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Friday, October 1, 2010

Why Isabel Archer rejects Lord Warburton

Lord Warburton is an English nobleman and friend of Ralph Touchett.  Mr. Touchett ask Warburton not to fall in love with his niece; nevertheless, Warburton is captivated by Isabel.  Though Isabel is not beautiful, Warburton's attraction to her is based on her conforming to his "idea of an interesting woman" (Ch. 2).  She is poor, so she would not be considered a good match according to Victorian standards, but she is American and a free spirit, unlike the women of upper class English society.  Essentially, Warburton is attracted to the fact that she is different.  His sisters, the Misses Molyneux, like Isabel, despite her quirkiness and radical suggestion that Warburton should give away his entire fortune.  Though she is poor, her relation to the wealthy Touchetts qualifies her to interact with Warburton and his family.

Warburton, infatuated with Isabel, asks her to marry him after having known her only a few days.  She rejects him but asks for time to consider the offer, though she does not forsee changing her mind.  Her reason for rejecting him is not entirely clear, as she struggles to verbalize why she cannot marry him.  For one thing, she thinks that marriage would constrain her liberty.  Her rejection of Warburton's offer, nevertheless, should not be viewed as a rejection of Warburton himself, since Isabel reiterates that she likes him a lot.  Isabel's problem, however, is that she sees him as a "personage" with a "collection of attributes" (Ch. 12).  She cannot envision herself as the wife of a personage.

Moreover, she clings to her independence because it is the only role she's known since childhood.  She and her sisters received no regular education, hence her interest in reading and teaching herself.  They also had no permanent home, causing them to move around constantly.  Isabel, even now, wants to continue to travel and explore the world, rejecting the stability of Warburton's residence Lockleigh, whose name may suggest to Isabel a caging inhibition to seeing the world.  Ultimately, Isabel wishes to gain knowledge through experience, not realizing that experience also involves interaction with people.  She avoids close relationships, causing her to remain naive in human interaction.

The above painting is A Young Maiden by John Rogers Herbert (1810-90).

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