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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 14

Henrietta wants to leave immediately for London, but Isabel is kept waiting for Lord Warburton. He waits a few days to respond to her letter, and when he does, he writes to say he will be coming to call in a few days. He brings his sister, the elder Miss Molyneux, who has a "nun-like forehead" and wears a silver cross. Isabel notices a "world of hereditary quiet in her." At lunch, Henrietta Stackpole questions Lord Warburton brusquely. He answers vaguely but politely. After dinner, Lord Warburton asks Isabel to join him in the picture gallery. They discuss her rejection of his offer. He wants to know her reasons since she has told him it is not because she doesnít like him. She tells him she will tell him some day when "thereís more to show for it." He tells her how unhappy he will be in the mean time. Finally, she tells him she rejects his offer because she feels that in marrying him, she would be escaping her fate. She tells him she cannot escape unhappiness, that she can never be happy by turning away from life or separating herself from it. He tries to convince her that a life with him would not mean turning away, but Isabel feels that it would be.

They are interrupted by Miss Molyneux, Henrietta Stackpole and Ralph who join them in the gallery. Henrietta is badgering Miss Molyneux with questions that confuse the young woman. She responds vaguely to each question. When she tells her brother that she must be getting back home, and he doesnít hear her, Miss Stackpole pushes her to say what she does when she wants her brother to do something for her. Miss Molyneux says "I never do anything." Mss Molyneux asks Isabel to come see her again soon, but Isabel tells her she wonít be able to since she will be leaving soon. Henrietta meanwhile gets an invitation out of Lord Warburton to his estate. When he tells her she wonít be able to come with Isabel, but should come alone, she thinks he is insulting her. She thinks he has been told that she exposes individuals in her newspaper accounts. No one will respond to her questions and she says she is sure there is something the matter with all of them. Outside, Isabel says good-bye to Lord Warburton and his sister.

That evening, Mrs. Touchett comes to see Isabel in her room. She wants to know why Isabel told Mr. Touchett and not her about the proposal. Isabel says it is because Mr. Touchett knew Lord Warburton. Mrs. Touchett says she knows Isabel better. Isabel smiles and says she is not sure of that. Mrs. Touchett says she thinks Isabel rejected Lord Warburton because she was hoping for something better. Isabel only laughs at the joke.


Notes

The sad encounter between Isabel and Lord Warburton only adds poignancy to her refusal of his marriage offer. Henry James makes clear in his description of the elder Miss Molyneux that Isabel would never fit into the life of a lordís wife. This subtle clue--the description of Lord Warburtonís sister--is reinforced by the direct discourse about the subject in the discussion Isabel has with Lord Warburton. In it, Isabel is forced to name her reasons for rejecting him. She tells him she cannot be happy if she "turns away" or separates herself from life, "from the usual chances and dangers, from what most people know and suffer." No matter how much Lord Warburton insists that a life with him is not a life divorced from the life of the common lot, it is clear by his sisterís passivity, her placid calm, that she has lived just such a life. When she is pushed by Henrietta Stackpole to say what she would do if her brother didnít listen to her, she responds, "I never do anything." When Isabel looks at her, she sees "the peace, the kindness, the honor, he possessions, the deep security and a great seclusion" that would be her life at Lockleigh. It is attractive, but for Isabel, it is not her "fate."

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