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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 15

Even though Mrs. Touchett doesn’t quite approve of the plan of Isabel and Henrietta going to London with only Ralph as an escort, she doesn’t stop them. Isabel is going in search of "local color." Isabel talks with her aunt about her rejection of Lord Warburton. Mrs. Touchett tells her she would have liked for Isabel to have married him, but when Isabel tells her she doesn’t love him, she agrees that she did right to refuse him.

In London, the women check into Pratt’s Hotel and Ralph takes up residence at his family house in Winchester Square. They visit all the major tourist spots in London. Henrietta wants more introductions to people. At night, Ralph is al alone at his house but spends his time thinking about Isabel. She seems more charming than she has yet seemed. Isabel seems to be quite happy with what she finds in London. She likes to ask many questions about society and history of Ralph and, when he doesn’t have the answers, to speculate on theories which support some answer she devises. Ralph likes to watch Isabel as she interacts with the people she meets.

One afternoon he invites one of his acquaintances, Mr. Bantling, to meet Isabel and Henrietta. They have dinner at the Winchester Square house. Mr. Bantling is very happy with Henrietta and promises to get her an introduction to his sister, Lady Pensil’s house in Bedfordshire. That day, Miss Stackpole had met the Miss Climbers, two friends from the States, and had promised to have dinner with them that evening. Mr. Bantling escorts her there, leaving Isabel and Ralph alone in the garden.

Alone, Ralph and Isabel are quiet for a while, then he brings up the topic of Lord Warburton and her recent rejection of his proposal. He praises Lord Warburton, saying he "unites the intrinsic and the extrinsic advantages." Isabel says he was too perfect for her to marry him. She remains reserved in the face of Ralph’s inquiries. Finally, he tells her he will enjoy watching her as she sets out on her life. He says he will "have the thrill of seeing what a young lady does who won’t marry Lord Warburton." He says she has "kept the game in [her] hands." Isabel tells him she has a different aim from the young men with whom he compares her. She doesn’t want to drain the cup of experience, but only to see it. She adds that she doesn’t want to marry until she has seen Europe.

After a while, she leaves. She refuses to let him escort her back to her hotel since she feels that he is too tired.


Notes

If it wasn’t already clear to the reader before this, it is clear now: Ralph Touchett is in love with Isabel Archer. Since he is slowly dying, he cannot say anything to her of his affection, so he remains ironic and witty. He casts himself as a spectator. In this chapter, he is shown alone in his family’s Winchester Square house after his days spent in London with Isabel and Henrietta Stackpole. Alone, he thinks about Isabel. In the last scene of the chapter, he is alone with her for the first time in many chapters. He discusses her rejection of Lord Warburton’s proposal with her and clearly seems to see that she has refused such a good opportunity out of a need to be free. Isabel is reticent to accept his perspective of her reasons, but it seems reasonably accurate in light of all that she has said before. Ralph is the most important of Isabel Archer’s satellites. He is a moral center in the novel. Therefore his approval of her decision to remain free to see Europe sets up high hopes on the reader’s part that she will be successful.

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