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Monday, September 27, 2010

Choosing one's own path

"Of course you're vexed at my interfering with you," said Mrs. Touchett.

Isabel considered. "I'm not vexed, but I'm surprised—and a good deal mystified. Wasn't it proper I should remain in the drawing-room?"

"Not in the least. Young girls here—in decent houses—don't sit alone with the gentlemen late at night."

"You were very right to tell me then," said Isabel. "I don't understand it, but I'm very glad to know it.

"I shall always tell you," her aunt answered, "whenever I see you taking what seems to me too much liberty."

"Pray do; but I don't say I shall always think your remonstrance just."

"Very likely not. You're too fond of your own ways."

"Yes, I think I'm very fond of them. But I always want to know the things one shouldn't do."

"So as to do them?" asked her aunt.

"So as to choose," said Isabel.  (Ch. 7)

After spending an evening with Ralph and Lord Warburton, who paid a second visit to Gardencourt, while under her aunt's supervision, Isabel, who enjoys both of their company, tells her aunt to go to bed without while she converses with the gentlemen.  Nevertheless, Mrs. Touchett refuses to leave Isabel alone with the gentlemen, as it is not proper in England.  Isabel, in her first disagreeable moment in England, cannot see the harm as long as she is with her cousin but she acquiesces to her aunt's request.  Instead of harboring offense, Isabel uses the incident as an education of English society.

Mrs. Touchett is from America and is not particularly fond of England, as illustrated by her having taken up residence in Florence. 

She was not fond of the English style of life, and had three or four reasons for it to which she currently alluded; they bore upon minor points of that ancient order, but for Mrs. Touchett they amply justified non-residence. She detested bread-sauce, which, as she said, looked like a poultice and tasted like soap; she objected to the consumption of beer by her maid-servants; and she affirmed that the British laundress (Mrs. Touchett was very particular about the appearance of her linen) was not a mistress of her art (Ch. 3).

Though minor complaints, they were enough to keep Mrs. Touchett out of England all but a few weeks of the year.  She did not hide from Isabel "the acrimony of her allusions to her husband's adopted country" (Ch. 7), having no desire to get to know his neighbors.  Nevertheless, she still adheres to the customs of the land, as her above conversation with Isabel illustrates.  It seems contradictory to Mrs. Touchett's character that would hamper Isabel's freedom, especially considering she lives separated from her husband and uses her freedom to travel uninhibited.  Nevertheless, Mrs. Touchett may be exhibiting her independence by choosing the customs she will observe.  Such seems to be the case with Isabel when she states she always wants to know what's proper "so as to choose" whether she will observe the societal law.  Possibly as interesting as Mrs. Touchett's upholding English customs is Lord Warburton's willingness to violate them.  As American as Isabel is, Warburton is English yet, he expresses his wish that Isabel be allowed to stay up with the guys.  Ralph and Mr. Touchett identify him as a "radical," and this incident may illustrate their point.

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