illustration of Isabel Archer with a hand fan positioned between two silhouetted profiles

The Portrait of a Lady

by Henry James

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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 you think Osmond has gotten sick of Madame Merle?

3. Why do you think Madame Merle is so intent on meddling in Isabel’s affairs?

Chapters 41-45
1. Compare Henrietta Stackpole and Madame Merle. Discuss their motives and the results of their attempts to influence Isabel.

2. Why do you think Isabel changes her mind about helping Ned Rosier?

Chapters 46-50
1. Compare Ned Rosier and Caspar Goodwood. Although they are in love with different women, what common bond do they share?

2. Now that Isabel has married Osmond, why does Madame Merle regret meddling in their lives?

3. How does Madame Merle really feel about Osmond?

Chapters 51-55
1. Do you believe Madame Merle was solely responsible for ruining Isabel’s life? Explain your answer.

2. Discuss Ralph’s deathbed conversation with Isabel. Why does he believe Isabel still has a chance of finding happiness?

3. How is the title of the novel, The Portrait of a Lady, reflected in Isabel’s decision to remain married to Osmond?

4. Compare the social attitudes of today with those of Isabel’s time. How do you think Isabel might have acted if she was an independent young woman living in the 1990s?

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