Study Guide

The Portrait of a Lady Chapter 5

By Henry James

Chapter 5

  • 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.