The Portrait of a Lady By Henry James Character Analysis Gilbert Osmond

Gilbert Osmond is the epitome of everything that one finds objectionable in European society. He was, as a matter of fact, born in America, but since he was brought to Europe as a small child and has lived his entire life in Europe, we may consider him for all thematic purposes a European.

Osmond is a person who puts extreme value on the correct form and perfect ritual. He is a self-centered individual who thinks that the world should take note of his unusual attributes. Everything he does is calculated for its effect. He hits never done anything without considering first what effect it will bear upon him. He is basically an indolent man who has the egoism to think that the world should come to him. If he is disdainful of most of the things in the world, it is because he desires them so strongly.

He is a man of perfect taste. But the reader should note that perfect taste can be carried too far. As with Madame Merle, everything is so contrived that the real person is concealed behind a mask of pretenses. Everything that he possesses is perfect. His objects of art, his house, his view, his daughter are all brought to absolute perfection. Thus, when he desires to marry Isabel, it is only because she will reflect what good taste he has. But when one devotes oneself entirely to creating an effect, there is naturally something artificial about the results.

Gilbert Osmond, then, has developed good taste so that he will be praised for it. It has been a project with him; it is acquired. On the contrary, Isabel has good taste but it is a naturally endowed quality. It stems from her personality; whereas Osmond's taste is studied and artificial.

It must be noted, however, that Osmond does not marry Isabel Archer solely for her money. Had Isabel not possessed talent, charm, intelligence, taste, and looks, her money would not have been sufficient cause to bring about the marriage. On the contrary, if Isabel had had every quality and attribute except money, Osmond would not have married her.

The evil of Osmond's nature comes from the fact that he calculates everything he does. That is, he does not take into consideration Isabel's independent personality. Quite the reverse, he finds this to be the most objectionable part of her makeup. Thus, after the marriage, he deliberately sets about to undermine Isabel's individuality. He feels that his wife must conform to his every wish and desire. In other words, he wants a wife who will obey him with perfect obedience, as does his daughter. Consequently, he is determined to break Isabel's free and independent spirit. In attempting to do so, he is trying to destroy the finer capacity of her character. Thus, his desire to have everything, including his wife, revolve around him, shows his essential nature.

Finally, Osmond is not genuine. He prefers forms and ceremonies to real human relations. He does not love Isabel, but he wants her to obey him. He looks only to the appearance of things. He is, finally, the empty and evil man.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

Gilbert Osmond delights in giving parties because




Quiz