The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James
Character Role Analysis
Kind old Daniel Touchett takes a benevolent interest in his young niece, and he quickly becomes one of her greatest allies. She immediately gravitates toward him, rather than her aunt, Mrs. Touchett, who initially seems like she will be Isabel’s mentor. Mr. Touchett’s frank, good-natured, and perceptive view of humanity jives with Isabel’s own ideas, and they are obviously kindred spirits. Unlike his wife, he supports Isabel’s choice not to marry Lord Warburton, and encourages her to make her own decisions, regardless of what society dictates. Posthumously, Mr. Touchett remains a great mentor to our young heroine – after all, it is his money that makes her life as an independent young lady of means possible.
From their first meeting, Ralph is intrigued by his American cousin. He, more than any of the other characters, is totally captivated by the sense of possibility and excitement that Isabel brings with her, and he wants to know what she will make of her life. He convinces his father to give Isabel half of his own inheritance in order to see just what she’ll do, given the right circumstances. Ralph is convinced that financial independence will liberate Isabel from society’s expectations and demands, and will allow her to act as her own desires and conscience dictate – and he encourages her to experiment and see where her ideas take her.