The Portrait of a Lady

by

Henry James

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Ralph Touchett Character Analysis

Ralph Touchett is Isabel Archer’s cousin and Mr. Touchett and Mrs. Touchett’s son. He was born in America but since infancy has lived in England at the Touchett family home, Gardencourt. He embodies many European Old World qualities, for he is sophisticated, intelligent, and courteous; these are likely the reasons he has a firm friendship with the similarly disposed Lord Warburton who lives near Gardencourt. Differing from Warburton, though, Ralph acts as a moral compass throughout the novel; he is also humorous and self-deprecating in nature, likely a result of living with chronic consumption (tuberculosis). Isabel’s arrival sparks in Ralph a zest and passion for life after many mundane yet comfortable years at Gardencourt. He is fascinated by her ideas and gains great pleasure in observing her reactions to various experiences. When Mr. Touchett’s health seriously declines, Ralph is instrumental in persuading his father to leave Isabel a significant portion of the family’s wealth. Ralph believes that this legacy will secure Isabel’s future independence; she will not have to marry in order to rely on a man to provide for her livelihood. Ralph’s actions demonstrate his generosity, for it means his own portion of his father’s will is significantly reduced. It is also evidence of the great admiration and love he has for his cousin Isabel; the narrative suggests that this love extends beyond platonic feelings, although Isabel is unaware of this for most of the novel. However, Ralph’s generous wish for Isabel to come into wealth is also due to his selfish desire to view her subsequent actions as a type of experiment—he is intrigued what course she will take without financial limitations and, like many men in the novel, views her as a work of art rather than a real person. Ralph’s illness eventually claims his life near the novel’s ending, with Isabel crushed by the loss of her dear friend.

Ralph Touchett Quotes in The Portrait of a Lady

The The Portrait of a Lady quotes below are all either spoken by Ralph Touchett or refer to Ralph Touchett. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Oxford edition of The Portrait of a Lady published in 2009.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.

Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

“Oh no; she has not adopted me. I’m not a candidate for adoption.”

“I beg a thousand pardons,” Ralph murmured. “I meant—I meant—“ he hardly knew what he meant.

“You meant she has taken me up. Yes; she likes to take people up. She has been very kind to me; but,” she added with a certain visible eagerness of desire to be explicit, “I’m very fond of my liberty.”

Related Characters: Isabel Archer (speaker), Ralph Touchett (speaker), Mrs. Touchett
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

“I like the great country stretching away beyond the rivers and across the prairies, blooming and smiling, and spreading till it stops at the green Pacific! A strong, sweet, fresh odour seems to rise from it, and Henrietta—pardon my simile—has something of that odour in her garments.”

[…]

“I’m not sure the Pacific’s so green as that,” he said; “but you’re a young woman of imagination. Henrietta, however, does smell of the Future—it almost knocks one down!”

Related Characters: Isabel Archer (speaker), Ralph Touchett (speaker), Caspar Goodwood, Henrietta Stackpole
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 33 Quotes

Ralph was shocked and humiliated; his calculations had been false and the person in the world in whom he was most interested was lost. He drifted about the house like a rudderless vessel in a rocky stream, or sat in the garden of the palace on a great cane chair, his long legs extended, his head thrown back and his hat pulled over his eyes. He felt cold about the heart; he had never liked anything less. What could he do, what could he say? If the girl was irreclaimable could he pretend to like it? To attempt to reclaim her was permissible only if the attempt should succeed. To try to persuade her of anything sordid or sinister in the man to whose deep art she had succumbed would be decently discreet only in the event of her being persuaded.

Page Number: 337-338
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 34 Quotes

“Pray, would you wish me to make a mercenary marriage—what they call a marriage of ambition? I’ve only one ambition—to be free to follow out a good feeling. I had others once, but they’ve passed away. Do you complain of Mr Osmond because he’s not rich? That’s just what I like him for. I’ve fortunately money enough; I’ve never felt so thankful for it as to-day. There have been moments when I should like to go and kneel down by your father’s grave: he did perhaps a better thing than he knew when he put it into my power to marry a poor man—a man who has born his poverty with such dignity, with such indifference. […] Mr. Osmond makes no mistakes! He knows everything, he understands everything, he has the kindest, gentlest, highest spirit.”

