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Archived Group Reads 2011 > The Portrait of a Lady: Ch. 15-19

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message 1: by Silver (new)

Silver For discussing chapters 15-19. Please be aware that if you have not completed these chapters there may be spoilers here.


message 2: by Silver (new)

Silver I found the dicussion between Ralph and his farther on his death bed to be quite an interesting, as well as touching one. It was interesting to have that brief moment of seeing Mr. Touchett's thoughts upon the state of his marriage.

I wonder if Ralph sees within Isabel his own lost potential. It seems that Ralph has all but given up on his life already, and becasue of his illness and his certainly of his impending death, he does not see it worth while to attempt to do anything with his life. And in bequeathing half of is inheritance to Isabel he wants to give her the opportunities which he feels his illness has robbed him of.

Perhaps in a way he even wants to live vicariously through Isabel in watching what she does with her life when she has the complete freedom of being able to pursue her every interest.

Though Mrs. Touchett is not very involved within her family, it will be interesting to see what her reaction will be to the new will, if nothing else she may not like the fact that it will make Isabel independent of her aunts good will and patronage.

And we have been introduced to Madame Merle. A curious figure, and I wonder what Ralph was hinting at in his remarks about her to Isabel, it will be interesting to see what role she will play within the story as it progresses.


message 3: by Bernadette (last edited Mar 10, 2011 04:30PM) (new)

Bernadette (bern51) I loved chapter 16. The conversation between Isabel and Caspar Goodwood (what a great name) is fascinating. I became very irritated with Caspar, These days I would almost call him a stalker. I found myself wanting to scream at him. I could really empathize with Isabel and her frustration with him.


message 4: by Silver (new)

Silver Bernadette wrote: "I loved chapter 16. The conversation between Isabel and Caspar Goodwood (what a great name) is fascinating. I became very irritated with Caspar, These days I would almost call him a stalker. I foun..."

Yes I found Casper's self-assurance, and insistence to be quite obnoxious and irritating, and I rather enjoyed Isabel's response to him, and sending him home back to America.


message 5: by Bernadette (new)

Bernadette (bern51) Silver wrote: "Bernadette wrote: "I loved chapter 16. The conversation between Isabel and Caspar Goodwood (what a great name) is fascinating. I became very irritated with Caspar, These days I would almost call hi..."

I was also really bothered by her so-called friend who had spoken to Caspar about Isabella...with friends like that...


message 6: by Bernadette (new)

Bernadette (bern51) Silver wrote: "Bernadette wrote: "I loved chapter 16. The conversation between Isabel and Caspar Goodwood (what a great name) is fascinating. I became very irritated with Caspar, These days I would almost call hi..."

I was wondering what your take is on Mrs. Touchette's "worship" of Madame Merle. At one point she says something to the effect of M. Merle has no flaws. I was wondering if it's because M. Merle seems to have no obligations, she seems to be yet another "independent woman" character.


message 7: by Silver (new)

Silver Bernadette wrote: "Silver wrote: "Bernadette wrote: "I loved chapter 16. The conversation between Isabel and Caspar Goodwood (what a great name) is fascinating. I became very irritated with Caspar, These days I would..."

I have not advanced that far into the relationship between Merle and Mrs. Touchett, but I think it may be in part because of how European Mrs. Merle is, as Isabel first thought she must have been French for how she spoke it, and she calls herself Madame Merle. As well based on Ralph's comments it seems there is something odd about her husband and Merle's relationship with him, so maybe Mrs. Touchett admires her for her great freedom and independence in that regard.


message 8: by Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) (last edited Mar 11, 2011 08:31AM) (new)

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) There also seemed to be "something" between Ralph and Madame Merle. It seemed to be something romantic. Madame Merle is another displaced American. She seems to have adapted all the "Europeanness" that James so aspired to. Does Madame Merle have more of this trait than Mrs T?

I have to wonder too, since she hasn't any wealth to speak of, how Madame Merle is able to get around so? Does she just live off the kindness of others? How does one have independence when you haven't any money to back yourself up with?

