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Chapter 6

  • Isabel Archer was a young person of many theories; her imagination wa_emarkably active. It had been her fortune to possess a finer mind than mos_f the persons among whom her lot was cast; to have a larger perception o_urrounding facts and to care for knowledge that was tinged with th_nfamiliar. It is true that among her contemporaries she passed for a youn_oman of extraordinary profundity; for these excellent people never withhel_heir admiration from a reach of intellect of which they themselves were no_onscious, and spoke of Isabel as a prodigy of learning, a creature reporte_o have read the classic authors —in translations. Her paternal aunt, Mrs.
  • Varian, once spread the rumour that Isabel was writing a book—Mrs. Varia_aving a reverence for books, and averred that the girl would distinguis_erself in print. Mrs. Varian thought highly of literature, for which sh_ntertained that esteem that is connected with a sense of privation. Her ow_arge house, remarkable for its assortment of mosaic tables and decorate_eilings, was unfurnished with a library, and in the way of printed volume_ontained nothing but half a dozen novels in paper on a shelf in the apartmen_f one of the Miss Varians. Practically, Mrs. Varian's acquaintance wit_iterature was confined to The New York Interviewer; as she very justly said,
  • after you had read the Interviewer you had lost all faith in culture. He_endency, with this, was rather to keep the Interviewer out of the way of he_aughters; she was determined to bring them up properly, and they read nothin_t all. Her impression with regard to Isabel's labours was quite illusory; th_irl had never attempted to write a book and had no desire for the laurels o_uthorship. She had no talent for expression and too little of th_onsciousness of genius; she only had a general idea that people were righ_hen they treated her as if she were rather superior. Whether or no she wer_uperior, people were right in admiring her if they thought her so; for i_eemed to her often that her mind moved more quickly than theirs, and thi_ncouraged an impatience that might easily be confounded with superiority. I_ay be affirmed without delay that Isabel was probably very liable to the si_f self-esteem; she often surveyed with complacency the field of her ow_ature; she was in the habit of taking for granted, on scanty evidence, tha_he was right; she treated herself to occasions of homage. Meanwhile he_rrors and delusions were frequently such as a biographer interested i_reserving the dignity of his subject must shrink from specifying. He_houghts were a tangle of vague outlines which had never been corrected by th_udgement of people speaking with authority. In matters of opinion she had ha_er own way, and it had led her into a thousand ridiculous zigzags. At moment_he discovered she was grotesquely wrong, and then she treated herself to _eek of passionate humility. After this she held her head higher than eve_gain; for it was of no use, she had an unquenchable desire to think well o_erself. She had a theory that it was only under this provision life was wort_iving; that one should be one of the best, should be conscious of a fin_rganisation (she couldn't help knowing her organisation was fine), shoul_ove in a realm of light, of natural wisdom, of happy impulse, of inspiratio_racefully chronic. It was almost as unnecessary to cultivate doubt of one'_elf as to cultivate doubt of one's best friend: one should try to be one'_wn best friend and to give one's self, in this manner, distinguished company.
  • The girl had a certain nobleness of imagination which rendered her a good man_ervices and played her a great many tricks. She spent half her time i_hinking of beauty and bravery and magnanimity; she had a fixed determinatio_o regard the world as a place of brightness, of free expansion, o_rresistible action: she held it must be detestable to be afraid or ashamed.
  • She had an infinite hope that she should never do anything wrong. She ha_esented so strongly, after discovering them, her mere errors of feeling (th_iscovery always made her tremble as if she had escaped from a trap whic_ight have caught her and smothered her) that the chance of inflicting _ensible injury upon another person, presented only as a contingency, cause_er at moments to hold her breath. That always struck her as the worst thin_hat could happen to her. On the whole, reflectively, she was in n_ncertainty about the things that were wrong. She had no love of their look,
  • but when she fixed them hard she recognised them. It was wrong to be mean, t_e jealous, to be false, to be cruel; she had seen very little of the evil o_he world, but she had seen women who lied and who tried to hurt each other.
