Study Guide

The Portrait of a Lady Chapter 7

By Henry James

Chapter 7

  • As interested as Isabel is in English society, she has seen very little of it. Mrs. Touchett has few contacts in the neighborhood, and Mr. Touchett and Ralph are accustomed to keeping to themselves. Lord Warburton is the lone exception.
  • Mrs. Touchett is too funny – she doesn’t visit anyone in the neighborhood herself, but she does love it when people visit her and leave their calling cards.
  • Isabel asks her aunt what her national identity is. She claims that her point of view is distinctly American, but Mrs. Touchett’s is neither American nor English. Mrs. Touchett responds that her point of view is personal and not assigned to a nation. Isabel sees the sense in this.
  • Isabel aligns herself so much as an American that Ralph jokingly draws a picture of her as Columbia (a symbol of America represented as a beautiful woman – for you film buffs out there, she’s the logo of Columbia Pictures) wrapped up in the American flag.
  • Isabel doubts that Ralph really cares about anything, since he jokes so much and criticizes most things. Ralph says that he cares about her alone.
  • It turns out that he’s not completely joking about this. Ralph has worried ever since Mr. Touchett’s gout has gotten worse. He cannot bear the thought of living without his father, and has been paranoid ever since. Isabel’s presence, however, is a bright spot in his life.
  • Ralph has decided, however, that he doesn’t have the hots for Isabel. He just thinks she’s fascinating and enjoys spending time with her. He compares her arrival to the surprise delivery of a precious Titian painting in the mail.
  • Ralph is Isabel’s tour guide, especially since neither of his parents take on the role (Mr. Touchett can’t, Mrs. Touchett won’t). They go by horse and boat through the local countryside, with Isabel taking the reins, literally and figuratively, on their adventures.
  • One day, upon their return, they find Lord Warburton chatting with Mrs. Touchett in the garden.
  • Isabel had decided, upon first meeting Lord Warburton, that she liked him. Who wouldn’t? He’s a generally great guy, as far as all of us can tell.
  • Lord Warburton stays overnight at Gardencourt for a couple of days, clearly lured in by Isabel’s company.
  • One night, Ralph, Isabel, Lord Warburton and Mrs. Touchett are in the drawing room. Mrs. Touchett gets up to retire for the night and expects Isabel to follow her.
  • Isabel says she would rather not, since she’s having such fun with the guys. Mrs. Touchett puts on a martyr act and says she’ll stay up too, if she must. Isabel, confused, doesn’t get what her aunt means by all of this. They have a little spat – Mrs. Touchett reminds Isabel that she’s not in Albany anymore. Isabel gives in and says she’ll go to bed.
  • Mrs. Touchett explains to Isabel that, in England, proper ladies are not supposed to stay up at night alone with men. This is news to Isabel, and she asks that her aunt always tell her of different social standards she might not know about.
  • Mrs. Touchett asks Isabel if she only wants to know about the rules just so she can rebel against them. Isabel coolly says that she would like to choose whether to obey or not.