Mr. Touchett, his son Ralph, and a family friend Lord Warburton are having tea and discussing Mrs. Touchett, who has been traveling America and sending poorly worded cryptic telegrams back home to England. The men believe she's picked up a niece somewhere, but can't determine what is meant by her being described as "very independent". They joke that Lord Warburton can't fall in love with her since she's the family niece, while he makes a crack about her possibly not being worth his attention. This obviously means everyone will fall in love with her.
Isabel, the independent niece, shows up at the home with her aunt, who has retired to bed rather than greet her family. Isabel charms the men and their dogs. They declare her very interesting and she makes a point of letting everyone know she's very independent.
This chapter goes into how Isabel and Mrs. Touchett meet. Mrs. Touchett and her husband are basically separated and she travels to America all the time. She finds Isabel at her home in the library where Isabel and her sisters are trying to sell the house. Mrs. Touchett discusses letting Isabel travel to Florence with her even though they don't know each other very well. The family had had a falling out and Isabel really hasn't seen her aunt before. She finds her aunt eccentric, but agrees that she will try to behave if she gets to go to Florence. Obviously she won't behave or this would just be a travel guide.