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Archived Group Reads 2011 > The Portrait of a Lady: Ch. 11-14

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message 1: by Silver (new)

Silver For discussing chapters 11-14. Please be aware that if you have not completed these chapters there may be spoilers here.


message 2: by Silver (new)

Silver I have to say that Miss Stackpole I find to be quite obnoxious and frustrating. I wish someone would just tell her to mind her own business. At first I was annoyed with Mrs. Touchett's opinions about disapproving of some of Isabel's friends, but I think she may have been right in the case of Miss Stackpole.

Also I am noticing a certain trend of hypocrisy being displayed within the characters, and in the inconsistency in their ideas about other people vs thier own actions.

As it has already been mentioned in the other thread about Mrs. Touchett's insisting on Isabel follow the proper decorum by not staying up alone with the gentleman, in spite of her ideas of independence and her own unconventional way of living.

Now Miss Stackpole wants to determine for everyone else what they ought to do, particularly her statements to Roger that it is his "duty" to marry, and her deciding that it is in Isabel's best interest that she marry Mr. Goodwood. Though it does not seem as if Miss Stackpole is running off in any hurry to get married herself.

It is also interesting the way in which Isabel is caught between all these different people with thier own ideas as to her life and being subject to so many different different influences bombarding her. Stuck between two (possible three) different suitors, as well I can imagine a sort of Tug-of-war between Miss Stackpole and Mrs. Touchett.


message 3: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments That's a good comment Silver. I think several of the main characters are very centrist people. Henrietta is a very world-wise woman, a working woman and all, but she seems to have strict ways of looking at things and strict opinions. She is definitely another character that seems to waffle. She is direct and really speaks honestly with Isabel and could be the voice of reason as Isabel seems indefinite. However, I am not sure Henrietta is very well-rooted either. Is she selling Goodwood so hard because she thinks his being American will make him the better choice for Isabel's future?

And maybe she can't imagine that Isabel can run her own future -- she doesn't have the right makeup? she doesn't believe Mrs. Touchett is good for her? other reasons? -- so she is pressuring her to get married. Maybe Henrietta thinks feminist ideas only apply to those who can handle them?


message 4: by Silver (new)

Silver SarahC wrote: "That's a good comment Silver. I think several of the main characters are very centrist people. Henrietta is a very world-wise woman, a working woman and all, but she seems to have strict ways of l..."

I do think that Henrietta has some very patriotic views in her regard for Isabel and her belief that she should marry Mr. Goodwood. Also It seems that in many ways she does have a very narrow view of things. One of the reasons she wants to tie Isabel to Mr. Goodwood is because she fears that Isabel is changing and she cannot stand for that change in her friend. She wants to try and pull her friend back into the way Henrietta remembers her.

And it may be that she does view Isabel as not being wise enough, or knowledgeable enough, or too naive to go off on her own and make her own way within life. Maybe she is worried about Isabel becoming swept up in some romantic ideal of Europe and making choices such as marrying some Englishmen, without really considering the consequences. Perhaps she vises Mr. Goodwood as the "sensible" choice for Isabel.


message 5: by Silver (new)

Silver I have to say I cannot help but to find it rather amusing, that it seems everyone imagines that Isabel must have some great mysterious reason, or ulterior motive, or pretension, in her refusal to marry Lord Warburton. The idea that she simply does not want to marry him seems to be incomprehensible to them.

Of course this is in a period of time in which it was viewed as a woman's ultimate goal/hope to marry well, and so the thought of a woman refusing a proposal from a man whom is wealthy, has a title, and is agreeable to the woman would be quite perplexing becasue to thier mind they could not imagine Isabel could possibly make a better match.

But it is still amusing to watch thier reactions to it.


message 6: by Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) (last edited Mar 08, 2011 05:54PM) (new)

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Do you think that Isabelle is just looking for someone better? "Smile not, I venture to repeat at this simple young woman from Albany who debated whether she should accept an English peer before he had offered himself and who was disposed to believe that on the whole she could do better." is Isabelle a bit of, for lack of a better term, a goldigger?


message 7: by Silver (new)

Silver Marialyce wrote: "Do you think that Isabelle is just looking for someone better? "Smile not, I venture to repeat at this simple young woman from Albany who debated whether she should accept an English peer before he..."

