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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Notes

This early chapter in which Isabel establishes a rapport with Ralph Touchett is also very important in the overall scheme of the novel. Ralph takes note of Isabelís dominant characteristics at this point in her life. He notices that she "doesnít take suggestions well" but wants to do things in her own way. He isnít irritated by this fact, but finds it pleasurable to be opposed by her. He also notices that Isabel has a natural eye for art as they walk through his portrait gallery. In their conversation, Isabel reveals that she is very sociable. She speaks directly about the people in her life. She is also perceptive about Ralph. It seems that Ralph might have tried to hide behind his wittiness, but Isabel recognizes him despite this. She tells Ralph that he wants people to like him and that he tries to make them do so.


She also shows her innocence. This is brought out in her desire to see a ghost. She thinks of this as a romantic and whimsical idea. She is in an ancient English mansion and wants to see a ghost on her first night there. Ralph, however, cannot join in her amusement. As a man who is slowly dying of tuberculosis, his idea of ghosts is quite different from Isabelís. He tells her this ghost "has never been seen by a young, happy, innocent person like you. You must have suffered first, have suffered greatly, have gained some miserable knowledge. In that way your eyes are opened to it. I saw it long ago." Henry James notes in the preface to this edition of The Portrait that he chose to bring out the characteristics of Isabel Archer by the use of satellite characters like Ralph Touchett. By way of contrast, he shows up the freshness of Isabel on her first night in Gardencourt. He will use this same technique of contrast later in the novel when she does see the ghost. At this point, Isabel is presumptuous enough to say she is not afraid of the kind of knowledge he speaks of.

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