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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 3

Mrs. Touchett has many odd points. She does everything in her own way. When Mrs. Touchett comes to visit her husband and son, she always retires into impenetrable seclusion for at least a few hours instead of greeting them immediately. She waits until she gets herself in order and then she sees them. She has been separated from her husband since the first year of their marriage. She doesnít find anything unusual in this fact. She realized when they were first married that "they should never desire the same thing at the same moment." She responded by going to live in Florence. She likes this arrangement very much, though Mr. Touchett has never been happy with it. Sometimes, though, it has seemed to him to be the most definite fact of his existence. He could never understand why they had to get stuck in dissent with each other. Mrs. Touchett, however, never wondered if the decision was a good one. Every year she comes to spend a month with her husband. She had moved from England for three reasons: first, she hates bread sauce, second, she doesnít like servants who drink beer, third, she thinks British laundry workers do not know how to do their work properly. Sometimes she visits the United States and this last trip was her longest one.

She had arrived at Isabel Archerís residence four months before. Isabel was seated alone with a book. She had heard Mrs. Touchett walk in. The house was old and large and it had a "for sale" sign in the window. The rooms in the house were many. On the third floor there was an arched passage which connected the two sides of the house. Isabel and her two sisters used to call it a tunnel even though it was short and well-lit. As a child, Isabel had visited the house with her family. It belonged to her fatherís mother, old Mrs. Archer. When Isabel and her sisters were quite young, they visited often. These weeks were the happiest in Isabelís memory. The lifestyle was larger and more plentiful than it was in her own familyís home. Across the street there was a Dutch House which dated from the earliest colonial time. It was turned into a primary school for boys and girls. Isabel had been offered an education there, but she only spent one day and decided it was too restrictive. Isabel laid the foundation of her knowledge in the "idleness of her grandmotherís house." She got to use the library with no restrictions. She chose books by their frontispieces. She did all her reading in a room called the office, attached to the library. It was where all the old pieces of furniture were put. As a child she had established almost human relations with many of these pieces of furniture.


She was sitting in this office on the day when Mrs. Touchett came to visit. She had been trying to fix her mind on her reading. She had decided her education had been too lax and that it should be more like a military step. She had begun to read into the history of German thought. She heard Mrs. Touchett and then saw her standing in the doorway of the room. Mrs. Touchett opened with a peremptory question: "Oh, is that where you usually sit?" Isabel escorted her aunt to the library where her aunt continued asking these kind of impertinent questions until Isabel finally realized who that this was her aunt Lydia, the "crazy aunt Lydia" of her fatherís stories. Mrs. Touchett inquires about Isabelís financial situation, of which Isabel knows nothing, and then invites her to come to Florence with her if she will be good and obedient. Isabel objects that she cannot promise obedience, but says sheíd like to see Florence. Mrs. Touchett stays with her for an hour waiting for the appearance of her elder sister who doesnít come before Mrs. Touchett leaves.

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