Study Guide

The Portrait of a Lady Volume 1, Chapter 1

By Henry James

Volume 1, Chapter 1

  • Ralph Touchett, his father, and his friend Lord Warburton lounge on the spacious lawn of Gardencourt, the Touchett family’s beautiful English estate, 40 miles from London. It’s tea time.
  • We meet the three gentlemen, all of whom are quite pleasant. Mr. Touchett, an American expatriate, still has the look of his countrymen about him. He seems like a kind, wise, and very smart old man.
  • Lord Warburton is apparently the ideal English gentleman, and an aristocrat, to boot.
  • Ralph, though less impressive than his noble friend, has a certain charm of his own. The two gently banter — this is an old routine between friends.
  • Both Touchetts are rather sickly. Mr. Touchett teases Ralph, saying that his son is his sick nurse.
  • Lord Warburton teasingly says that Ralph is a cynic. Ralph says Lord Warburton is bored with life. Their banter is obviously familiar — it’s a routine they’ve been through before.
  • Mr. Touchett is a bank owner, but Ralph says he is not very rich, since he gives away so much of his money.
  • Mr. Touchett chides the young men for their lack of focus. He tells Lord Warburton to find an interesting woman and settle down with her.
  • The conversation turns to current affairs. Apparently, Ralph’s cousin, a previously unknown young American lady, is coming to visit from the states with his mother, Mrs. Touchett. The Touchetts are originally from America and have lived in England for 30 years.
  • Mrs. Touchett, who seems like something of an odd character, insists on communicating with her menfolk through frugal, sparsely worded telegrams, but the message is never really clear.
  • Ralph describes his mother as a woman who insists on her independence. They predict that the niece will be similar.
  • We gather that Mrs. and Mr. Touchett don’t have a particularly great relationship.
  • 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.