Monday, November 29, 2010

In want of a wife

Current book: The Portrait of a Lady
Pages read: 132 - 198

So, Lord Warburton feels upset and betrayed and can't understand why Isabel doesn't want to marry him. She's annoyed with him for being presumptuous, but doesn't really say so. Not long after her first refusal, she also gets to refuse Caspar Goodwood when he comes to see her in London. He's way more presumptuous than Lord Warburton, and gives her a talking-to about how it's her duty to marry and she's just being difficult and unruly. Isabel cites her independence and her desire to see the world as her main reasons for refusing to marry.

Mr. Touchett the elder, who, as you may or may not remember, is an invalid, takes a turn for the worse. He calls Ralph to him to tell him that it's his desire that Ralph marry Isabel. Ralph objects on the grounds that she doesn't want to marry him and also that they're cousins (which I can get right behind because, come on, incest taboo), but he asks his father to leave Isabel half of the money that's supposed to be his, about £60,000 or something like seven million dollars. This is all so Isabel can pursue her dreams of independence and discovery and avoid a marriage of necessity.

Isabel, meanwhile, has taken up with Madame Merle, a friend of Mrs. Touchett's. She's an American living in Venice, and she's learned and talented, being both a painter and musician as well as an avid reader. Initially she's quite the role model for Isabel, since she's independent and continental, but Isabel soon discovers that she's incredibly annoying, and spends most of her time criticizing her friends and acquaintances.

That's where we are. I can't help but feel it's just going to turn into a morality tale about how Isabel ought to have married so as to save herself the pain and anguish due to every "independent" woman. I don't have a lot of other commentary at the moment except to relate this little exchange of dialogue:
"I don't wish to marry. There are other things a woman can do."

"But none that she can do so well."
Christ, Henry James. Thank you for that.

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