Study Guide

The Portrait of a Lady Chapter 18

By Henry James

Chapter 18

  • Ralph and Isabel return to Gardencourt.
  • Isabel, concerned about her uncle, seeks out her aunt.
  • Isabel hears music playing and assumes it is Ralph playing the piano. To her surprise, she finds a lovely stranger playing Schubert on the piano.
  • The stranger is Madame Merle, Mrs. Touchett’s good friend. She is American, but rather elusive about her origins. She originally met Mrs. Touchett in Florence.
  • Isabel asks Ralph about Madame Merle. Ralph says that she is complete in her perfection, and admits that he used to be in love with her. We’re not sure just how serious he is, as usual.
  • Although Mr. Touchett’s health seemed to get better after Dr. Hope’s arrival, it once again takes a turn for the worse. Mr. Touchett seems prepared to die, despite Ralph’s pleas for him to think optimistically.
  • Mr. Touchett insists that he and Ralph have a private talk.
  • Mr. Touchett wants to make sure that Ralph will take care of himself and his mother after he dies.
  • Mr. Touchett wants Ralph to marry Isabel, and hopes for a good life for his son, despite Ralph’s own poor health.
  • Ralph admits that he thinks very fondly of Isabel, but is not in love with her.
  • Ralph instead asks his father to split his inheritance money in two and give one half to Isabel. The sum would be 60,000 pounds (a whopping huge fortune at the time, and enough to set Isabel up for life).
  • Ralph wishes to give Isabel freedom from worrying about money. He knows she has a big imagination and wants to enable her to do whatever she’d like, without depending on a man.
  • Mr. Touchett worries that this would give her too much freedom, and that gold diggers would pursue her. Ralph says he’s not too worried about that happening.
  • Mr. Touchett consents to Ralph’s wishes, asking for his solicitor, Mr. Hilary, to be brought to Gardencourt the next day.