The Portrait of a Lady

by

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady:  Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mrs. Touchett had pre-organized her exact dates in Paris. She advises Isabel that her niece is now a wealthy woman and as such is under no obligation to accompany her aunt to her next stop, Italy. However, she suggests that Isabel continue to stay with her as family. Isabel agrees with her aunt’s logic and joins her in Florence. On the way, they visit Ralph in San Remo.
Isabel’s European travels are now well underway. Despite her newfound liberty experienced through her inheritance, Isabel makes an unexpectedly wise decision to continue traveling with her respectable aunt rather than explore Europe solo or with friends. For now, Isabel’s money is safe from exploitation.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
When Isabel asks Ralph if he encouraged his father to leave Isabel an inheritance for his own entertainment, he replies seriously that he believes the money will allow Isabel to live with the freedom she so desires. He advises her not to worry about the ethics of the gift, instead making use of her fortune to develop her character through travel and life’s other opportunities that may arise.
Isabel learns that it was Ralph who engineered her new wealth in order to ensure Isabel could always retain her independence through financial freedom.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Isabel accepts Ralph’s advice and begins to look more favorably on her fortune, admitting that it does allow her to enjoy more independence than before. Spending some time with the Touchetts, she reflects on her life, her existence, and the promise of the future. She begins to cultivate ambitious dreams, losing herself in “a maze of visions” and imagining that her wealth gives her increased status and even a kind of increased beauty.
Isabel demonstrates her lack of maturity and education in regard to managing wealth. Instead of considering real world priorities, she loses herself in vain and self-important daydreams.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
At times, though, Isabel finds herself thinking back to her two suitors, Caspar Goodwood and Lord Warburton. She flatters and comforts herself of their true admiration for her character. She also acknowledges that when Goodwood visits her in a year and a half as he has promised, she may find herself attracted to his qualities that currently deter her from marrying him. If so, “she might herself know the humiliation of change” by entering a peaceful union with the American businessman.
Isabel demonstrates another about-turn in character by suddenly opening herself up to the possibility of marriage with one of her two previously rejected suitors. The “humiliation of change” refers to the possibility of Isabel having to concede to someone else, rather than always acting on her desires as has so far occurred in the novel.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
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