I love Ralph's character. He has been forced to be an observer not a
participant in life. Right now, I see his gesture to Isabel as a way to make her truly independent. I don' think he wants her to be another M Merle.


message 9: by Silver (new)

Silver In Ralph's talk with his father one of the excuses he gave against marrying Isabel was that he did not think one should marry thier cousin. I am currently reading Jude the Obscure and in that book someone makes a similar comment about how one should not fall in love with their cousin.

I know it had once been quite common for marriages between cousins. Is this just pure coincidence or was blood-relation marriages starting to become more out of fashion? Was there any particular reason for the change of mindset that one should not marry one's cousin?


message 10: by Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) (last edited Mar 11, 2011 02:33PM) (new)

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I wonder how long ago, they started to figure out that this was bad for the family line? Inborn illness and genetics and all that might have played somewhat into that, Silver.

Only Austria, Hungary, and Spain banned cousin marriage throughout the 19th century, with dispensations being available from the government in the last two countries. Although Protestant, the Church of Sweden didn't ban first-cousin marriage until 1680 and required dispensation until 1844. England maintained a small but stable proportion of cousin marriages for centuries, with proportions in 1875 estimated by George Darwin at 3.5 percent for the middle classes and 4.5 percent for the nobility, though this has declined to under 1 percent in the 20th century. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were a preeminent example. (from wiki)


message 11: by Silver (new)

Silver Madame Merle seems quite interesting, but I do not know if I completely trust her. There is something about her that seems almost "fake" in a way. The way in which Isabel refers to her as being too perfect and "not natural" and how she is said to have no flaws. Also in the way in which she has her hands in everything. There isn't a hobby in which it does not seem she is accomplished. While a person can have more than one interest, the way she is described it gives one the impression as if she is just dabbling. There is something about her that does not feel genuine like she is just putting on a show and acting for others.


message 12: by Bill (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 47 comments Silver wrote: "I wonder if Ralph sees within Isabel his own lost potential. It seems that Ralph has all but given up on his life already, and becasue of his illness and his certainly of his impending death, he does not see it worth while to attempt to do anything with his life. And in bequeathing half of is inheritance to Isabel he wants to give her the opportunities which he feels his illness has robbed him of.

Perhaps in a way he even wants to live vicariously through Isabel in watching what she does with her life when she has the complete freedom of being able to pursue her every interest. ..."


I had not really considered Ralph seriously as a possible suitor until the death bed scene. Its his fathers dying wish that Ralph marry Isabel! Wow, what could possibly more anticipate a match between them than such a loving father's last dying wish? Then Ralph almost seals it with his completely supportive act in wanting to put a little wind in her sails and put into her power to do some of the things she wants.

So with that death bed scene with his father. (They are so very close, aren't they?), Ralph moves from a distant third, in my rankings as possible husband for Isabel, to first place.


message 13: by Bill (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 47 comments Bernadette wrote: "I loved chapter 16. The conversation between Isabel and Caspar Goodwood (what a great name) is fascinating. I became very irritated with Caspar, These days I would almost call him a stalker. I found myself wanting to scream at him. I could really empathize with Isabel and her frustration with him. .."

I really felt for Goodwood. Isabel knows how to tell a man he has no chance--she's told Warburton this. But she doesn't want to tell Goodwood this and Goodwood knows it. In spite of what Isabel says, as a man who knows Isabel does see him as a possible husband, he does have everything to lose. While Isabel is pretty confident that Goodwood will continue to be an option. So I think all the sympathy here belongs with Goodwood.

Although Isabel could only do what she did at this point, and I think she handled it very well.


message 14: by Bernadette (new)

Bernadette (bern51) Bill wrote: "Bernadette wrote: "I loved chapter 16. The conversation between Isabel and Caspar Goodwood (what a great name) is fascinating. I became very irritated with Caspar, These days I would almost call hi..."