  • Seeing such things had quickened her high spirit; it seemed indecent not t_corn them. Of course the danger of a high spirit was the danger o_nconsistency—the danger of keeping up the flag after the place ha_urrendered; a sort of behaviour so crooked as to be almost a dishonour to th_lag. But Isabel, who knew little of the sorts of artillery to which youn_omen are exposed, flattered herself that such contradictions would never b_oted in her own conduct. Her life should always be in harmony with the mos_leasing impression she should produce; she would be what she appeared, an_he would appear what she was. Sometimes she went so far as to wish that sh_ight find herself some day in a difficult position, so that she should hav_he pleasure of being as heroic as the occasion demanded. Altogether, with he_eagre knowledge, her inflated ideals, her confidence at once innocent an_ogmatic, her temper at once exacting and indulgent, her mixture of curiosit_nd fastidiousness, of vivacity and indifference, her desire to look very wel_nd to be if possible even better, her determination to see, to try, to know,
  • her combination of the delicate, desultory, flame-like spirit and the eage_nd personal creature of conditions: she would be an easy victim of scientifi_riticism if she were not intended to awaken on the reader's part an impuls_ore tender and more purely expectant.
  • It was one of her theories that Isabel Archer was very fortunate in bein_ndependent, and that she ought to make some very enlightened use of tha_tate. She never called it the state of solitude, much less of singleness; sh_hought such descriptions weak, and, besides, her sister Lily constantly urge_er to come and abide. She had a friend whose acquaintance she had mad_hortly before her father's death, who offered so high an example of usefu_ctivity that Isabel always thought of her as a model. Henrietta Stackpole ha_he advantage of an admired ability; she was thoroughly launched i_ournalism, and her letters to the Interviewer, from Washington, Newport, th_hite Mountains and other places, were universally quoted. Isabel pronounce_hem with confidence "ephemeral," but she esteemed the courage, energy an_ood-humour of the writer, who, without parents and without property, ha_dopted three of the children of an infirm and widowed sister and was payin_heir school-bills out of the proceeds of her literary labour. Henrietta wa_n the van of progress and had clear-cut views on most subjects; her cherishe_esire had long been to come to Europe and write a series of letters to th_nterviewer from the radical point of view—an enterprise the less difficult a_he knew perfectly in advance what her opinions would be and to how man_bjections most European institutions lay open. When she heard that Isabel wa_oming she wished to start at once; thinking, naturally, that it would b_elightful the two should travel together. She had been obliged, however, t_ostpone this enterprise. She thought Isabel a glorious creature, and ha_poken of her covertly in some of her letters, though she never mentioned th_act to her friend, who would not have taken pleasure in it and was not _egular student of the Interviewer. Henrietta, for Isabel, was chiefly a proo_hat a woman might suffice to herself and be happy. Her resources were of th_bvious kind; but even if one had not the journalistic talent and a genius fo_uessing, as Henrietta said, what the public was going to want, one was no_herefore to conclude that one had no vocation, no beneficent aptitude of an_ort, and resign one's self to being frivolous and hollow. Isabel was stoutl_etermined not to be hollow. If one should wait with the right patience on_ould find some happy work to one's hand. Of course, among her theories, thi_oung lady was not without a collection of views on the subject of marriage.
  • The first on the list was a conviction of the vulgarity of thinking too muc_f it. From lapsing into eagerness on this point she earnestly prayed sh_ight be delivered; she held that a woman ought to be able to live to herself,
  • in the absence of exceptional flimsiness, and that it was perfectly possibl_o be happy without the society of a more or less coarse-minded person o_nother sex. The girl's prayer was very sufficiently answered; something pur_nd proud that there was in her—something cold and dry an unappreciated suito_ith a taste for analysis might have called it—had hitherto kept her from an_reat vanity of conjecture on the article of possible husbands. Few of the me_he saw seemed worth a ruinous expenditure, and it made her smile to thin_hat one of them should present himself as an incentive to hope and a rewar_f patience. Deep in her soul—it was the deepest thing there—lay a belief tha_f a certain light should dawn she could give herself completely; but thi_mage, on the whole, was too formidable to be attractive. Isabel's thought_overed about it, but they seldom rested on it long; after a little it ende_n alarms. It often seemed to her that she thought too much about herself; yo_ould have made her colour, any day in the year, by calling her a rank egoist.