I do not think she is looking for someone better in the since of being a gold digger, I don't think she is seeking higher prospects in that regard, but as she tells Mrs Touchett she does not love Warburton. I do think she wants something more than just someone agreeable whom she could settle down with. As well I do think she does not quite know what she wants yet. I beleive she truly is not yet ready to marry and she does want to live life more before she is tied down in such a way. She knows once she married, however much her husband might love her, and however liberal he may be, she will not have the same liberty and freedom. While Mrs. Touchett did choose to have both worlds to speak a marriage and her independence from her husband, I don't think that is what Isabel quite wants for herself.


message 8: by Rachel (new)

Rachel (thedoctorscompanion) Is anyone else as annoyed by Henrietta as I am? She is coming off as extremely condescending and know it all, and is, I think, giving American women of her day a bad name. And poor Ralph, after she was through talking with him, and he thought she had proposed! lol Ralph is so witty and comical, he is definitely my favorite character in this novel. I am dying to see him and Isabel together. As of now, I don't see why Henrietta has to be in the book. maybe I missed something, and someone please point it out if I did, but she doesn't seem to be adding much to the novel. She is only having long talks about things similar to conversations that Isabel had, though Henrietta is much more aggressive. Maybe her character will develop more later, and she will become a character of importance, instead of just an annoyance.


message 9: by Silver (new)

Silver In one of my notes for the book it said that imagery relating to battle, fighting and hunting occur commonly throughout the book, and upon reflection I find that is quite true.

Even the name Archer is an allusion to the Goddess of the Hunt, and the word Archer itself means quite literally someone who shoots a bow and arrow.

What do you think the significance of this is? What is James trying to say about the book and its characters? And does this in any way play into ideas about the independence of women which is a predominant theme within the book?


message 10: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Rachel wrote: "Is anyone else as annoyed by Henrietta as I am? She is coming off as extremely condescending and know it all, and is, I think, giving American women of her day a bad name. And poor Ralph, after she..."

I think as the plot develops, we may have more clues as to how all these characters fit together. I keep asking myself the same things about the women characters. At this point, I feel that James is giving us different degrees of a similar type. All these women have a hardness about them in some way. And narrowness. And the ideas and the actuality of "society" will be important to them in some way. So maybe his "portrait" of a lady was unique at the time because this type of look at this type of women had never been done so slowly and so studied.

He is also trying to examine these views of U.S. vs. Europe, but I am not sure that I see all that as effective. The views ALL seem provincial and contrived to me, but maybe that was his point. So supposedly Henrietta is a journalist there to draw out the big people of Europe (or however she says it) and create these sketches about them for her paper.

I will be offline until tomorrow, but hope to join back in afterward!


message 11: by BohoAutumn (new)

BohoAutumn I must be in the minority in liking Henrietta. lol

For me, there's nothing worse than a novel of all likeable characters. And ones that are annoying tell us a lot more than we may realise.

I think she's a wonderful depiction of how desperately some women were fighting to be independent, to make their own way, and to not be confined by social niceties. A true feminist of her time!

Of course, she is filled with her own unique prejudices and narrow-mindedness, but it stems from a sense of patriotism, which in turn is grounded in the 'modern' world. James is using her to represent that world. She symbolises modernity, the new woman, the pioneering spirit, and democracy. She needs to be fierce and a pain in the butt. :)


message 12: by Rachel (new)

Rachel (thedoctorscompanion) I don't think feminists need to be fierce and a pain in the butt. Passionate, yes, but there is no call to be condescending. She is coming across extremely snotty and know it all, and she just seems to be looking for something to argue about. People like that annoy me. It's fine to disagree, but she is looking to disagree with a magnifying glass.

I definitely agree with the need for a range of characters though, with good and bad. I hate novels where no one is down to earth, and that includes having flaws! I guess she is a good depiction of feminists of her time, I have read/watched other stories of women like her. I hadn't thought of it that way.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) No, Mon, I do not feel you are in the minority.I do like Henrietta for all the reasons you have mentioned. I enjoy her outspokenness so in opposition to the "Victorian" sense of what is considered a lady. She says what she thinks, perhaps not always in the most delicate manner, but she does get things clear without the sometimes hemming and hawing that often went on.

