Study Guide

The Portrait of a Lady Wealth

By Henry James


What exactly does money buy? Different people in Portrait of a Lady might give you different answers. Security? Independence? Beauty? Dare we say – happiness? Or, perhaps, none of the above? Money is all over the place in this novel; everyone has some, but everyone wants more. Most of our characters live on their inherited incomes, and demonstrate over and over again that money is both a blessing and a curse. By the end of the novel, we see very clearly that wealth is something of a tricky trade-off…Sure, having money is nice, but it comes with a lot of baggage.

Questions About Wealth

  1. Can wealth be characterized as either a negative or positive thing?
  2. Is wealth always a burden?
  3. Is Henrietta right when she predicts that wealth will play up Isabel’s "dangerous tendencies?"
  4. Everyone desires wealth – but is it satisfying once it’s granted? Think about Isabel, Osmond, and Lord Warburton in particular.

Chew on This

Although Ralph intends to make Isabel freer through financial independence, his money leads to her entrapment instead.

Great wealth brings with it the burden of social responsibility.