Lord Warburton’s sudden appearance shocks Isabel in the moment, but she has been expecting his arrival for some time, as he had alluded to a visit during their last meeting at Lockleigh. Isabel worries that he has come to Gardencourt with an intention of sorts regarding her. She fears this intention but is also curious to know exactly what he wants.
This scene again evidences Isabel’s fear of declarations of love—and of what she perceives as the accompanying personal intimacy and restrictions on personal freedom.
Lord Warburton seems almost embarrassed in manner as he walks alongside Isabel in the garden. He then declares that he has fallen in love with Isabel and wants to marry her, stating “I care only for you,” as he reveals he has loved her since the first hour that they met. He gives a short, impassioned speech and takes Isabel’s hand; she withdraws it lightly, responding “Ah, Lord Warburton, how little you know me!” Despite her being immensely attracted to Warburton’s personality and honored by his gracious declaration, she suggests that she cannot marry him.
Lord Warburton’s proposal is quite shocking for the time; Victorian nobility were usually reserved rather than passionate in manner, and it was quite scandalous for an English nobleman to propose marriage to an American woman with no social status or fortune.
Isabel tries to explain why she feels that she cannot accept Lord Warburton’s proposal. She rejects his suggestions that she wants to marry an American, or that Mr. Touchett objects to him, or that she cannot live permanently in the English countryside. Instead, she tells him that she is not sure that she desires to marry anyone at all. She also privately considers the unimaginative and routine lifestyle that the security a marriage with Warburton would afford her.
Lord Warburton is flummoxed by Isabel’s rejection and tries to understand her behavior. Ultimately he cannot comprehend her unconventional preference for personal independence over social and financial stability.
Isabel suggests to Lord Warburton that he could find a much better woman to marry, but he is adamant he loves Isabel, and so she puts him off by promising to consider his proposal and write to him soon. The nobleman accepts this compromise, nervously twitching his hunting crop and remarking that he is “afraid” of Isabel’s “remarkable mind.” He assures Isabel that they can change anything about Lockleigh that she does not like, before he kisses her hand and departs Gardencourt, visibly upset.
This is the first instance in the novel in which the reader sees that Lord Warburton is visibly upset through his countenance, conversation, and nervous mannerisms. As a nobleman, he is used to getting his way and is shocked by Isabel’s refusal of his affection.
Isabel remains in the garden, considering her conversation with Lord Warburton. She knows that a union with the nobleman would have many advantages despite some encroachment on her personal liberties. She is unsure why she feels she cannot marry Lord Warburton when “nineteen out of twenty women” would jump at the opportunity, on top of the fact that she genuinely likes him—a lot. As she retreats back into the house, she wonders if she is “not a cold, hard, priggish person” and is “really frightened at herself.”
Isabel acknowledges Lord Warburton’s appeal as a suitor but does not seem to understand the enormity of his status as a fine match for her in both love and social gain. The scene demonstrates Isabel’s flighty personality—she is first afraid of marriage’s constraints but now fearful of her cold rejection of Warburton.