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The Portrait of a Lady

Chapter 3
Mrs. Touchett was certainly a person of many oddities, of which her behaviour on
returning to her husband's house after many months was a noticeable specimen.
She had her own way of doing all that she did, and this is the simplest description
of a character which, although by no means without liberal motions, rarely
succeeded in giving an impression of suavity. Mrs. Touchett might do a great
deal of good, but she never pleased. This way of her own, of which she was so
fond, was not intrinsically offensive--it was just unmistakeably distinguished from
the ways of others. The edges of her conduct were so very clear-cut that for
susceptible persons it sometimes had a knife-like effect. That hard fineness
came out in her deportment during the first hours of her return from America,
under circumstances in which it might have seemed that her first act would have
been to exchange greetings with her husband and son. Mrs. Touchett, for
reasons which she deemed excellent, always retired on such occasions into
impenetrable seclusion, postponing the more sentimental ceremony until she had
repaired the disorder of dress with a completeness which had the less reason to
be of high importance as neither beauty nor vanity were concerned in it. She was
a plain-faced old woman, without graces and without any great elegance, but
with an extreme respect for her own motives. She was usually prepared to
explain these--when the explanation was asked as a favour; and in such a case
they proved totally different from those that had been attributed to her. She was
virtually separated from her husband, but she appeared to perceive nothing
irregular in the situation. It had become clear, at an early stage of their
community, that they should never desire the same thing at the same moment,
and this appearance had prompted her to rescue disagreement from the vulgar
realm of accident. She did what she could to erect it into a law--a much more
edifying aspect of it--by going to live in Florence, where she bought a house and
established herself; and by leaving her husband to take care of the English
branch of his bank. This arrangement greatly pleased her; it was so felicitously
definite. It struck her husband in the same light, in a foggy square in London,
where it was at times the most definite fact he discerned; but he would have
preferred that such unnatural things should have a greater vagueness. To agree
to disagree had cost him an effort; he was ready to agree to almost anything but
that, and saw no reason why either assent or dissent should be so terribly
consistent. Mrs. Touchett indulged in no regrets nor speculations, and usually
came once a year to spend a month with her husband, a period during which she
apparently took pains to convince him that she had adopted the right system.
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
 
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