The Portrait of a Lady By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapter 42

Summary

Osmond's demand upon Isabel causes her to review her life. She wonders if Lord Warburton is in fact interested in Pansy because he still harbors a love for her. This thought leads her to re-examine her marriage with Osmond. As with his comments about Lord Warburton, everything he touches turns to something ugly and unpleasant. She has developed a distinct distrust for her husband. Suffering for her has become an active condition.

She realized some time after their marriage that her husband objected to some of her ideas. He wanted her to change. She tried to conform to his wishes until she realized that he wanted her to change completely, totally. He wanted her to become a slave to him and to act as he wanted her to. Yet, she knew that she was a distinct individual and had to abide by her own nature. This caused her husband to hate her.

She now understands that her money has become a burden to her. She had hoped to use it to help her husband. But under "all his culture, his cleverness, his amenity, under his good-nature, his facility, his knowledge of life, his egotism lay hidden like a serpent in a bank of flowers." He has a sovereign contempt for almost everybody. For Osmond, life was "altogether a thing of forms, a conscious, calculated attitude. He was fond of the old, the consecrated, the transmitted." Her "real offence . . . was her having a mind of her own. Her mind was to be his — attached to his own like a small garden-plot." He even resented the fact that Isabel visited Ralph. Isabel believes the resentment stems from the fact that Ralph was "generous and her husband was not." Thus the question Isabel faces is what to do or what ought she to do when her husband hates her.

Analysis

This very important chapter presents an analysis of Isabel's relationship with her husband. Previous chapters have shown Isabel engaged in active matters with Osmond, and now James presents a close examination of the more intimate relationship. Osmond married Isabel because she wits clever, witty, and charming and because she had it great deal of money. He expected her to change not just her ideas but her whole character, the way she felt, the way she judged. Since she cannot do this, her husband begins to hate her. In other words Osmond wants to destroy Isabel and make her into a puppet who will simply serve as a complement to his own ego.

Essentially, the analysis within the chapter itself is self-sufficient and needs no other commentary. Accordingly, the reader should read the chapter carefully for all of the innuendoes and qualifications.

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