The Portrait of a Lady By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapter 39

Summary

When it came time for Isabel to marry, there had been a very quiet service with only her aunt and cousin invited. The Countess Gemini and Pansy Osmond were the only other people present. Henrietta let it be known that Isabel had taken a step that put a barrier between them. Immediately after the marriage Osmond attempted to make Isabel give up Henrietta, but Isabel refused to reject her old friend. Madame Merle became cool toward Mrs. Touchett after Isabel's aunt told her that her role in the match had been too dubious. Ralph felt excluded because he had spoken so honestly before the marriage and therefore has not seen his cousin for almost two years.

Ralph, however, saw through Gilbert Osmond. He knows that Osmond affects to disdain the world only because he wants the world to envy him. Osmond married Isabel just so he could use her money and have her "represent him." Everything Osmond does is a pose to impress society. In pretending to live only for intrinsic values, he actually lives exclusively for the world.

After Lord Warburton's visit to Isabel, he questions Ralph on his motives for coming to Rome. Ralph tells him that some years ago he stopped in Rome and realized that he caused trouble and felt obliged to leave. This time, however, he feels the need of remaining so as to protect Isabel in any way he can. Ralph explains that Isabel will never complain of her husband's unpleasantness, but he will be able to detect it.

Lord Warburton tells Ralph what a delightful girl he found Pansy to be. Ralph tells him how delighted Osmond would be to have Warburton marry his daughter. Ralph admonishes his friend not to be kind to Pansy just because she is near Isabel.

Analysis

James returns to Isabel's marriage and we find that her marrying Osmond has affected her relations with old friends. Furthermore, we are informed that Osmond wants Isabel to change and conform to all of his ways of thinking. Thus, since he does not like Henrietta, he thinks that Isabel should give up her friend. But Isabel's independence will not permit her to abandon a true friend. Consequently, at the end of the novel, Isabel will not feel right in abandoning Pansy to the whims of Osmond and will consequently return to Rome.

Ralph's appearance in Rome will cause trouble and he knows it. But he thinks that there must be a crisis in Isabel's marriage and he is offering himself as a means to bring about that crisis.

Through Ralph's eyes, we see more into the character of Isabel's husband. We find out that Osmond is selfish and evil. He exists only for himself, and he attempts to make everything show him in a good light. He has no natural merits, and everything about him is an acquired pose in order to make the world think well of him. He is one of those people who like to give parties for the privilege of not inviting certain people. "His ambition was not to please the world, but to please himself by exciting the world's curiosity and then declining to satisfy it." In general, he represents all form and artifice with nothing of value to him.

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