Related Characters: Isabel Archer (speaker), Ralph Touchett, Gilbert Osmond
Page Number: 345
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Portrait of a Lady PDF

Ralph Touchett Character Timeline in The Portrait of a Lady

The timeline below shows where the character Ralph Touchett appears in The Portrait of a Lady. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
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...men interrupt Mr. Touchett’s contemplation to engage him in conversation. One is Mr. Touchett’s son, Ralph, who has a “witty, charming face” despite being sickly from long-term consumption. The other is... (full context)
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...Gardencourt soon. There is also banter about the differences in American and English cultures, with Ralph laughingly commenting on his father’s inability to practice English courtesy despite his thirty years residing... (full context)
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The three gentlemen discuss the details surrounding Ralph’s cousin Isabel’s surprising visit. Mrs. Touchett, who has spent the winter living in the United... (full context)
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Despite Lord Warburton’s questioning Mr. Touchett further about his soon-to-visit niece, Mr. Touchett and Ralph can offer no further details about Isabel; they are as much in the dark as... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Ralph wanders away as Mr. Touchett and Lord Warburton talk further. He is unaware that a... (full context)
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Isabel informs Ralph that his mother, Mrs. Touchett, has retired immediately to her rooms upon arrival, and would... (full context)
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...men are altogether thrilled to meet such an energetic and engaging young woman. So is Ralph’s collie dog, which he jokingly offers to give to Isabel. The cousins laughingly agree to... (full context)
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Mr. Touchett then moves away with Isabel, leaving Lord Warburton to tell Ralph that Isabel is exactly the type of “interesting woman” that the nobleman has been waiting... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Returning to the present, Ralph eagerly goes to meet his mother, Mrs. Touchett, at 7 P.M. as instructed. Mrs. Touchett... (full context)
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Ralph tends to be motherly in nature and takes after Mr. Touchett in this temperament. Mr.... (full context)
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Ralph is an amalgamation of his blended American and English upbringing. After earning a degree at... (full context)
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Ralph discusses his cousin Isabel with Mrs. Touchett, who admires her niece—particularly her independence—but also recognizes... (full context)
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After a family dinner, Isabel asks Ralph to show her his art collection that he has personally curated at Gardencourt. He suggests... (full context)
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Isabel then surprises Ralph by asking whether there are any ghosts at Gardencourt, due to the estate’s age. He... (full context)
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Isabel reveals to Ralph that she enjoyed meeting Mr. Touchett and Lord Warburton. She also likes Mrs. Touchett, particularly... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...Gardencourt is a quiet estate due to Mrs. Touchett’s isolating tendencies, and Mr. Touchett and Ralph’s ill health. (full context)
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Isabel also spends more time with Ralph, finding her cousin to be very amusing and witty. Ralph adores Isabel, even if he... (full context)
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...company, Isabel is shocked when Mrs. Touchett forbids her from sitting alone with Warburton and Ralph after dinner. Mrs. Touchett explains that it is not proper for a woman to behave... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Isabel later tells Ralph that she likes Lord Warburton, and Ralph agrees that he greatly likes him too. He... (full context)
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Isabel is confused by Ralph’s judgments of Lord Warburton, and therefore also speaks to Mr. Touchett. Isabel’s uncle instructs her... (full context)
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...actioning the changes they discuss. At Isabel’s questioning, her uncle reveals that he agrees with Ralph in pitying Lord Warburton for his hollow ideals. (full context)
Chapter 10
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...do not live the extraordinary European lifestyle that American readers wish to learn about. When Ralph asks Isabel what the journalist will think of him, she replies that Henrietta does not... (full context)
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Henrietta makes her way to Gardencourt to see Isabel. Ralph and Henrietta develop a combative friendship; when the journalist first arrives, she brazenly asks if... (full context)
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Henrietta challenges Ralph about his idle life at Gardencourt, believing that he should be investing himself in a... (full context)
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Isabel tells Ralph that Henrietta believes that the English treat women poorly. Isabel also attributes many of Henrietta’s... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Ralph resolves to get along better with Henrietta, but she tends to treat even his compliments... (full context)
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...state of waiting to hear from Goodwood. One day, she is in the garden with Ralph’s dog when a servant interrupts to hand her a letter. It is from Goodwood; the... (full context)
Chapter 13
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While Isabel is occupied with the letter to Lord Warburton, Henrietta Stackpole gets Ralph to walk in the garden with her. She charges him with inviting Goodwood to visit... (full context)
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Two days after writing an invitation to Caspar Goodwood, Ralph receives a response in which Goodwood thanks him but regrettably replies he cannot make a... (full context)
