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The Portrait of a Lady

The Portrait of a Lady


by Henry James

Ralph Touchett Timeline and Summary

  • Ralph stands outside in the back of the Touchett estate, Gardencourt, with his father and Lord Warburton.
  • Lord Warburton says that Ralph is a cynic, while Ralph claims that Lord Warburton is bored with life. They’re obviously used to this banter.
  • Ralph describes his mother as a woman who insists on her independence. They predict that her mysterious niece will be similar.
  • The three men discuss the benefits of having a lady to love, and Mr. Touchett jokes that Lord Warburton had better not fall in love with his niece.
  • Ralph’s terrier, Bunchie, runs toward the house, where Ralph sees a beautiful young woman. He and his cousin immediately hit it off. The dog likes her, too.
  • Seeing that Isabel expects his father to come meet her, Ralph explains that Mr. Touchett’s health has failed greatly in the past year since his wife last saw him.
  • Ralph innocently comments that Mrs. Touchett has "adopted" Isabel, and is taken aback by her vociferous rejection of this idea.
  • Ralph went to both Harvard and Oxford universities, where he became Americanized, then re-Anglicized. As a young man of promise, he was expected to take over his dad’s job at the bank. Ralph considers his father his best friend.
  • After Oxford, Ralph traveled and then worked at his dad’s bank for eighteen months, but his lungs shortly gave out. That inconvenience forced him to quit his job to nurse his lungs back to health.
  • Ralph has resigned himself to indifference in order to make his life seem like less of a disappointment.
  • Isabel’s arrival has gotten Ralph’s blood flowing in a new way. He asks his mother what she means to do with Isabel.
  • Ralph finally just asks Mrs. Touchett the question he’s been wondering the whole time: does Mrs. Touchett plan to marry Isabel off?
  • Ralph escorts his mother down to meet with his father.
  • Ralph sits and chats with Isabel for an hour, while everyone else is occupied.
  • Ralph and Isabel look at the paintings in the house, and Ralph is impressed with his cousin’s natural taste for art.
  • Isabel defines herself so clearly as an American that Ralph draws a picture of her wrapped up in the American flag.
  • Ralph says that he cares about Isabel alone.
  • Ralph has been worried ever since Mr. Touchett’s gout has gotten worse. He cannot bear the thought of living without his father, and has been fearful ever since.
  • Ralph expresses the fact that he pities Lord Warburton. He thinks Lord Warburton is miserable because, amidst all his luxuries, he doesn’t know what to be.
  • Henrietta Stackpole and Ralph get off to a jokingly antagonistic start. Ralph shows Henrietta the Touchett painting collection. Ralph appreciates her thoughtful contemplation of the gallery.
  • When Henrietta accuses Ralph of shirking his duty by not getting married, he slyly and mischievously hints that he would be willing to fulfill his duty by marrying Henrietta.
  • Ralph confesses that Henrietta makes him uneasy for the very reason that Isabel loves her: she is so decidedly American.
  • Ralph invites Caspar Goodwood to Gardencourt upon Henrietta’s request.
  • Ralph, Isabel, and Henrietta go to London. He stays in a separate parlor and introduces the ladies to Mr. Bantling.
  • After Mr. Bantling and Henrietta gad off, Ralph and Isabel sit alone in the park. Isabel claims that she is not expecting a visitor, and that she wants to be alone.
  • Ralph tells Isabel that he knows about the proposal. He wonders what her explanation is for turning Lord Warburton down.
  • Ralph learns that his father has fallen ill. He fetches the doctor and returns to Gardencourt with Isabel in tow.
  • Ralph learns from Henrietta that Caspar called on, and was rejected by, Isabel the night before.
  • Ralph and Isabel return to Gardencourt to care for Mr. Touchett.
  • Ralph answers Isabel’s questions about Madame Merle. He confesses that he used to be in love with the older woman.
  • Ralph has a private talk with his father, upon Mr. Touchett’s request.
  • Ralph says that he cares deeply for Isabel, but does not want to marry her.
  • Ralph asks his father to not count on his getting married, and instead to split his inheritance into halves, giving Isabel one half and him the other. He wishes to provide Isabel with the opportunity to be free from a man’s monetary authority.
  • A somber Ralph announces Mr. Touchett’s death.
  • Ralph goes to San Remo, Italy to take care of his own health.
  • Ralph acts as Isabel’s tour guide in Florence.
  • Ralph advises Isabel to listen to her own instincts. He says that he knows very little about Osmond, but thinks that Madame Merle will look after Isabel.
  • Ralph discusses Isabel’s suitors with his mother. He believes firmly in the idea of Isabel turning down scads of potential husbands in her lifetime.
  • Ralph accompanies Isabel to Rome with Henrietta and Mr. Bantling.
  • Ralph checks out an excavation site in Rome, and, when he returns to Isabel, Lord Warburton is with her.
  • Ralph and Mr. Bantling go out the next day, leaving the ladies alone.
  • Ralph tells Lord Warburton that they must not interfere with Isabel’s dealings with Osmond, or else they won’t have any hope of preventing the couple’s marriage.
  • Ralph goes to the opera. He feels lonely amidst the couples, and is happy to see Lord Warburton. Lonely, Ralph goes for a walk.
  • Ralph arranges for the two cousins to return to Florence.
  • A year passes, and Ralph sees Isabel for the first time in a long while at his mother’s house in Florence. Ralph is saddened to learn that Isabel is engaged to Osmond. He’s disappointed by her odd choice, and doesn’t want to lose her.
  • Ralph sits outside and wishes to talk with Isabel about her engagement plans. Ralph tries to dissuade her from following through with the marriage, and tries to convince her that he only says these things out of love.
  • Ralph is despondent about the fact that it was his inherited money that allows his cousin to commit to the marriage.
  • The conversation does not go well, and Ralph and Isabel’s friendship is damaged – perhaps permanently.
  • Ralph attends Isabel and Osmond’s wedding.
  • In the years after, Ralph is in San Remo, then Gardencourt, and finally returns to Rome to visit Isabel for a while, although his health is quickly declining. Lord Warburton accompanies his old friend on this last trip.
  • Ralph is sad to see Isabel in such a changed state as Osmond’s wife. He decides to stay in Rome for a while to be around her more, although he has the very correct idea that Osmond isn’t crazy about his presence there.
  • Ralph asks Lord Warburton whether he is going to propose to Pansy because of Pansy herself, or because of her proximity to Isabel.
  • Isabel pays Ralph a visit, and Ralph sees what a sad state she is in.
  • Ralph wants Isabel to be honest with him, so he provokes her by suggesting that she is jealous of Pansy.
  • Isabel asks Caspar Goodwood to visit and accompany Ralph on his journey home. The two become friends.
  • Ralph enjoys Henrietta’s company in his last weeks of life. He has always thought well of her.
  • At the end of February, Ralph arrives back at Gardencourt.
  • Isabel visits Ralph, who tells her that he has stayed alive in order to see what becomes of her.
  • Ralph lies dying in Gardencourt. His mother writes to Isabel to ask for her presence.
  • Ralph is momentarily rejuvenated when Isabel visits him at Gardencourt. He tells her that it’s not too late for her to change her life – and that she must remember that love is a part of life.
  • Vehemently, Ralph reminds Isabel that she has been loved deeply by others, himself principal among them, and not just hated by Osmond.
  • Ralph dies in the same bed that his father died in.