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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 4

Mrs. Lillian Ludlow, Isabelís eldest sister, is considered the most sensible of the three sisters. Edith is the beauty and Isabel is the intellectual one, according to people who know them. Edith married an officer of the U.S. Engineers and moved out West. Lilian had married a New York lawyer. He marriage isnít altogether happy, but she is very happy with her two sons and her brownstone on Fifty-third Street. She mothers Isabel and frequently speaks about her to her husband Edmund.

One day before Isabel came to Europe with Mrs. Touchett, they had a conversation about Isabel. He says he would never have wanted to marry Isabel. He said "I donít like originals; I like translations. Isabelís written in a foreign language." He thinks she should marry an Armenian or a Portuguese. Lillian hopes her aunt will be kind of Isabel and offer her a chance to develop. Edmund exclaims that it would not be a good thing for her to develop any further. When Isabel came in, she returned Edmundís rude remarks with light banter. Lillian teased her saying she felt grand since Mrs. Touchettís visit. Isabel looked serious and denied that there was anything to feel grand about. She says whenever she feels grand it will be for a better reason.

That evening, she spent alone in her room assessing the difference she felt in her life since her aunt had come. She is restless and agitated wandering around her room. "She had a desire to leave the past behind her and begin afresh." This desire had been with her for a long time. It didnít come with her auntís visit. Finally, she sits down and closes her eyes to think. At this moment, she is given over to a review of many images of things she is giving up in leaving her old life behind her.

She thinks about her life as having been very fortunate. She has never experienced any unpleasantness and sometimes wonders if this isnít a defect since in her reading she often finds that unpleasantness can be interesting and instructive. She had always adored her father, who many people considered to have been irresponsible, especially with money and with the rearing of his daughters. Many people thought it was scandalous that he educated them so poorly, often leaving them with irresponsible nursemaids and governesses. Her father always wanted his daughters to see as much of life as possible. Isabel was his favorite of his three daughters. He often took them to Europe, but only for short visits, not long enough to satisfy Isabelís curiosity.


Most people who looked at the three daughters considered Edith to be the prettiest, but one in twenty saw Isabel as the prettiest one. "Isabel had in the depths of her nature an even more unquenchable desire to please than Edith"; however, it was hard for her to express her nature since it went so deep and there were so many things that distracted her from expressing herself. Since Isabel has a reputation of reading a great deal, she doesnít have too many male suitors. They find her a little intimidating. She realizes this and tries not to be presumptuous with her knowledge. "She carried within her a great fund of life" and she gets the most pleasure out of finding a relation between herself and the outside world. She likes especially to look at pictures and read about revolutions and wars. When the Civil War was going on, she found both sides valorous. Even though there were few suitors, there were still enough to keep life interesting.

As she sits and thinks, these things come to mind. She is interrupted by a maid announcing Caspar Goodwood, her most insistent suitor. She lingers for a while before going down to receive him. When she had first known him, he had "inspired her with a sentiment of high, of rare respect." She is moved by him as she is by no one else. Everyone assumes that he wants to marry her. When she hears him announced, she has a new sense of complications in her leave-taking. She goes down to see him. He is described as "tall, strong and somewhat stiff." He has fixed blue eyes that seem to belong to some other face. A half an hour later, he leaves her house feeling defeated.

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