  • She was always planning out her development, desiring her perfection,
  • observing her progress. Her nature had, in her conceit, a certain garden-lik_uality, a suggestion of perfume and murmuring boughs, of shady bowers an_engthening vistas, which made her feel that introspection was, after all, a_xercise in the open air, and that a visit to the recesses of one's spirit wa_armless when one returned from it with a lapful of roses. But she was ofte_eminded that there were other gardens in the world than those of he_emarkable soul, and that there were moreover a great many places which wer_ot gardens at all—only dusky pestiferous tracts, planted thick with uglines_nd misery. In the current of that repaid curiosity on which she had latel_een floating, which had conveyed her to this beautiful old England and migh_arry her much further still, she often checked herself with the thought o_he thousands of people who were less happy than herself—a thought which fo_he moment made her fine, full consciousness appear a kind of immodesty. Wha_hould one do with the misery of the world in a scheme of the agreeable fo_ne's self? It must be confessed that this question never held her long. Sh_as too young, too impatient to live, too unacquainted with pain. She alway_eturned to her theory that a young woman whom after all every one though_lever should begin by getting a general impression of life. This impressio_as necessary to prevent mistakes, and after it should be secured she migh_ake the unfortunate condition of others a subject of special attention.
  • England was a revelation to her, and she found herself as diverted as a chil_t a pantomime. In her infantine excursions to Europe she had seen only th_ontinent, and seen it from the nursery window; Paris, not London, was he_ather's Mecca, and into many of his interests there his children ha_aturally not entered. The images of that time moreover had grown faint an_emote, and the old-world quality in everything that she now saw had all th_harm of strangeness. Her uncle's house seemed a picture made real; n_efinement of the agreeable was lost upon Isabel; the rich perfection o_ardencourt at once revealed a world and gratified a need. The large, lo_ooms, with brown ceilings and dusky corners, the deep embrasures and curiou_asements, the quiet light on dark, polished panels, the deep greennes_utside, that seemed always peeping in, the sense of well-ordered privacy i_he centre of a "property"—a place where sounds were felicitously accidental,
  • where the tread was muffed by the earth itself and in the thick mild air al_riction dropped out of contact and all shrillness out of talk—these thing_ere much to the taste of our young lady, whose taste played a considerabl_art in her emotions. She formed a fast friendship with her uncle, and ofte_at by his chair when he had had it moved out to the lawn. He passed hours i_he open air, sitting with folded hands like a placid, homely household god, _od of service, who had done his work and received his wages and was trying t_row used to weeks and months made up only of off-days. Isabel amused him mor_han she suspected—the effect she produced upon people was often differen_rom what she supposed—and he frequently gave himself the pleasure of makin_er chatter. It was by this term that he qualified her conversation, which ha_uch of the "point" observable in that of the young ladies of her country, t_hom the ear of the world is more directly presented than to their sisters i_ther lands. Like the mass of American girls Isabel had been encouraged t_xpress herself; her remarks had been attended to; she had been expected t_ave emotions and opinions. Many of her opinions had doubtless but a slende_alue, many of her emotions passed away in the utterance; but they had left _race in giving her the habit of seeming at least to feel and think, and i_mparting moreover to her words when she was really moved that promp_ividness which so many people had regarded as a sign of superiority. Mr.
  • Touchett used to think that she reminded him of his wife when his wife was i_er teens. It was because she was fresh and natural and quick to understand,
  • to speak—so many characteristics of her niece—that he had fallen in love wit_rs. Touchett. He never expressed this analogy to the girl herself, however;
  • for if Mrs. Touchett had once been like Isabel, Isabel was not at all lik_rs. Touchett. The old man was full of kindness for her; it was a long time,
  • as he said, since they had had any young life in the house; and our rustling,
  • quickly-moving, clear-voiced heroine was as agreeable to his sense as th_ound of flowing water. He wanted to do something for her and wished she woul_sk it of him. She would ask nothing but questions; it is true that of thes_he asked a quantity. Her uncle had a great fund of answers, though he_ressure sometimes came in forms that puzzled him. She questioned hi_mmensely about England, about the British constitution, the Englis_haracter, the state of politics, the manners and customs of the royal family,
  • the peculiarities of the aristocracy, the way of living and thinking of hi_eighbours; and in begging to be enlightened on these points she usuall_nquired whether they corresponded with the descriptions in the books. The ol_an always looked at her a little with his fine dry smile while he smoothe_own the shawl spread across his legs.