Henrietta is certainly not a shrinking violet type and I do admire her for her honesty and the way she says what is on her mind.


message 14: by BohoAutumn (new)

BohoAutumn Rachel wrote: "I don't think feminists need to be fierce and a pain in the butt."

Oh I agree there!

Her fierceness comes from much more than feminism. Consider her as a symbol of the new world and it's easier to accept her as a pain.

Also, she's nothing but honest and has integrity. She's prejudiced and blunt, but never ill-meaning.

Marialyce, yes! She's a powerful and neat contrast to the impeccable and stuffy propriety of the times.

I think it's possible to admire Henrietta against Madame Merle's polished character, especially towards the end.

Rachel, would love to hear your thoughts on H when you finish the novel (assuming you haven't).


message 15: by Bill (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 47 comments Not all of us have read the novel, so the slightest hints can be spoilers of a sort. It is hard not to do this; I do it myself sometimes, but am trying to get better.

I'm in the 'I like Henrietta camp'. Because I like direct people. The conversation between her and Warburton at dinner, (as are all the conversations in this novel,) was fun, interesting, and informative as to the characters.

Warburton kept his English character (as its portrayed by James through Ralph), an Englishman is never so natural as when he is holding his tongue, and Henrietta displays her direct, up front, American (as portrayed by James) character. I can understand why people see her as rude though. Isn't it her obligation, as a guest in England, to be sensitive to their cultural mores?

On the other hand, Warburtion is an educated and traveled man, and to the degree he is such, his provincialism in any particular situation is a choice, so wasn't he a little rude in refusing to engage Henrietta on her own terms?


message 16: by Silver (new)

Silver The biggest problem with Henrietta for me is that one of my biggest pet peeves and one of the things which I cannot stand the most, is people whom think they have the right to force thier beliefs upon others or have that patronizing attitude that they know what is better for someone else than the person themselves.

It is grating the way in which she tries to particularly for Isabel to marry Goodwood and is so condescending towards Isabel in thinking that Isabel simply dosen't know for her own good what she should do, but of course Henrietta on the other hand knows exactly what is in Isabel's best interest.

For an allegedly independent woman or "modern woman" she does not accept the fact that Isabel may in fact have her own thoughts, and her own ideas, and she does not respect Isabel's independence. A woman like Harriet should support another woman deciding she does not want to be bundled up into marriage.

After all I do not see Harriette rushing off to the altar, becasue I think that might interfere a bit with her journalistic career.


message 17: by Bill (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 47 comments This is probably the first romance novel I've ever read.

Anyway, This is shaping up to be a story about a young woman with several great choices in men and who will it be that she chooses? At this point, I think I'd prefer to be Goodwood's position(this name makes me laugh), and not just because she's turned down Warburton. I think the novel certainly leaves open the possibility that Warburton has a chance still. Does anyone disagree with that?

Anyway its clearly stated that she doesn't see herself any more in the 'positive possession' of Goodwood then she does Warburton. She likes Warburtion immensely, but she's already begun to give his Lordship the 'benefit' of the epithet poor Lord Warburton. Ouch! Poor Lord Warburton indeed!

On the other hand, though she clearly doesn't like Goodwood as much as Warburton she'll never give him the epithet of "Poor Goodwood", she admires him, admiring his leadership among men, while fearing him in the sense that she's afraid he's inescapable fate. Goodwood is clearly in the better position here. But I'm at a disadvantage in guessing these things cause I'm a dude.


message 18: by Bill (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 47 comments Silver wrote: "The biggest problem with Henrietta for me is that one of my biggest pet peeves and one of the things which I cannot stand the most, is people whom think they have the right to force thier beliefs u..."

You definitely have a point there. I don't see how anyone's going to successfully argue with that.


message 19: by Silver (new)

Silver I do not think that she ever will marry Lord Warburton whatever happens. I beleive she sincerely likes him as a friend but I don't think she will ever develop a romantic attachment to him.

I agree that in spite of what she says there is the feeling that she is not altogether done with Goodwood and that he does hold a place in her admiration and still might potentially stand the chance of being her choice, once she has had more time with herself, more time to experince life, and decide what she really wants.

