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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 7

Isabel and Ralph spend a great deal of time together talking about the British customs and politics. The Touchetts receive very few guests, so Isabel is left alone with her family members most of the time. Isabel is both critical and sentimental. She tends to respond to criticisms of America with vigorous defense. She finds Ralph too irreverent. He makes everything a joke. She wonders what he really thinks and knows he doesnít let her into his innermost thoughts. She doesnít know that Ralph thinks about her all the time. Heís even wondered if he loves her, but he has convinced himself that it is not love he feels for her. He thinks of her as a beautiful building which he can admire from the outside but which he cannot enter. He often wonders what she will do with herself. Most women donít do anything with themselves. They only wait for a man to come along and give them a destiny. Isabel is original in the sense that she seems to have her own intentions. Ralph looks forward to seeing how she goes about fulfilling her intentions.

One day she and Ralph return from a rowing excursion to find Lord Warburton. Isabel had a good impression of him the first day she saw him and now she finds him even more likable. She even thinks of him as a "hero of romance." After dinner, Mrs. Touchett sits with Ralph, Lord Warburton and Isabel until late and then tells Isabel it is time they went to bed. Isabel tells her she wishes to remain downstairs and will let Ralph help her to her room later. Mrs. Touchett insists and causes a small stir among the men who think she is being rude, although they agree that it isnít proper for Isabel to stay up alone with them. Ralph notices that instead of getting angry, Isabel complies with her auntís wishes. As Isabel says goodnight to her aunt in front of her room, they discuss the incident. Isabel tells her she didnít know it was improper for her to stay up with young men and that she would appreciate her aunt continuing to tell her of these social proprieties as they come up. She says she wants to know them so she can decide whether to comply with them.


Notes

Chapter 7 brings out more of Isabel Archerís character as an independent-minded young woman, but one who is not free and easy with social conventions. This sense of Isabelís grounded sense of self and place is brought out in two senses. First, it is brought out in her intercourse with her cousin Ralph. From Ralphís point of view, Isabel is a fascinating person to be around, but not one who has let him all the way into her inner world. He compares her to a house whose door is closed to him. Second, it is brought out in her encounter with the constraints of her social position as a young woman in England. To Mrs. Touchettís insistence that she go to bed whether she likes it or not, Isabel complies. She admits that she doesnít understand such constraints, but that she will conform to them. At the end of the chapter, she insists that she wants to know the social rules which confine her so she can choose whether to obey them or not. The reader should be aware of this attitude and watch for instances of Isabelís rebellion. It is more likely that her actions are more telling than her words, here. She says the rule is incomprehensible and perhaps unjust, but she does go upstairs at her auntís bidding.

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