I think I would have felt bad for him if he had known when to quit. Maybe I'm just looking at the situation from a more modern angle...more likely I am influenced by a personal experience with someone like him


message 15: by Bill (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 47 comments Silver wrote: "Madame Merle seems quite interesting, but I do not know if I completely trust her. There is something about her that seems almost "fake" in a way. The way in which Isabel refers to her as being too..."

Madam Merle is obviously very charismatic. I don't think that is enough to make her untrustworthy; I think charisma is no more likely to exist in phony people as it is honest people. At this point, I've yet to see that Isabel is a bad judge of character, but then again, she seems to be lucky so far as to the people who come into her life.

However, your making Merle's trustworthiness an issue, which had not occurred to me, got me thinking more about the fact that Ralph doesn't like her. This concerns me; It's hard to imagine that Ralph would dislike any trustworthy person. Or dislike anyone without good reason.


message 16: by Bill (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 47 comments Ok--I'm to end of chapter 19 now. Isabel, talking with Henrietta, said this:

"Do you know where you're drifting?" Henrietta pursued
"No, I haven't the least idea, and I find it very pleasant not to know. A swift carriage, of a dark night, rattling with four horses over roads that one can't see--thats my idea of happiness"


Wow. What a crazy, wild, youthful thing to say. I remember when I was young man who hated to play it safe and loved to take risks; I would have said something like this. As soon as I read that, I realized I had been holding Isabel's high intelligence in too high regard. It also made me appreciate Henrietta's concerns even more.


message 17: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Bill, this seems a strange metaphor for happiness, doesn't it. Actually for the wildest, most carefree people I have ever known personally, this speech would have been a little disturbing. I was thinking about that when I read it -- speed, dark night, unknown destination. It makes me think Isabel is wishing to speed into her own future, unguided. But it sounds like she doesn't mind that this might be an ominous future. Yes, this statement does place her in a different category for me.


message 18: by Silver (new)

Silver Perhaps because I am a bit of a macabre person I do not have the same negative reaction of Isabel's idea of happiness as on a personal level I find that image the presents to be quite a appealing picture. I rather like the idea of not wanting to be influenced by others, and of being prepared to rush into that unknown. And perhaps because of my own inclination, the idea of the possibility of the ominous and being willing to embrace it has its own intrigue.


In regards to Madame Merle I think my opinion of her might be somewhat affect by the notes in my book in regards to the origin of her name which does suggest some things about her potential character. And also to the strange statements Ralph makes about her husband which he will not explain to Isabel.


message 19: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Isabel's metaphor of the horses and of the dark night and road unseen doesn't seem to mean she is only adverse to outside influence. It is seems to say that she isn't even building any self-guidance -- because Henrietta asks her "Do you know where you are going?" and she replies "I haven't the least idea.." That I believe is what you would find rare in a person.


message 20: by Silver (new)

Silver SarahC wrote: "Isabel's metaphor of the horses and of the dark night and road unseen doesn't seem to mean she is only adverse to outside influence. It is seems to say that she isn't even building any self-guidanc..."

I do not think there is anything inherently wrong with that. The idea of not knowing where you are going or where you will end up. Is that not similar to people today to have the live everyday as if it is your last. The willingly to be open to complete spontaneity, and not have things prearranged, but to be swept along on the tide of life. Granted without navigation you may end up being crashed upon the rocks, but at the same time it could lead you to somewhere you never would have been able to find if you were seeking it.


message 21: by SarahC (last edited Mar 12, 2011 05:48PM) (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments I am simply saying that Isabel's choice to move in this way makes me rethink the character, and that personally I do believe that is a rare method of living. I am not making a judgment of right or wrong.

But in actuality, Isabel is not living in complete spontaneity, she is living under the financial support of the Touchetts -- Mrs. Touchett said early on that Isabel didn't understand that her small income would not be covering the trip they would make. And of course -- now she will inherit quite a sum that will allow her this carefree, unguided lifestyle. So my point is, some realities, monetary or otherwise, will always come into a lifestyle choice.


message 22: by Bill (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 47 comments Silver wrote: "Perhaps because I am a bit of a macabre person I do not have the same negative reaction of Isabel's idea of happiness as on a personal level I find that image the presents to be quite a appealing p..."