After all Lord Warburton she told in no uncertain terms that he did not stand a chance, but in a way she is still stringing Goodwood along (and I don't mean that in a cruel way) but that she does tell him to wait two more years, which indicates that she may yet decide to marry him.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Oh I do think we should not write off Lord Warburton off yet, Bill. I can't help but think again that this is an American/English sort of rivalry. Americans has been well known for our brashness and saying what we think, that I believe Henrietta is this Americanized (often referred to in the past as the ugly American) version of what Europeans often expected us to be.

I know Henrietta is bossy, opinionated and grating at times, but one certainly knows where they stand with Henrietta. The other characters hide often behind the niceties of society. Look at poor Molly's inability to tell her step mother to stop directing her (Molly's) life. She thinks what she wants, whereas Henrietta says exactly what she thinks.


message 21: by Bill (last edited Mar 10, 2011 02:09PM) (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 47 comments Silver wrote: "Goodwood and that he does hold a place in her admiration and still might potentially stand the chance of being her choice, once she has had more time with herself, more time to experince life, and decide what she really wants...."

I'd think the exact opposite. The more she experiences life and the wiser she gets, the better chance Lord Warburton will have.

In a way, Mrs.T. is Warburton's natural ally, the longer she can keep Isabel busy experiencing the world (so her youthful self doesn't commit her to a 'fate' she may regret), the greater the chance Isabel will come to see the true worth and superiority of a man like Warburton.

I know I've just made somewhat of a prediction of the direction of the novel here. I hope this is ok to make predictions--I'm somewhat new to book groups--if its not ok, please let me know, moderators. And before anyone asks if I've read the novel, as may be tempted if I've shown some prescience here, I have not read the novel.


message 22: by Silver (new)

Silver Of course we cannot forget about Ralph. The very fact that he has not proposed to Isabel, and does not force himself upon her as the others do, but has more respect for her boundaries, and her need for independence, may make him a more appealing choice and they may have more in common on an intellectual level.


message 23: by Bill (last edited Mar 10, 2011 02:13PM) (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 47 comments Silver wrote: "Of course we cannot forget about Ralph. The very fact that he has not proposed to Isabel, and does not force himself upon her as the others do, but has more respect for her boundaries, and her need..."

I was thinking the same thing. However, while they may have more in common on an intellectual level, Ralph is more of a laid back, ironic, type person. So much so that people have a hard time telling if he's serious or not--even to the point that it becomes a problem in communication. Isabel is not ironic at all, and seems the type of person who'd find irony irritable. She'll grow out of it of course, as everyone does.


message 24: by Silver (new)

Silver Bill wrote: "I know I've just made somewhat of a prediction of the direction of the novel here. I hope this is ok to make predictions--.."

Yes making predictions is fine. It is perfectly ok to state what we think might happen, as long as we do not already know in advance that it does happen.


message 25: by Rachel (new)

Rachel (thedoctorscompanion) Silver- my thoughts on Henrietta exactly! She is very bossy to Isabel, and does try to force her opinions on other people.

Mon- yes, I guess thinking of her as a symbol does make it easier to accept her. Someone mentioned somewhere here that James used a lot of symbols and imagery, so maybe that was exactly what he did with her. I just wish he hadn't used a radical to do it! lol You also said she wasn't ill-meaning, and maybe she isn't, but I can't justify the way she treats Isabel. However, she does remind of someone who loves so deeply it that it hurts someone else. Does that sound right, or am I off base there? I haven't finished the novel, so I will let you know when I do and what I think of Henrietta then!


And speaking of Ralph, I have a feeling he will marry Isabel. I have not finished it, so this is just a guess, but I think the way James portrays the male characters, Ralph is the one we are suppose to feel the most sympathetic too. And he is so likable with his charm and humor! We know Ralph likes Isabel, and I won't be at all disappointed if she falls for him.


message 26: by Silver (new)

Silver However, she does remind of someone who loves so deeply it that it hurts someone else. Does that sound right, or am I off base there? I..."