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...connect there. Isabel is keen to experience more of England, agreeing to visit London, and Ralph decides that he will join the two women on their trip. Isabel has also received... (full context)
Chapter 14
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Ralph, Henrietta, and Miss Molyneux enter the gallery. Henrietta accuses Miss Molyneux of being too meek... (full context)
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...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”... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...proposal if Isabel does not love him. Isabel departs Gardencourt for London with Henrietta and Ralph. The women stay at a comfortable inn while Ralph prefers his father’s house in Winchester... (full context)
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...time in London, Henrietta desires to see “some of the leading minds of the present.” Ralph therefore invites his old bachelor friend, Mr. Bantling, to dine with them at Winchester Square.... (full context)
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Ralph and Isabel are left sitting together at Winchester House. Ralph thinks that Henrietta and Mr.... (full context)
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Ralph suggests he dine with his cousin, but Isabel wants to return to the inn on... (full context)
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Ralph hesitantly tells his cousin that he knows about Lord Warburton’s marriage proposal, asking why Isabel... (full context)
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When Isabel deems it time to return to the inn, Ralph offers to find her a cab and to accompany her to the inn. She allows... (full context)
Chapter 16
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Isabel is also shocked when Goodwood reveals that, at Henrietta’s urging, Ralph previously invited him to visit Gardencourt. Isabel is appalled when she considers the awkward possibility... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Shortly after, Ralph visits Isabel with some unhappy news. Mrs. Touchett has sent a telegram that states Mr.... (full context)
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Ralph returns to see Isabel later the same day. He has successfully met with Sir Matthew... (full context)
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Ralph blushes at the revelation of Isabel’s visitor, but chides himself, feeling that he has no... (full context)
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Henrietta tells Ralph that she has no intention of letting Goodwood “give up” on Isabel, as she believes... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Isabel and Ralph have arrived at Gardencourt to be with the ailing Mr. Touchett. Isabel finds an unknown... (full context)
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Isabel goes to ask her cousin about Madame Merle, with Ralph revealing that he was at one time in love with the older woman, although her... (full context)
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Ralph’s attention shifts back to his father’s poor condition. Despite the local doctor and Sir Matthew... (full context)
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The following day, Mr. Touchett wakes for a while, and it is Ralph who is on watch beside him. Mr. Touchett knows his time is near and tells... (full context)
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Ralph alludes to a previous conversation the two men have held about Ralph needing very little... (full context)
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Mr. Touchett carries on, asking Ralph what he thinks of Isabel. After jerking in surprise, Ralph laughs at Mr. Touchett’s hint... (full context)
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Ralph would, however, like to support Isabel in her life desires. Mr. Touchett, who has also... (full context)
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...some 60,000 pounds would tie Isabel to the risk of social predators targeting her money. Ralph believes this potential danger is a small price to pay for his cousin’s secured independence. (full context)
Chapter 19
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Throughout this period, a bout of bad weather confines the sickly Ralph to his rooms. One day he watches Isabel and Madame Merle walk through the rain... (full context)
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...feels that Americans are treated unjustly in European society and cannot live naturally. She offers Ralph as an example, suggesting that he is simply “idle,” although not as idle as her... (full context)
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...Gardencourt when Mr. Touchett is so unwell. She finds it hard to offer comfort to Ralph in particular, for she believes Ralph doesn’t like her and feels injured by his disfavor.... (full context)
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Isabel finds herself quite lonely after Madame Merle’s departure from Gardencourt, seeing Mrs. Touchett and Ralph only at meals. Mrs. Touchett tells Isabel that the timing of her invitation to her... (full context)
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...week after Madame Merle’s departure from Gardencourt, Isabel sits reading distractedly in the library when Ralph enters the room and informs her that Mr. Touchett has died. She exclaims in anguish... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Mrs. Touchett also reveals that Ralph has been left a generous inheritance, although not as much as she expected. In an... (full context)
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When Madame Merle enquires about Ralph’s reaction to Isabel’s newfound fortune, Mrs. Touchett explains that her poorly son left England for... (full context)
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...everything around her. She finds Edward Rosier to be even more Europeanized than the unfortunate Ralph Touchett and lectures Rosier “on the duties of the American citizen.” (full context)
 Chapter 21
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...agrees with her aunt’s logic and joins her in Florence. On the way, they visit Ralph in San Remo. (full context)
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When Isabel asks Ralph if he encouraged his father to leave Isabel an inheritance for his own entertainment, he... (full context)
