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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 8

Lord Warburton invites Isabel to come and see his house, Lockleigh. He gets Mrs. Touchett to agree to a visit. He tells Isabel about his family. His parents are dead and he has two brothers and four sisters. His elder brother is a clergyman and very conservative, his younger brother is in the army in India and lives a very extravagant life. Two of his sisters are married, one to Lord Haycock and one to a "smallish squire in Norfolk." As Isabel talks to Lord Warburton, he tells her his views of politics and English life. He assures her that she canít possibly have opposing views and if she does, she must not have thought much about them. He jokes with her that the Americans are "the most grossly superstitious. They were rank Tories and bigots . . . There were no conservatives like American conservatives." Isabel realizes Lord Warburton is a new kind of English noble. He wishes to reform the English system of government and society on a more equal footing. Isabel is amused at Lord Warburtonís careful explanations of everything. She realizes that he must think she is a barbarian and often asks naive questions just to catch him out in this assumption. She realizes, however, that even about America he knows more than she does. She thinks of him as a man who always takes a tone of "responsible kindness."

She talks to Ralph about him. Ralph thinks he is a sad case since he thinks of himself as an "imposition." He wants to reform the nobility out of English society. For Ralph, Lord Warburton is a "victim of a critical age." He has everything and yet is unhappy with himself. When Isabel talks to Mr. Touchett about him, he tells her he doesnít recommend that she fall in love with him. He says Lord Warburton wants to do away with many things while remaining himself. This is an inconsistent, though natural position. Mr. Touchett says he likes things the way they are and doesnít want anything to be "disestablished" especially his own property. Isabel jokes about how she would like to see a revolution. She says she is on the side of both the old and the new, but in a revolution she would probably be a proud loyalist since they get to take up more picturesque poses. Mr. Touchett says the liberals in the House of Lords donít really want what they say they want. They are only theorizing for their amusement. For him, progressive ideas are the greatest luxury. They end by joking about Lord Warburtonís insatiability to be a martyr. Isabel says she will never make anyone a martyr and Mr. Touchett responds with the hope that she will never be one herself.


Notes

Henry James goes to such trouble to develop the character of Lord Warburton, here, primarily because he is an important actor in Isabel Archerís life. He will present one choice for her to take for her future. James is careful to make his English lord both rich and liberal. Lord Warburton is the kind of English lord who would be attracted to an American woman of no social standing in England. Such a choice for a wife would go against the norms of his class, but since he is "a nobleman of the newest pattern, a reformer, a radical, a contemner of ancient ways," he would be attracted to such a subversion of the norm.

The description of this new kind of English lord also serves a larger purpose in the novel. It sets up the social history of the novel and it reveals the attitude of the author. In this case, it seems clear that Henry James doesnít much approve of the kind of thinking of Lord Warburton, but that he thinks it is all fairly tame. Henry James seems to speak through the voice of Mr. Touchett. He is a conservative. He finds the old ways best and cannot see any reason for changing things. The old ways involve property and since he owns a great deal of it, any upset in the way of the world would be an upset in his comfortable life at Gardencourt.

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