The Portrait of a Lady

by

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 14 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Isabel successfully puts off off the London visit until Lord Warburton comes to visit at Gardencourt. He brings one of his sisters to lunch and refrains from speaking or looking at Isabel during the meal, although he is as good-humored as ever in his conversation with the rest of the group.
Unlike Caspar Goodwood’s undeterred pursuit of Isabel despite her rejection, Lord Warburton is embarrassed by her refusal and hides behind the safety of his sister’s company.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
Henrietta, seated beside Lord Warburton for the meal, informs him that she does not appreciate him, as she doesn’t “approve of lords as an institution.” She believes “the world has got beyond them—far beyond.” Warburton is not offended, indeed agreeing that he doesn’t approve of himself or noblemen either. He jokingly replies to her many questions and jabs that aristocrats are no longer “splendid” as Henrietta had hoped but are mostly “very ugly men.” At Henrietta’s challenge that he should “give it up,” he is at first surprised but then agrees that he will mark the occasion with a ceremonial “supper and a dance.” He then feeds Henrietta false information about English dress customs as a lark, for her questions and comments are inconsiderate to the point of rudeness.
Henrietta’s comments indicate the change occurring in America and Europe in a bid for liberal reform. Readers can both approve of Henrietta’s modern outlook and condemn her tactlessness, while appreciating Lord Warburton’s self-deprecation, although he perhaps goes too far in ridiculing Henrietta.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
After lunch, Lord Warburton invites Isabel to Gardencourt’s gallery to look at the art. She knows this is a pretext, as he has seen them already many times. Lord Warburton is confused that Isabel has written that she likes his good character, yet will not marry him. She denies his following questions as to whether she prefers another man, or if his political beliefs are the issue. Isabel admits that marrying the lord would offer many opportunities, but she does not one to “give up” her personal freedoms in experiencing the full range of emotions and experiences that life can offer her. Warburton tries to argue she can still have those opportunities with him, but Isabel is not convinced.
Once again, Lord Warburton tries to make sense of Isabel’s puzzling behavior in rejecting his marriage proposal. She makes it very clear that she values her independence over the security that marriage would offer.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Ralph, Henrietta, and Miss Molyneux enter the gallery. Henrietta accuses Miss Molyneux of being too meek and obedient in temperament, prioritizing Lord Warburton’s needs rather than her own; Miss Molyneux is quite taken aback at this accusation, engaging Ralph in polite conversation in the hopes that Henrietta will not speak to her again.
The brash Henrietta offends another of her English hosts. While Isabel has previously gently probed at the Molyneux sister’s obedience to their brother, Henrietta openly criticizes the intensely patriarchal relationship between Miss Molyneuz and her brother.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
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Henrietta then wrongly accuses Lord Warburton of having been on his guard throughout lunch because Isabel has warned him of Henrietta’s desire to write about the English upper class. The aristocrat is quite bewildered. Henrietta goes further in suggesting that the nobleman, his sister, and Ralph are all terrible subjects to write about in her newspaper column due to their “dismal” personalities. Lord Warburton and Miss Molyneux take their leave of the group after Warburton learns that Isabel is going to travel to London and will then be visiting Paris with Mrs. Touchett.
Henrietta makes further tactless and inaccurate accusations about her English acquaintances. She gives them no artistic merit as subjects for her newspaper column, which reveals her lack of sophistication and taste.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
Isabel withdraws to her rooms, where her aunt stops by before dinner. Mrs. Touchett reveals that her husband has told her about Isabel’s rejection of Lord Warburton’s marriage proposal. She believes Isabel to be quite satisfied with herself, having refused the nobleman with the intention of marrying even more highly than Warburton. Isabel smiles at her aunt’s inaccuracy.
Mrs. Touchett, usually a great judge of character, has not realized that Isabel prioritized personal freedom over Lord Warburton’s marriage proposal. This is because Isabel’s attitude is so unconventional—society expects her to jump at the chance for such an advantageous marriage.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon