The Portrait of a Lady

by

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator goes into depth about Isabel’s character. In possession of a keen intellect and an extraordinarily active imagination, Isabel also has some flaws in that she believes in her own superiority of mind and tends to assume that she is always right. These traits have led Isabel to value her own independence, which she prioritizes greatly. Her greatest fear in life is that she might hurt someone else and she also hopes “that she should never do anything wrong.”
Isabel’s fear of hurting others demonstrates integrity and kindness, although her hope to refrain from doing “wrong” in life can likely be attributed to her arrogant desire to be superior to her peers. Isabel’s self-importance an be characterized as an American New World attitude.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
Related Quotes
In keeping with the fact that Isabel values her personal liberties, she considers her friend Henrietta Stackpole, an American journalist, a role model. Henrietta is a liberal and tough-minded career woman who is clever enough to provide financial support for herself and her three poor nieces through her writing for newspapers. She is evidence of Isabel’s desire to retain her independence alongside happiness.
Henrietta is the epitome of the American New World woman—she is self-assured in her pursuit of a career and her personal freedoms, ignoring convention. Isabel desires a similar lifestyle, but has taken no steps to embark on a career of any sorts. This financial vulnerability is perhaps one of the reasons that Henrietta wants Isabel to marry Caspar Goodwood, as evidenced later in the story.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Isabel forms an enjoyable friendship with her uncle, Mr. Touchett, spending time with him each day and asking him questions about England. He informs her of English society, particularly its customs and politics. Isabel muses aloud as to whether her uncle’s descriptions match those about English culture as found in books; Mr. Touchett replies that he does not know, as he prefers to learn about such matters from experiences. After Isabel comments on European novels treating girls unfairly, her uncle relates a story about how a novelist had inaccurately portrayed Mr. Touchett in a book after staying at Gardencourt to observe family life.
Isabel is eager to learn about European cultures. Her conversations with her uncle touch on female independence and on the inaccuracies of people’s portrayal in novels.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
Moving on to discuss English class structures, Mr. Touchett tells Isabel that it is helpful being an American in England, because Americans do not belong to any of the classes. Mr. Touchett has decided there are two main groups of people, those he trusts and those he does not. He states that Isabel falls into the former category. The conversation ends with Isabel remarking that she is surprised the English are so conventional; she prefers more “unexpectedness.” She believes that her own spontaneous character will not bode well with Europeans she meets during her travels, but her uncle assures Isabel that Europeans are actually quite “inconsistent,” and that she will have “great success” in her socializing and development.
Isabel believes English society will be boring. Mr. Touchett predicts that Isabel will actually find great success in England, and will be proven correct when she discovers friendship, romance, and wealth there. Once again, Isabel’s comments are surprisingly candid for a young woman of the time, but Mr. Touchett is an American character who is similarly forthright and appears not to notice his niece’s extraordinarily free-spoken thoughts.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
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