This is my summary post of The Portrait of A Lady, as part of the tasks inquired for my The Well-Educated Mind Self Project. There are still 40 more chapters of it, which I will post in the next three summary posts.
Introducing old Mr. Touchett, an American wealthy banker with an unhappy marriage to Lydia Touchett—an independent old woman; they had a son—Ralph Touchett—a sickly, unattractive in appearance but clever young man, who had a friend—Lord Warburton—a charming but arrogant young man. The Touchetts lived in a beautiful Tudor old house near London, and the father and son were now waiting for the mother to come home with her unknown niece from America.
The niece was Isabel Archer—a beautiful, self-esteemed, independent young woman. Both Ralph Touchett and Lord Warburton seemed to be attracted to her on the day she arrived.
Isabel had grown up and got her intellectual education from books in her grandmother’s big house. After her father’s death, Mrs. Touchett visited her, and both aunt and niece came to respect each other because they had similar bluntness and independent minds.
People had always thought Isabel as natural and too clever as a woman. A young man called Caspar Goodwood—her suitor—came to propose a more fruitful relationship, but Isabel—who was then eager to have a new beginning—disappointed him.
Ralph greatly admired his father. He had had a promising life before his health betrayed him and forced him to stay in Gardencourt (The Touchetts house). When Ralph thought his life won’t last long, he became interested in Isabel and observing her unique characters.
Isabel was always thirst of knowledge, but lacked of the real knowledge of humans sufferings, as she had always been fortunate since she was a child. Isabel has then grown up as a self-centered woman.
Ralph liked Isabel’s company because she enlightened his burdened days; he feared of losing his father, whose health had been down lately. Ralph observed his feelings towards Isabel, and decided that it’s not love. Meanwhile Lord Warburton paid a visit to Gardencourt for three days and made Isabel liked him very much.
Isabel visited Lockleigh—Lord Warburton residence—and have discussion over their countries and politics with the Lord. In Ralph’s and his father’s opinion, Warburton was inconsistent; he wanted to have a reformation, yet didn’t want to lose his land. As Mr. Touchett had once warned Warburton not to fall in love with his niece, he warned Isabel the same thing too.
Isabel got acquainted with Lord Warburton’s siblings; both his sisters were typical English women with their shyness and passive manners. Warburton would like to get to a higher stage in his relationship with Isabel, but Isabel insisted that her aunt will take her to visit other countries abroad.
Isabel’s female American journalist friend came to visit Gardencourt. Henrietta Stackpole thought Ralph was rough and indifferent; while Ralph had misinterpreted Henrietta of proposing him a marriage—which he declined and made Henrietta angry.
Miss Stackpole despised Mrs. Touchett as much as the hostess disliked her guest; but on top of it, they disliked each other’s country. Caspar Goodwood came to England to change Isabel’s mind, who then rejected him.
At the same time Lord Warburton was proposing Isabel to marry him. Isabel admitted that she liked him very much, but still, she wasn’t ready for matrimonial life; although she had not quite sure yet what she wanted exactly.
With Caspar Goodwood—a cotton businessman—Isabel felt he was too dominant for her, and she did not love him anyway. Isabel wrote a refusing letter to Lord Warburton, while Henrietta—who was concerned about Isabel’s personality change—asked Ralph to invite Goodwood to Gardencourt, which Goodwood rejected. Henrietta, Isabel and Ralph then planned an excursion to London.
When Lord Warburton asked Isabel why she rejected him, she answered that she did not want to end like ordinary English women without chance to see more from life; she haven’t been ready yet to give up her freedom.
In London the two cousins fell in serious conversation from which they came to a realization of what Isabel had been wanting for her future, which made her rejected the idea of marriage. As Ralph said to Isabel: “The world interests you and you want to throw yourself into it.”