The Portrait of a Lady Chapters 11-15 Summary and Analysis
by Henry James

The Portrait of a Lady book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download The Portrait of a Lady Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Chapters 11-15 Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Bob Bantling: Ralph’s bachelor friend from London

Mrs. Touchett tells Isabel that she does not like Henrietta and describes the American journalist as an “adventuress and a bore.” Later, Henrietta argues with Mrs. Touchett about the relative merits of American hotels and American servants; Isabel’s aunt finds both lacking when compared to those found in Europe. Henrietta bluntly tells Mrs. Touchett that she thinks her comments are offensive.

Henrietta tells Isabel that she and Caspar Goodwood sailed to England on the same ship. She encourages Isabel to renew her acquaintance with Caspar, but Isabel is unhappy that he has come to England. She dreads the thought of seeing Caspar again. Henrietta remarks that Isabel has changed since coming to England and is now full of “new ideas.” A few days later, Isabel receives a letter from Caspar, who is anxious to see her again and asks her for permission to visit.

As Isabel is reading Caspar’s letter, Lord Warburton arrives at Gardencourt. She tucks the letter away and strolls through the garden with Warburton, who confesses that he has come just to see her. Since meeting Isabel, only a short time ago, Warburton says, he has been thinking of her constantly. He realizes that, although he has not known Isabel for very long, he has nevertheless fallen in love with her. He asks Isabel to marry him and pleads with her to think it over. He tells her he is willing to wait a long time for an answer if necessary. Isabel agrees to consider the proposal, and Warburton says this gives him hope. But Isabel tells him, “Don’t hope too much. I’m not sure I wish to marry anyone.” Warburton insists he will wait for her response.

After Warburton leaves, Isabel thinks about his proposal. She realizes she has been offered a “great chance”—an opportunity for wealth and position—but she believes that marriage would restrict her “free exploration of life” and she can’t imagine abandoning that. Sitting alone on the garden bench, Isabel wonders about herself, trying to understand why she responded to Warburton the way she did. Is she really such a “cold, hard, priggish” person? Finally, she returns to her uncle’s house feeling “really frightened of herself.”

The next morning, Isabel tells her uncle about Lord Warburton’s proposal of marriage. The old man says he was aware of it —Warburton had written him a letter three days ago, informing him of his intentions. Isabel believes this was the proper thing for Warburton to do, but she doesn’t think she wants to marry anyone at the present time. Later, Isabel considers both her suitors—Lord Warburton and Caspar Goodwood. Caspar is a serious young man who dresses in dull, stiff clothing. A successful businessman, he manages his family’s cotton mill in Massachusetts. Isabel knows that she is not in love with him, but she realizes she can’t put him off and will have to deal with his determined pursuit. She also decides not to marry Warburton, and she writes him a letter telling him of her decision.

Henrietta is aware of Isabel’s opinion of Caspar. She informs Ralph of her concern regarding her friend, telling him she fears that Isabel has changed since coming to England. She says Isabel is not the same “bright American girl she was” and complains that she is “turning away from her old ideas.” Henrietta also believes that Caspar would be a good husband for Isabel; she wants Ralph to invite him to Gardencourt. When Ralph expresses some astonishment at Henrietta’s request, the reporter wonders aloud if Ralph is in love with Isabel himself—a charge young Touchett quickly denies. He agrees to write to Caspar and invite him to the estate. Caspar writes back immediately, however, declining the invitation. Surprised at Caspar’s response, Henrietta feels she must discover the reason why Caspar refused the invitation. She decides to travel to London on the pretense of seeing more of England,...

(The entire section is 1,758 words.)