire to begin ‘afresh’, which she has done many times before. She has grown up having the best of everything and her father shielded her from the unpleasantries of life. She is only acquainted with this through literature. Many say her father squandered his life and spoiled and neglected his children. However, Isabel would have been indignant if she had known this as she thought she had had many opportunities. Before she was 14, she and her sisters had crossed the Atlantic three times. As she grew older, she gained the reputation for reading a great deal, but although she liked to be thought of as clever, ‘she hated to be thought bookish’. She loves knowledge, but prefers almost any source for it over the printed page; she has ‘a great fund of life’ and enjoys feeling ‘the continuity between the movements of her own soul and the agitations of the world’.
While she is thinking about her aunt’s proposal of travelling with her, Caspar Goodwood, Isabel's favorite suitor comes to visit. She feels no eagerness to receive him even though she respects him highly. After half an hour, he leaves ‘with the feelings of a man defeated’, but we are told he is not a man to accept defeat weakly.
Analysis – Chapters Three and Four
In these chapters, the readers are given a more detailed introduction to Isabel and we learn that she is regarded as original. Her independence of thought is also demonstrated in the little regard she pays to the amount of money she will inherit and in her love of knowledge. She is not the typical heroine that only desires to marry; she is characterized even at this early stage as one who wants to see and experience more. She also enjoys the feeling of ‘continuity between the movements of her own soul and the agitations of the world’. Knowing these aspects of her, it is unsurprising that Caspar Goodwood leaves her with the feeling of being defeated. It is implied that he has proposed to her, and she has declined.


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