The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James
Crazy Aunt Lydia, as Isabel identifies her, really does seem to be somewhat batty, but it turns out that she’s just intensely opinionated. She’s judgmental to an extreme, and feels no qualms about making sweeping generalizations about anything, whether it be a person or a whole nation. It’s her meddling that sets this whole novel in motion and, as it proceeds, we wonder whether or not she was right to pluck Isabel out of her native setting and set her down in Europe with very little guidance.
Mrs. Touchett’s interest in the girl seems to wax and wane; as Madame Merle comments, she seems to only care for herself, and, therefore, doesn’t maintain the same kind of constant attention to Isabel that Ralph, or even her husband, Mr. Touchett, does. Mrs. Touchett certainly does care about what happens to Isabel, however, and we see that Madame Merle’s negative evaluation of her wasn’t entirely correct. Mrs. Touchett is fiercely defensive when she sees that Madame Merle has deceived her and actually sent Isabel into Osmond’s arms. Of course, Mrs. Touchett is most particularly offended by the implied personal slight of Madame Merle’s deception, but, still – it’s the right idea.
We finally see Mrs. Touchett reveal some real emotion after Ralph’s death. She is devastated by the loss of her only child, even though she recovers sufficiently to complain about his idiosyncratic bequests in his will a few days later.