The willingness to take risks is an integral part of the boldness and sense of adventure which are part of her charm--particularly to the men. However, when one takes risks in life, to the degree they are uncalculated risks, they are irresponsible; both to oneself and to those that love one. This passage verified for me, as nothing else had before, why Henrietta (who presumably knows Isabel much better then the reader has had a chance to, thus far) is so concerned.

Henrietta has a great sense of adventure, she definitely has her own mind and will do her own thing, but she isn't a risk taker:

"Do you know where you're drifting?" Henrietta pursued, holding out her bonnet delicately.

"No, I haven't the least idea, and I find it very pleasant not to know. A swift carriage, of a dark night, rattling with four horses over roads that one can't see—that's my idea of happiness."

Mr. Goodwood certainly didn't teach you to say such things as that—like the heroine of an immoral novel," said Miss Stackpole. "You're drifting to some great mistake."

Isabel was irritated by her friend's interference, yet she still tried to think what truth this declaration could represent. She could think of nothing that diverted her from saying: "You must be very fond of me, Henrietta, to be willing to be so aggressive."

"I love you intensely, Isabel," said Miss Stackpole with feeling.

"Well, if you love me intensely let me as intensely alone. I asked that of Mr. Goodwood, and I must also ask it of you."

"Take care you're not let alone too much."

"That's what Mr. Goodwood said to me. I told him I must take the risks."

"You're a creature of risks—you make me shudder!" cried Henrietta


I love the Gutenberg Project which allows me to cut and paste these passages! Otherwise I'd have to consider typing them.


message 23: by Bernadette (new)

Bernadette (bern51) SarahC wrote: "I am simply saying that Isabel's choice to move in this way makes me rethink the character, and that personally I do believe that is a rare method of living. I am not making a judgment of right or ..."

I was sort of envious while reading this part of the book...I was thinking that I would love to "drift" like Isabel, but alas, the money thing instantly came into my mind and swept me back into reality.


message 24: by Silver (new)

Silver Bill wrote: "Silver wrote: "Perhaps because I am a bit of a macabre person I do not have the same negative reaction of Isabel's idea of happiness as on a personal level I find that image the presents to be quit..."

There is nothing wrong with taking a little risk. Not everyone has to be like Henrietta and have their adventure seeking be so rigid and so scripted. While Henrietta may have known Isabel longer, personally I think Ralph understands her better. Henrieta wants Isabel to be confined, but Ralph sees that Isabel should be truly set free and allowed to explore the world upon her own terms. Henrietta is like a bird with its wings clipped and wants to keep Isabel grounded becasue she herself cannot see beyond her own limitations in the way which Isabel can.


message 25: by Silver (new)

Silver Bernadette wrote: "SarahC wrote: "I am simply saying that Isabel's choice to move in this way makes me rethink the character, and that personally I do believe that is a rare method of living. I am not making a judgme..."

Yes maybe that is my problem I can relate too much with this romantic ideal of Isabel's. I did go through the phase in which I myself wish I could drift in such a way. I wanted to live like gypsy, with no attachments, with nothing to keep me rooted, with no foreseeable goal.

I tried to explain to my sister once, and though normally we get along quite well, her response was quite Henrietta like. She said. "So you want to be homeless" which is not at all how I saw it.


message 26: by Bill (last edited Mar 12, 2011 08:30PM) (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 47 comments Silver wrote: "While Henrietta may have known Isabel longer, personally I think Ralph understands her better. Henrieta wants Isabel to be confined, but Ralph sees that Isabel should be truly set free and allowed to explore the world upon her own terms. .."

