We have changed our privacy policy. In addition, we use cookies on our website for various purposes. By continuing on our website, you consent to our use of cookies. You can learn about our practices by reading our privacy policy.
© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Portrait of a Lady

The Portrait of a Lady


by Henry James

The Portrait of a Lady Chapter 5 Summary

  • Ralph and his mother exchange pleasantries. While they chat, we find out some details on Ralph’s past.
  • After attending both Harvard and Oxford (his father wanted him to be both British and American), Ralph took a position at his father’s bank. At university, he was considered a very promising young man. Growing up, he admired his father more than anyone else.
  • Sadly, Ralph fell ill while working at the bank, and never quite recovered. As a result, he stopped working to take care of his health. We don’t know exactly what’s wrong with him, but he has weak lungs.
  • Ralph resigns himself to indifference in order to make his life seem less of a disappointment.
  • Isabel’s arrival, however, has gotten his blood flowing in a new way. He asks his mother what she means to do with Isabel.
  • Mrs. Touchett plans to invite her to stay at Gardencourt for some weeks, then plans to take Isabel to France to buy clothes, and then to Florence in the autumn.
  • Mrs. Touchett sees something special in Isabel, perhaps something that reminds her of herself. She thinks that Isabel might be a genius in some way.
  • When Ralph asks too many questions about Isabel, Mrs. Touchett insists that he find out himself.
  • Ralph finally straight-out asks Mrs. Touchett the question he’s been wondering the whole time: does she plan to marry Isabel off? Mrs. Touchett replies that Isabel can do whatever she’d like.
  • Ralph escorts his mother down to meet with his father.
  • Ralph sits and talks with Isabel for an hour, while his parents chat, and Lord Warburton leaves to go home for dinner.
  • Ralph and Isabel look at the paintings in the house. Ralph is impressed with Isabel’s natural taste for art.
  • Gardencourt being a large, old, very historic house, Isabel assumes that there’s a family ghost. Ralph confesses that there is one and that he has seen it, but Isabel can’t, because she hasn’t suffered enough yet. This conversation is half-joking, half-serious.
  • Isabel insists that she is not afraid of ghosts.
  • Ralph hands her a candle to light the path to her room.
  • Ralph returns to the drawing-room alone.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...