The Portrait of a Lady Suggested Essay Topics
by Henry James

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Suggested Essay Topics

Chapters 1-5
1. Why do you think Lord Warburton thinks Isabel Archer is an interesting woman?

2. Why does Mrs. Touchett take such an interest in Isabel? Explain your answer.

3. Discuss the relationship between Ralph Touchett and his father. Why is Ralph so devoted to the old man?

Chapters 6-10
1. Why does Lord Warburton think America is such a confusing country?

2. Do you think Lord Warburton is being sincere when he expresses his “radical” beliefs?

3. What does Ralph mean when he says Henrietta has the “smell of the future” about her?

Chapters 11-15
1. Why do you think Isabel offers Warburton hope for the future, even though she has turned down his proposal?

2. Compare Isabel’s and Henrietta’s view of England and Europeans. Why do you think Henrietta’s observations are so harsh and critical?

Chapters 16-20
1. Explain why Henrietta has such a negative view of Isabel’s inheritance.

2. Discuss Ralph’s feelings toward Isabel. He is wary of Madame Merle’s interest in his cousin, but does Ralph also have a hidden agenda regarding Isabel?

Chapters 21-25
1. Discuss Ralph’s role as a confidant to Isabel. If Isabel admires him so much, why does Madame Merle exert the stronger influence?

2. Discuss the relationship between Madame Merle and Countess Gemini. Why do you think the Countess warns Madame Merle not to interfere with Isabel and Osmond?

Chapters 26-30
1. Discuss Osmond’s reaction when he learns that Isabel has refused Lord Warburton’s proposal.

2. Other than her desire for a traveling companion, what other reasons might Mrs. Touchett have for inviting Isabel to accompany her on her trip?

3. How do Pansy’s feelings for Mother Catherine compare to her attitude toward Madame Merle? Why does Pansy feel so hostile toward Osmond’s friend?

Chapters 31-35
1. Discuss Isabel’s feelings for Caspar and Lord Warburton. Why does Isabel “burst into tears” when Caspar stalks out of her aunt’s villa?

2. Why do you think Ralph waited so long to reveal his true feelings about Osmond?

3. Do you think Osmond really loves Isabel? Explain your answer.

Chapters 36-40
1. Discuss Isabel’s relationship with Lord Warburton. How does she feel about the Englishman now that she is married?

2. Why do...

(The entire section is 555 words.)