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Isabel accepts Ralph’s advice and begins to look more favorably on her fortune, admitting that it does allow... (full context)
Chapter 22
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...Madame Merle whether Isabel is wealthy. He then agrees to meet Isabel, as long as Ralph Touchett won’t bother him, for Osmond considers Ralph “a good deal of a donkey.” Merle... (full context)
Chapter 23
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Isabel asks Ralph what he knows about Gilbert Osmond. Ralph can only say that he is a mysterious... (full context)
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Ralph goes on to throw barbed insults about Madame Merle, and Isabel charges him with either... (full context)
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Ralph imagines that the friendship between Isabel and Madame Merle will not be long-lasting. He does... (full context)
Chapter 24
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...happily share personal truths with Isabel having only just met her. Isabel compares Osmond to Ralph, noting their similar personal qualities, but decides that Osmond is more at ease in his... (full context)
Chapter 26
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...just two weeks, which is a great many times more than his usual annual visit. Ralph discerns that Isabel is the reason. (full context)
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...in Isabel. She wonders if his attentions would remain once he had spent her fortune. Ralph assures his mother that Isabel is not foolish enough to marry Osmond, for she is... (full context)
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Henrietta Stackpole also visits Isabel again. She is currently traveling to Rome from Venice; Ralph suggests that he and Isabel join Henrietta and Mr. Bantling in their trip to Rome. (full context)
Chapter 27
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Isabel, Ralph, Henrietta, and Mr. Bantling are in Rome. Isabel eagerly takes in the city’s history and... (full context)
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Ralph, Henrietta, and Mr. Bantling join the three of them. When Henrietta first met Gilbert Osmond,... (full context)
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Ralph and Lord Warburton move away from the group, with the aristocrat curious as to whether... (full context)
Chapter 28
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...next day, Lord Warburton attends the opera because the hotel has informed him that Isabel, Ralph, Henrietta, Mr. Bantling, and Osmond will be there. At Ralph’s request, Warburton joins Isabel and... (full context)
Chapter 29
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Osmond makes for good company in Rome. Despite his apprehensions, even Ralph acknowledges that Gilbert Osmond is an entertaining and sociable companion to the group. (full context)
Chapter 30
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Returning to Florence with Ralph, Isabel tells Madame Merle of her intention to visit Pansy as per Osmond’s request. Merle... (full context)
Chapter 31
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...In April, Isabel goes back to Mrs. Touchett’s house in Florence. She hopes to meet Ralph there upon his expected return from Corfu. (full context)
Chapter 33
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Two days later, Ralph arrives to Florence. He does not mention his cousin’s engagement, despite Isabel knowing that he... (full context)
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Isabel grows impatient at Ralph’s lack of a response to her engagement to Osmond. She knows that he is likely... (full context)
Chapter 34
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One day, after returning from a meeting with Osmond, Isabel chances upon Ralph in the garden of his mother’s home. He appears to be sleeping; Isabel finds the... (full context)
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As Isabel approaches Ralph in the garden, he stirs and comments that was just thinking of her at that... (full context)
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Ralph does go on to speak his true feelings on the engagement. He trusts Isabel but... (full context)
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Ralph also reveals that he thought that Isabel would “marry a man of more importance.” All... (full context)
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Finally, Ralph accidentally admits that he has secretly always loved Isabel. Isabel is shocked and angry at... (full context)
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Ralph realizes that he cannot change Isabel’s mind. He believes that she has wrongly invested her... (full context)
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Isabel is firm in her conviction to marry Osmond. Ralph feels terrible for her situation but knows he is too late to do anything about... (full context)
Chapter 35
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...suitable husband. Isabel also tells herself that she does not care about Mrs. Touchett and Ralph’s strong objections to her engagement. In fact, she decides that she is even more adamant... (full context)
Chapter 38
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...During their conversation, Lord Warburton arrives to speak to Isabel. The nobleman tells her that Ralph has accompanied him to Rome, but is too tired to leave their hotel rooms. In... (full context)
Chapter 39
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The narrator shifts to the topic of Ralph and Isabel’s relationship, explaining that Ralph never spoke to Isabel about his objections to Gilbert... (full context)
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Upon meeting Isabel again after Lord Warburton’s entry to her Thursday evening party, Ralph realizes he should not have given up on Isabel’s friendship so easily. He “had played... (full context)
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Osmond has never considered Ralph as a threat. However, once when Ralph overstayed his welcome in Rome, Isabel’s husband protested.... (full context)
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Later, Ralph asks Lord Warburton how his relationship with Pansy is developing. Ralph wonders if the nobleman... (full context)
