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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

VOLUME 1

Chapter 1

One of the best hours of the day takes place during afternoon tea. The setting of this English tea is an old English country-house. The light is perfect and all the elements of the tea service are perfect. An old man sits in a chair on the lawn holding an unusually large tea cup. There are two young men with him, but they are strolling on the lawn talking. Occasionally, when they pass by him, one of the men looks at the old man with concern to make sure he is comfortable.

The house has a name and a history. It was built during the reign of Edward VI and Elizabeth has even spent one night in it. It had passed through Cromwellís wars, was repaired and enlarged during the Restoration, and then remodeled during the eighteenth century. Then it had been bought by an American banker. When he first bought it, he thought it was ugly. By the time the novel opens, he has owned it for thirty years and has developed an "aesthetic passion for it." He knows all its points and loves to show them to people.

The old man sitting at the tea table looks very much like an American. He would probably still fit in perfectly well in the United States, but he will not be traveling any more. He is a wise old man who also has a good sense of humor. One of the two young men on the lawn is clearly English. He has a "fortunate, brilliant exceptional look" and anyone who looked at him would envy him. The young man with him is not to be envied. He is clearly sick: "he had an ugly, sickly, witty, charming face, furnished, but by no means decorated, with a straggling mustache and whisker. He looked clever and ill." It is clear that he is the old manís son.


They stop beside the old man and the sickly one asks him if he is comfortable. They begin a light banter with each other. The old man says he has been comfortable for so long that he doesnít know it any longer. The English young man says that is why comfort is boring. The old man makes light of his and his sonís illnesses, calling them "two lame ducks." The old man lightly disapproves of the young menís habit of making jokes out of everything. He vaguely recalls his younger days when he was so busy making his fortune. The Englishman says the young American is a regular cynic and doesnít believe in anything in life, yet is always a cheerful person. The Englishman is finally named. He is Warburton. The young American says Warburton only pretends to be bored and that on the contrary, he, the American, is never bored, but finds life too interesting.

The old man proposes that Warburton find a good wife. He assures him that this will help him to find life interesting. The two young men donít mention the fact that the old man is unhappily married. Then he tells them his niece is coming. He warns Warburton not to fall in love with her. His son jokes with him that though he has been living in England long enough to be able to speak like them, he hasnít learned what they never say. They begin to discuss the way theyíve gotten the news about this niece. Mrs. Touchett, the old manís wife, has been traveling in the United States. She has sent them a series of cryptic telegraphs, one of which mentions a niece: "Changed hotel, very bad, impudent clerk, address here. Taken sisterís girl, died last year, go to Europe, two sisters, quite independent." The three men puzzle over the meaning of the note. They donít know if the niece is independently wealthy or independent in her ideas. They donít even know when Mrs. Touchett and this niece will arrive. It is clear that the young Mr. Touchett finds his motherís own independence admirable. Mr. Touchett refers to the kind of American girls he has seen so far. Most of them, he says, are engaged, but that doesnít affect their behavior. They end on the joke that Mr. Touchett began earlier, that Warburton should not try to fall in love with his niece.

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