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Of the three Archer sisters, Lilian is thought to be the practical one, Edith the beautiful one, and Isabel the "intellectual" one.
Lilian and Edith are both married: Lilian lives happily in New York with her vociferous husband and children, while beautiful Edith lives somewhat less happily in the "unfashionable West" (4.1).
Lilian and her husband, Edmund, seem like perfectly nice, normal people. Lilian is worried about her exceptional younger sister, who is something of a mystery to them.
Mr. Archer, their father, was notorious for not handling money well, often gambling and spending frivolously. Despite all of this, Isabel remembers her father fondly.
Isabel thinks her life is wonderful; she has had every privilege and has never wanted for anything. She is almost disappointed because she thinks that hardship would give her life a little spice – at least, that’s what the books she reads all suggest.
Even if Isabel’s life hasn’t been full of challenges, it is certainly full of quirky excitement. Mr. Archer raised his three daughters in a haphazard fashion, trundling them around the world and hiring negligent nannies to care for them.
Although a lot of men courted Edith, most men overlook Isabel or feel intimidated by her intellectual reputation. However, we are told that she is quite beautiful in her own, unique way.
For about a year, Boston-based Caspar Goodwood has been steadfastly wooing Isabel via post. She finds him to be quite an impressive young man, but doesn’t really know how she feels about him yet.
Caspar travels from New York City to Albany to visit Isabel. She is slow to meet him and, despite the fact that he looks resolved to action, their visit is uneventful. He leaves, somewhat defeated.