The Portrait of a Lady By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapters 26-28

Summary

Gilbert Osmond calls so often at Mrs. Touchett's home that she becomes suspicious. She asks Madame Merle directly if Osmond is interested in Isabel. Madame Merle, of course, denies that Osmond is interested in Isabel but tells Mrs. Touchett that she will discreetly inquire of his intentions. She warns Mrs. Touchett not to mention anything about it to Isabel, since any discussion would inflame Isabel's imagination. Mrs. Touchett thinks that Osmond would like to marry Isabel just so he could use her money to provide a dowry for Pansy.

Osmond, however, continues his visits. Meanwhile, Henrietta arrives for a visit; she is planning a trip to Rome with Mr. Bantling. Isabel accedes to Ralph Touchett's proposal that they also go to Rome. When Isabel mentions the forthcoming trip to Osmond, he says that he would like to join the party, and Isabel promptly invites him to come along. Later, in an interview with Madam Merle, Osmond tells her that he is making progress with Isabel, for she asked him to go to Rome. He admits that Isabel has one fault — she has too many ideas — but this could, he feels, be easily corrected, since her ideas are all bad ones, and "they must be sacrificed."

In Rome, Isabel has a chance encounter with Lord Warburton, who is returning from a trip to the Middle East. He tells her that he wrote several letters to her but never mailed them. Isabel asks him not to renew his overtures if they are to remain friends. On the following Sunday, they are joined by Gilbert Osmond. As they walk in St. Peter's, Lord Warburton asks Ralph who the gentleman is. Ralph tells him that he is a nondescript American. They resign themselves to accept Isabel's course of action with regard to Osmond.

At the opera, Osmond questions Isabel about Lord Warburton. She tells him of Lord Warburton's high character and noble position. Two days later, Lord Warburton bids farewell to Isabel, saying that he is leaving Rome. Through some of the conversation, Osmond has inferred that Isabel received a proposal from Lord Warburton and rejected it.

Analysis

In her interview with Madame Merle, Mrs. Touchett comes to the direct center of the problem in saying that Osmond wants to marry Isabel for money. She is so direct that Madame Merle must be very careful to keep Mrs. Touchett from interfering. She even suggests that Isabel would make a good "stepmother" for Pansy so as to prepare the way for acceptance later on. Mrs. Touchett is deceived by Madame Merle into believing that this lady will investigate and report back to her. Mrs. Touchett is not aware at this point that Madame Merle has been instrumental in arranging the courtship.

We get the first hint as to what will happen to Isabel when Osmond complains that Isabel has too many ideas and that they must be sacrificed. This is exactly what will happen. Osmond will attempt to make Isabel into another simple, obedient Pansy into a person who obeys him in everything and never has an idea of her own.

James has Lord Warburton appear in Rome in order to remind the reader how Isabel has affected this nobleman. But more important, this appearance allows Osmond to learn that Isabel has rejected the nobleman. Her rejection makes her all the more enticing and exciting to Osmond. Furthermore, he will later want Isabel to use her influence to promote a match between Lord Warburton and Pansy.

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