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The Portrait of a Lady

Chapter 7
The two amused themselves, time and again, with talking of the attitude of the
British public as if the young lady had been in a position to appeal to it; but in fact
the British public remained for the present profoundly indifferent to Miss Isabel
Archer, whose fortune had dropped her, as her cousin said, into the dullest
house in England. Her gouty uncle received very little company, and Mrs.
Touchett, not having cultivated relations with her husband's neighbours, was not
warranted in expecting visits from them. She had, however, a peculiar taste; she
liked to receive cards. For what is usually called social intercourse she had very
little relish; but nothing pleased her more than to find her hall-table whitened with
oblong morsels of symbolic pasteboard. She flattered herself that she was a very
just woman, and had mastered the sovereign truth that nothing in this world is got
for nothing. She had played no social part as mistress of Gardencourt, and it was
not to be supposed that, in the surrounding country, a minute account should be
kept of her comings and goings. But it is by no means certain that she did not
feel it to be wrong that so little notice was taken of them and that her failure
(really very gratuitous) to make herself important in the neighbourhood had not
much to do with the acrimony of her allusions to her husband's adopted country.
Isabel presently found herself in the singular situation of defending the British
constitution against her aunt; Mrs. Touchett having formed the habit of sticking
pins into this venerable instrument. Isabel always felt an impulse to pull out the
pins; not that she imagined they inflicted any damage on the tough old
parchment, but because it seemed to her her aunt might make better use of her
sharpness. She was very critical herself-- it was incidental to her age, her sex
and her nationality; but she was very sentimental as well, and there was
something in Mrs. Touchett's dryness that set her own moral fountains flowing.
"Now what's your point of view?" she asked of her aunt. "When you criticise
everything here you should have a point of view. Yours doesn't seem to be
American--you thought everything over there so disagreeable. When I criticise I
have mine; it's thoroughly American!"
"My dear young lady," said Mrs. Touchett, "there are as many points of view in
the world as there are people of sense to take them. You may say that doesn't
make them very numerous! American? Never in the world; that's shockingly
narrow. My point of view, thank God, is personal!"
Isabel thought this a better answer than she admitted; it was a tolerable
description of her own manner of judging, but it would not have sounded well for
her to say so. On the lips of a person less advanced in life and less enlightened
by experience than Mrs. Touchett such a declaration would savour of immodesty,
even of arrogance. She risked it nevertheless in talking with Ralph, with whom
she talked a great deal and with whom her conversation was of a sort that gave a
large licence to extravagance. Her cousin used, as the phrase is, to chaff her; he
very soon established with her a reputation for treating everything as a joke, and
he was not a man to neglect the privileges such a reputation conferred. She
accused him of an odious want of seriousness, of laughing at all things,
 
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