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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 17

Isabel isn’t lying with her face hidden in her arms to pray, but to recover from the high emotions she feels. She is actually rejoicing at having gotten rid of Caspar Goodwood. She feels guilty over it, but she also feels a thrill at having just exercised her power. She feels that "she had done what was truest to her plan." Soon Henrietta Stackpole comes in. Isabel receives her coldly, telling her she had no right to interfere. When Henrietta is upset that Isabel turned Caspar away, Isabel tells her, "You are not the judge. I can’t trust you." Henrietta is unmoved by the statement and tells Isabel that if she marries "one of these people" that she will never speak to her again. Isabel tells Henrietta to leave her alone. She tells her she doesn’t have a clear plan and that she doesn’t mind drifting for a while, just as if she were in a carriage traveling at night. Henrietta accuses her of acting out romantic fantasies she’s read about in "immoral novels." She adds that she loves Isabel intensely and so is very concerned about her.

The next morning, Henrietta tells Isabel she will stay in London to wait for word from Lady Pensil. She plans to spend time at this person’s house to get more information on London’s "inner life." She tells Isabel she plans to be "the Queen of American Journalism" and expects her next article to be printed all over the west.

Soon, Ralph Touchett comes to see Isabel and tells her he has received word that his father has taken a turn for the worse. He is going to see Sir Matthew Hope, a famous doctor, to make arrangements for him to go to Gardencourt, and then he will leave. Isabel insists on going too. When he returns to pick up Isabel later that afternoon, she isn’t ready and he speaks briefly with Henrietta. They discuss her prospects for learning about London life. Then she tells him about Caspar Goodwood’s visit to Isabel the night before. Ralph blushes at the mention, thinking for a moment that Isabel had lied to him the night before when she had left him to be alone. Henrietta tells him it was she who set up the meeting by sending a note to Caspar that Isabel would be alone. Ralph is clearly relieved at this verification of Isabel’s honesty, enough so that he can be generous in saying "Poor Mr. Goodwood" several times. Henrietta tells him she plans to see Mr. Goodwood to tell him not to give up. She adds that if she really believed Isabel wouldn’t eventually come around to marrying Mr. Goodwood, that she would give Isabel up.


Notes

Chapter 17 is interesting mainly for its further depiction of Henrietta Stackpole’s relation to Isabel Archer. Isabel scolds her for interfering in her private life. Henrietta seems to feel no remorse for her machinations at all. She tells Isabel that she loves her intensely. It does seem, in fact, that Henrietta loves Isabel more intensely than a simple friend would. She doesn’t seem to recognize any ego boundaries between herself and Isabel. When Isabel came to Europe, she followed right away. She wrote articles for her newspaper which practically quoted Isabel’s letters. She can’t see that Isabel has desires which are quite separate and quite different from her own. She won’t accept this possibility. She threatens at several points in this chapters to drop Isabel completely if she proves to be other than the person that she, Henrietta, has imagined her to be. The worst manifestation of this alien self seems to be marriage to a European. Henrietta’s rude interference in the relationship between Isabel and Caspar Goodwood sets up a strangely triangular relationship, wherein she participates in the marriage if she can pull it off.

The second element of note in this chapter is Henrietta’s recognition that Isabel is living a romantic fantasy straight out of a novel. Isabel says, "I find it very pleasant not to know [where I’m drifting]. A swift carriage, of a dark night, rattling with four horses over roads that one can’t see--that’s my idea of happiness." It’s clear that Henrietta is right: Isabel got this idea of happiness straight out of some novel. In this light, the reader is asked to question how firmly Isabel has her feet planted on the ground when just in the chapter before, it seemed clear that she was acting in a practical and independent way. Perhaps in juxtaposing these two images of Isabel--the strong woman who faces down even the strongest man to assert her rights versus the romantic who spent her first years in a library reading novels and now wants to make their fantasies come true--James wants to reader to see the complications of a character who is more than just one thing.

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