Chapter 40
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The narrator notes that Isabel and Pansy are rarely apart. One day, one month after Ralph and Lord Warburton have returned to Rome, Isabel and Pansy return to their home from... (full context)
Chapter 42
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...his wife for a week, likely because he is angry that Isabel has been visiting Ralph regularly. (full context)
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Isabel remembers fondly her recent visit to Ralph. Her cousin has become a pillar for her again, as she relies on his friendship... (full context)
Chapter 45
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Meanwhile, Isabel has continued to visit her unwell cousin, Ralph, at his hotel in Rome, despite Osmond’s displeasure in her actions. Isabel is concerned that... (full context)
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...her marriage to Osmond, but realizes this option as being “odious and monstrous.” Isabel asks Ralph if he believes that Lord Warburton is truly in love with Pansy. Ralph confirms that... (full context)
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In her despair, Isabel emotionally cries out “Ah, Ralph, you give me no help!”  Her cousin is both shocked and relieved by her acknowledgement... (full context)
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Ralph is concerned that if he and Isabel could convince Lord Warburton to stop pursuing Pansy’s... (full context)
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As they continue their discussion, Ralph is disappointed that Isabel’s mask has dropped back firmly into place. He offends Isabel in... (full context)
Chapter 46
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...Osmonds that he is departing for England, although he is sorry to have to leave Ralph. Osmond leaves the room, while Pansy enters to bid the nobleman goodbye. Lord Warburton advises... (full context)
Chapter 47
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Isabel asks Goodwood to visit Ralph at his hotel. The American businessman obliges her request, finding that Henrietta is also there... (full context)
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Isabel is pleased and rather proud that Goodwood now also regularly visits Ralph, believing she has been “clever” in making Goodwood an unassuming caretaker for Ralph who can... (full context)
Chapter 48
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Near the end of February, Ralph decides it is time for him to return to England. He knows that his death... (full context)
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When Isabel visits Ralph before his departure for England, she admits that she is sometimes afraid of herself, but... (full context)
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Isabel instructs Ralph to send for her if he desires her company at Gardencourt. Ralph is concerned that... (full context)
Chapter 51
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...week after this episode, Mrs. Touchett sends Isabel a telegram to let her know that Ralph is nearing his death and would like to see his cousin if possible. Isabel tells... (full context)
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Osmond claims that Isabel cares greatly for her cousin because Ralph does not give weight to her marriage with Osmond. Osmond contends that he, on the... (full context)
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...predicament. The Countess comforts Isabel somewhat. She also thinks of the consequence of Isabel mourning Ralph without having wished him a proper goodbye. (full context)
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...her leave of the Countess Gemini, the Countess asks if Isabel still plans to visit Ralph against Osmond’s will. With an air of “infinite sadness” Isabel reveals that she must. She... (full context)
Chapter 52
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...help of her maid, Isabel arranges to leave Rome for England to see her cousin Ralph on his deathbed. But before she departs for Gardencourt, she visits Pansy at the convent. (full context)
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...requests to speak with her again. After checking whether Isabel is fond of her cousin Ralph, Merle suggests that Isabel has Ralph to thank for her wealth and subsequent marriage. Madame... (full context)
Chapter 54
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...aged but is as sharp as ever. She explains that she has been sitting at Ralph’s bedside, or she would have come to Isabel earlier. Ralph’s condition is dire. Mrs. Touchett... (full context)
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Isabel visits Ralph in his room, where he lies for three days without speaking. On the third day,... (full context)
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Isabel tentatively asks Ralph if it is true that he is the reason she became a wealthy woman. Ralph... (full context)
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
Ralph reminds Isabel that if she has experienced hatred in her life so far, she has... (full context)
Chapter 55
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
...next morning, Isabel senses a ghostly spirit beside her bed. The incident reminds her of Ralph’s assertion upon their meeting that only those individuals who have suffered greatly can see ghosts... (full context)
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Isabel goes to visit Ralph in his room, pausing significantly before she opens his door. She finds Mrs. Touchett at... (full context)
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Three days later, mourners gather at a small church to pay their respects to Ralph. The funeral party includes Mrs. Touchett, Isabel, Henrietta Stackpole, Mr. Bantling, and Caspar Goodwood, with... (full context)
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
...return to Osmond and Pansy in Rome. During this time, Mrs. Touchett informs Isabel that Ralph has left her nothing in his will. The older woman is, however, quite confused by... (full context)
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
...that Isabel is unhappy in her marriage to Gilbert Osmond, as he had spoken with Ralph on the matter. Goodwood despises the vile Osmond, calling him “the deadliest of fiends,” but... (full context)