It may be that part of Harriet's insistence towards Isabel about marrying Goodwood, and her bossy, condescending attitude may be driven from the fact that she is afraid of loosing her friend. In seeing the changes occurring within Isabel perhaps she only wishes to try and bring the old Isabel back becasue she is afraid that Isabel might get swept up in Europe and perhaps run off with some Englishman, and thus completely forget about her old life. Maybe she is just trying to cling too tightly to her friend or maybe she is worried that Isabel might get hurt if she or fall victim to the wrong sort of man while she knows that Goodwood would do right by Isabel.


message 27: by Rachel (last edited Mar 10, 2011 03:58PM) (new)

Rachel (thedoctorscompanion) Yes, that is exactly what I was talking about, I just wasn't sure how to explain it right. I feel like Harriet truly loves Isabel, and wants what is right for her. But still, she doesn't have the right to tell her whom to marry. People can give advice, but an individual needs to make their own choices and learn to live with the consequences, whether good or bad.

Or it may be that Isabel is just controlling. And I definitely think she is, but in Isabel's case, I am more inclined to believe Harriet really does want the best for Isabel, she just is expressing it wrong.


message 28: by BohoAutumn (new)

BohoAutumn Silver wrote: "The biggest problem with Henrietta for me is that one of my biggest pet peeves and one of the things which I cannot stand the most, is people whom think they have the right to force thier beliefs u..."

Oh yes, she's definitely arrogantly pushy. Fortunately, it's a trait that can be ignored. They're simply opinions. Lord Warburton handles her beautifully I think.

Rachel "However, she does remind of someone who loves so deeply it that it hurts someone else."

I would agree. I don't think James is suggesting anything less at this point, although at this stage we are left wondering at her full motivations.
But yes, her arrogance comes with good intentions for her friend.

Bill - "I think the novel certainly leaves open the possibility that Warburton has a chance still. Does anyone disagree with that?"

Yes, in fact, James leaves a lot open. Despite Isabel's refusals, you can see that something could change with any of them, including with Ralph.
For me, that actually comes across mostly by Isabel's notions of independence. Do they seem a little vague?


message 29: by Silver (new)

Silver Mon wrote: For me, that actually comes across mostly by Isabel's notions of independence. Do they seem a little vague? "

I think seem vague because Isabel herself hasn't figured out just what she wants to do with her life, or what she herself means. Which I think is one of the reasons why she doesn't simply want to marry the first person, or first few people that happen to propose to her. Unlike the typical woman of the day whose end goal would be to secure a marriage, she does not want to be bound in marriage before seeing what else life has to offer. At the same time I do not think she does at this point have a clear idea just what she truly wants to do with her life.


message 30: by Bill (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 47 comments Silver wrote: "At the same time I do not think she does at this point have a clear idea just what she truly wants to do with her life. ."

Which may be why Henrietta, who does know and is doing what she wants with her life, is so concerned about her being easily influenced.


message 31: by Scott (new)

Scott (Karlstadt) | 123 comments Mon wrote: "I must be in the minority in liking Henrietta. lol

For me, there's nothing worse than a novel of all likeable characters. And ones that are annoying tell us a lot more than we may realise.

I thin..."



message 32: by Scott (new)

Scott (Karlstadt) | 123 comments I like Henrietta as a character. The social role of journalist allows her a great deal of freedom. However, 'journalist' is a socially-defined role. Henrietta does a good job of setting her own path, but she has to 'play the part', by keeping a certain distance from the subjects of her columns. And I think that her conversation with Isabel about her duty to marry shows that Henrietta has a preconceived notion of how Isabel's story will turn out.


message 33: by Rachel (new)

Rachel (thedoctorscompanion) BohoMon wrote: "Rachel wrote: "I don't think feminists need to be fierce and a pain in the butt."

Oh I agree there!..."


Sorry this is so late. I finished the book really late (I didn't like it that much) and then I remembered you wanted to hear what I thought about Henrietta when I finished the novel.

My view of her is more positive now that I have finished the novel. You know how I feel about her in the beginning of the book, and as that is still the same, I won't go into that again. But in the end of the book, I really REALLY liked how she put aside her initial dislike (or maybe annoyance) of Ralph and traveled with him for Isabelle's sake. That's what a true friend does, she does something for someone else even though she doesn't like it. And I thought her relationship with the guy she married was nice, and how her opinions stayed the same but she was still able to get married to a man anyway.

So to sum it up I didn't like her at all in the beginning because of her controlling and hypocritical ways, but I admired what she did for Isabelle at the end.


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