Interesting comparison of her two friends. I don't doubt they both equally want the best for her.


message 27: by Silver (new)

Silver Bill wrote: "Silver wrote: "While Henrietta may have known Isabel longer, personally I think Ralph understands her better. Henrieta wants Isabel to be confined, but Ralph sees that Isabel should be truly set fr..."

Yes, I think the difference though is that Henrietta wants best for her based on what Henrietta has decided is best for her.

Ralph on the other hand wants Isabel to discover what is best for her upon her own.


message 28: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Thinking about the two friends of Isabel, Henrietta and Ralph, I kept coming back to the fact that Henrietta falls more into what I mentioned earlier in the discussion -- "the portrait of a lady" in my mind, includes several of the female characters in this story. Henrietta being the most unusual among the others: she is not from the upper class, does not have independent wealth, has not married for money or connection, has driven her own career, and has taken on the care of the young children of her poor sister.

So from the road Henrietta has traveled, I think it is fair to say she might experience a real fear that the rest of these women have not had need to. She probably has heard the wolf at the door before and knows that a woman must stay ahead of it through smart decisions. Her decision has been to work hard and make her own career. Believing that Isabel will not do that, she is strongly suggesting marriage to, she believes, a top-notch guy -- Caspar.

She is pushing for it, but maybe not necessarily in a controlling way, but in a concerned --even parental--way.


message 29: by Scott (new)

Scott (Karlstadt) | 123 comments Silver wrote: "Bernadette wrote: "Silver wrote: "Bernadette wrote: "I loved chapter 16. The conversation between Isabel and Caspar Goodwood (what a great name) is fascinating. I became very irritated with Caspar,..."


message 30: by Scott (new)

Scott (Karlstadt) | 123 comments I agree that Madam M is very 'European', while Mrs Touchert is more 'English'.
These Englishmen, and Englishwomen, living abroad speak French, even when they are in Italy. They bring their own individual derivative cultures to every country that they go to. They choose not to live in England, but do not become very involved in the countries where they choose to spend some time of the year. 'Indolence' is Gilbert's way of keeping a safe distance from Italian and English society. Madam M has very low opinion of men and marriage, but seems to find it a neccesary evil. Mrs Touchert, on the other hand, has a more sympathetic view of men,and does not see the need for Isabel to marry, until she is ready.


message 31: by Scott (new)

Scott (Karlstadt) | 123 comments Bill wrote: "Silver wrote: "Perhaps because I am a bit of a macabre person I do not have the same negative reaction of Isabel's idea of happiness as on a personal level I find that image the presents to be quit..."


message 32: by Scott (new)

Scott (Karlstadt) | 123 comments Bill, at first, I thought that Henriette's last statement was very "unamerican". When I thought more about it, I think that Henrietta was saying that life can be unpredictable. Everyone needs to plan for the future, so that we can meet those unknowns.


message 33: by Scott (new)

Scott (Karlstadt) | 123 comments SarahC wrote: "I am simply saying that Isabel's choice to move in this way makes me rethink the character, and that personally I do believe that is a rare method of living. I am not making a judgment of right or ..."


message 34: by Scott (new)

Scott (Karlstadt) | 123 comments Didn't John Lennon say: "Life is what happens to you while you are making other plans"? Ralph, Mr and Mrs Touchert, could all say the same. Isabel has the foresight to see life as it is. She is not so much a risk-taker as one who is ready for the uncertainity of life.


message 35: by SarahC (last edited Mar 18, 2011 06:35AM) (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments I am not convinced that she IS ready for the uncertainty of life, but she believes she should turn down things which she has categorized in some way -- like in the previous ch. 12, where deems Warburton a "personage" and equates with that "an affront" to her ... a complication of every hour," and also life with such a personage would be "something stiff and stupid which would make it a burden." She seems dogmatic rather than embracing the freedoms of life.


message 36: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments I am thoroughly enjoying the discussion here, although other responsibilities are keeping me from staying current with the reading right now. Thanks to each of you, but I will say, especially SarahC and Silver are cutting through with particular insights for me.


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