Thursday, March 16, 2017

Riches in Henry James's Novels

"I call people rich when they're able to meet the requirements of their imagination." Ralph Touchett, Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.

I've always thought this one of the best quotes in all of literature. 

Ralph Touchett is rich and he's justifying giving his fortune away to a distant cousin. He wants  to see what she will do with it. It's a social experiment.

Ralph is, of course, dying of tuberculosis. Isabel is a young, vibrant American transplanted to Old World.

Isabel's father is mostly absent from the novel, albeit one line that tells readers is a gambler from New York. James implies that Isabel's impoverished condition is a result of his gambling.

Ralph, detached observer as he is, is also a gambler.  He gambles on Isabel. He wants to see what she will do--will she succeed or fail.