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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 10

Isabel receives a note from her friend Henrietta Stackpole informing her that she has arrived in England and wants to see her as well as to get some information about the "inner life" of English society. Isabel is a little uncomfortable with the news of her friend’s arrival, but nevertheless asks Mr. Touchett who extends an invitation to Henrietta to come stay at Gardencourt. As they wait at the train platform for her, Ralph wants to know what to expect in Miss Stackpole. Isabel says Henrietta doesn’t care in the least what men think of her. Ralph assumes this means Henrietta is ugly. Isabel says she is actually pretty. She adds that she will ask Henrietta not to do a portrait of the family in her newspaper.

When she arrives, Ralph realizes she is pretty after all. He is startled at her directness. She wants to know right away if he considers himself American or English. By the use of humor, he evades her attempts to nail him down to one image. He feels vaguely embarrassed to be under her scrutiny. Henrietta is not altogether comfortable in England. She finds it cramped. Isabel spends a good deal of time with Henrietta. One morning, she finds that Henrietta is beginning a description of Gardencourt for her newspaper and asks her to refrain from writing about the Touchetts or their house. Isabel promises to help her find other subjects to write about. She tells Henrietta that she has "no sense of privacy." Henrietta misses the point. She says she never writes about herself. Isabel says she should be modest for other people as well as herself. Henrietta writes this down as a good quote to include in one of her articles.

Henrietta is a bit scandalized by Ralph’s lack of an occupation. She doesn’t consider his poor health. She compares his illness to her occasional illnesses which she doesn’t let prevent her from working. Ralph thinks of her as an interesting person to talk to. One day he takes her through his portrait gallery and is happy to see that she doesn’t come out with the stock of conventional phrases of praise he usually hears from guests. She doesn’t pay much attention to the pictures. She tries to convince him that it’s his duty to marry. He mistakes her, thinking she is saying he should think of marrying her. She feels offended by this assumption and walks away. Later, Isabel tells him he has mistaken Henrietta, who always asks personal questions of others without involving herself personally in the matter at hand. Isabel tells him there’s "something of the ‘people’ in her," that she is a "kind of emanation of the great democracy" in America. Isabel is so taken up with her thought, that she gets emotional in telling it. Ralph admires her imagination ad agrees that Henrietta "smells of the future."


Notes

Henrietta Stackpole is another of Henry James’ satellite figures intended to highlight some aspect of Isabel Archer. She is certainly provocative. Ralph feels vaguely embarrassed by Miss Stackpole’s gaze "less inviolate, more dishonored, than he liked." Isabel is a bit uncomfortable with inviting Henrietta into the Touchett’s home. She lightly scolds her for being immodest with other people’s privacy. Nevertheless, she admires her as a democratic spirit. She and Ralph agree that Henrietta is a person of the future. It seems that this is a future Henry James was somewhat uncomfortable with. Henrietta Stackpole is a figure in the novel who represents the New Woman, the feminist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. She is independent, she is disinterested in marriage, and she is career-driven. In Henry James’s ideal setting--the English country home--she doesn’t fit in very well and imagines it to be best used in an article as a lifestyle piece. In Henrietta Stackpole, Henry James shows an extreme he certainly doesn’t want his "lady" to resort to, but one which she can find attractive from a respectable distance.

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