Portrait of a Lady: Top Ten Quotes
1. American girls were used to a great deal of deference, and it had been intimated that this one had a high spirit.
p. 71 This description of Isabel encapsulates her character at this early stage (in Chapter Two). The tragedy of her unhappy marriage to Osmond is made all the more poignant when one remembers how she is as this girl, and before she becomes a lady.
2. It may be affirmed without delay that Isabel was probably very liable to the sin of self-esteem; she often surveyed with complacency the field of her own nature; she was in the habit of taking for granted, on scanty evidence, that she was right; she treated herself to occasions of homage.
p. 104 This reference reiterates Isabel’s independence before her marriage and highlights the self-belief and pride she has in her own opinions.
3. She was a person of great good faith, and if there was a great deal of folly in her wisdom those who judge her severely may have the satisfaction of finding that, later, she became consistently wise only at the cost of an amount of folly which will constitute almost a direct appeal to charity.
p. 157 This quotation gives the readers a foreshadowing of events. At this point, she is about to turn down Lord Warburton’s proposal and on hindsight we are being warned that although she appears foolish now, she is later made wiser with her punishing marriage to Osmond.
4. She was in a word a woman of strong impulses kept in admirable order. This commended itself to Isabel as an ideal combination.
p. 229 At this early meeting between Isabel and Madame Merle (in Chapter Eighteen), Isabel is clearly attracted to the older woman’s self-control.
5. Your newly-acquired thousands will shut you up more and more to the society of a few selfish and heartless people who will be interested in keeping them up.
p. 267 Henrietta Stackpole refers to how Isabel’s ‘graceful illusions’ will only be maintained by those who will be attracted by her inheritance. It is the tragedy of the novel that Isabel does not listen to this point.
6. She gained time as you see. While I waited for her to interfere you were marching away, and she was really beating the drum.
p. 386 Here, Mrs Touchett explains to Isabel how Madame Merle managed to deceive about Osmond’s courtship of Isabel.
7. The free, keen girl had become quite another person; what he saw was the fine lady who was supposed to represent something. What did Isabel represent? Ralph asked himself; and he could only answer by saying that she represented Gilbert Osmond.
p. 444 In this reference, Ralph notes the transition Isabel has undergone and mourns the loss of the independent girl he first met at Gardencourt.
8. She knew of no wrong he had done; he was not violent, he was not cruel: she simply believed he hated her.
p. 475 Isabel recognizes the nature of her husband, and sees that his indifference influences his view of everything including her.
9. One must accept one’s deeds. I married him before all the world; I was perfectly free; it was impossible to do anything more deliberate. One can’t change that way.
p. 536 At this point, Isabel articulates her view of marriage as being inescapable. It is also an indictment of this institution, as her unhappiness is set to continue throughout her life because of this ‘sacred act’.
10. Nothing was changed; she recognized everything she had seen years before; it might have been only yesterday she had stood there. She envied the security of valuable ‘pieces’ which change by no hair’s breadth, only grow in value, while their owners lose inch by inch youth, happiness, beauty; and she became aware that she was walking about as her aunt had done on the day she had come to see her in Albany.
p. 614 As Isabel walks in the gallery at Gardencourt, she envies the timelessness of art. This reference is also a useful example of how thought processes are followed as she switches from this sensation to remembering her aunt’s visit, and then goes on to wonder if she would have married Caspar Goodwood if her aunt had not turned up that day.