  • "The books?" he once said; "well, I don't know much about the books. You mus_sk Ralph about that. I've always ascertained for myself—got my information i_he natural form. I never asked many questions even; I just kept quiet an_ook notice. Of course I've had very good opportunities—better than what _oung lady would naturally have. I'm of an inquisitive disposition, though yo_ightn't think it if you were to watch me: however much you might watch me _hould be watching you more. I've been watching these people for upwards o_hirty-five years, and I don't hesitate to say that I've acquired considerabl_nformation. It's a very fine country on the whole—finer perhaps than what w_ive it credit for on the other side. Several improvements I should like t_ee introduced; but the necessity of them doesn't seem to be generally felt a_et. When the necessity of a thing is generally felt they usually manage t_ccomplish it; but they seem to feel pretty comfortable about waiting til_hen. I certainly feel more at home among them than I expected to when I firs_ame over; I suppose it's because I've had a considerable degree of success.
  • When you're successful you naturally feel more at home."
  • "Do you suppose that if I'm successful I shall feel at home?" Isabel asked.
  • "I should think it very probable, and you certainly will be successful. The_ike American young ladies very much over here; they show them a great deal o_indness. But you mustn't feel too much at home, you know."
  • "Oh, I'm by no means sure it will satisfy me," Isabel judicially emphasised.
  • "I like the place very much, but I'm not sure I shall like the people."
  • "The people are very good people; especially if you like them."
  • "I've no doubt they're good," Isabel rejoined; "but are they pleasant i_ociety? They won't rob me nor beat me; but will they make themselve_greeable to me? That's what I like people to do. I don't hesitate to say so,
  • because I always appreciate it. I don't believe they're very nice to girls;
  • they're not nice to them in the novels."
  • "I don't know about the novels," said Mr. Touchett. "I believe the novels hav_ great deal but I don't suppose they're very accurate. We once had a lady wh_rote novels staying here; she was a friend of Ralph's and he asked her down.
  • She was very positive, quite up to everything; but she was not the sort o_erson you could depend on for evidence. Too free a fancy—I suppose that wa_t. She afterwards published a work of fiction in which she was understood t_ave given a representation— something in the nature of a caricature, as yo_ight say—of my unworthy self. I didn't read it, but Ralph just handed me th_ook with the principal passages marked. It was understood to be a descriptio_f my conversation; American peculiarities, nasal twang, Yankee notions, star_nd stripes. Well, it was not at all accurate; she couldn't have listened ver_ttentively. I had no objection to her giving a report of my conversation, i_he liked but I didn't like the idea that she hadn't taken the trouble t_isten to it. Of course I talk like an American—I can't talk like a Hottentot.
  • However I talk, I've made them understand me pretty well over here. But _on't talk like the old gentleman in that lady's novel. He wasn't an American;
  • we wouldn't have him over there at any price. I just mention that fact to sho_ou that they're not always accurate. Of course, as I've no daughters, and a_rs. Touchett resides in Florence, I haven't had much chance to notice abou_he young ladies. It sometimes appears as if the young women in the lowe_lass were not very well treated; but I guess their position is better in th_pper and even to some extent in the middle."
  • "Gracious," Isabel exclaimed; "how many classes have they? About fifty, _uppose."
  • "Well, I don't know that I ever counted them. I never took much notice of th_lasses. That's the advantage of being an American here; you don't belong t_ny class."
  • "I hope so," said Isabel. "Imagine one's belonging to an English class!"
  • "Well, I guess some of them are pretty comfortable—especially towards the top.
  • But for me there are only two classes: the people I trust and the people _on't. Of those two, my dear Isabel, you belong to the first."
  • "I'm much obliged to you," said the girl quickly. Her way of takin_ompliments seemed sometimes rather dry; she got rid of them as rapidly a_ossible. But as regards this she was sometimes misjudged; she was though_nsensible to them, whereas in fact she was simply unwilling to show ho_nfinitely they pleased her. To show that was to show too much. "I'm sure th_nglish are very conventional," she added.
  • "They've got everything pretty well fixed," Mr. Touchett admitted. "It's al_ettled beforehand—they don't leave it to the last moment."
  • "I don't like to have everything settled beforehand," said the girl. "I lik_ore unexpectedness."
  • Her uncle seemed amused at her distinctness of preference. "Well, it's settle_eforehand that you'll have great success," he rejoined. "I suppose you'l_ike that."
  • "I shall not have success if they're too stupidly conventional. I'm not in th_east stupidly conventional. I'm just the contrary. That's what they won'_ike."
  • "No, no, you're all wrong," said the old man. "You can't tell what they'l_ike. They're very inconsistent; that's their principal interest."
  • "Ah well," said Isabel, standing before her uncle with her hands clasped abou_he belt of her black dress and looking up and down the lawn—"that will sui_e perfectly!"