The Portrait of a Lady By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapters 29-31

Summary

Shortly after Lord Warburton leaves, Isabel receives a note from her aunt inviting her for a visit to another part of Italy. Isabel accepts and bids Osmond good-bye. Osmond tells her that he approves of traveling and would do so himself if he had her means. Before she leaves, he tells her that he finds himself in love with her. Isabel is not offended by his declaration, even though he tries to explain that he has nothing to offer her except his love. She tells him that it is good that she is leaving Rome. He asks her to come back, for he has many more things to say to her. Since he is staying in Rome, he requests Isabel to visit his daughter. Isabel is glad to promise that.

Back at Florence, Isabel tells Madame Merle of her promise to visit Pansy. At first Madame Merle thinks she should go along, but Isabel prefers to go by herself. She tells Madame Merle that she thinks a great deal of her promises.

When Isabel meets Pansy again, she finds the young lady to be very quaint and charming. They discuss Osmond and Pansy tells how she lives just to please her father. Isabel agrees with her that it is very important to obey and please him.

After visiting with her aunt for a time, Isabel joins her sister in Switzerland and they spend several months in Paris. Then Isabel returns to Rome and suggests to Madame Merle that they tour the Middle East. Madame Merle consents and the two travel together. Returning from this trip, Isabel stays three weeks with Madame Merle and sees Gilbert Osmond every day. She then goes to her aunt's house for a visit, after a year of separation.

Analysis

Chapter 29 presents another development in Isabel's relationship with Gilbert Osmond. She receives his declaration of love with a certain degree of pleasure. When we compare her reaction to his love with her reaction to the love of Goodwood or Lord Warburton, we realize immediately that Isabel is gratified to hear the latest declaration. Furthermore, Osmond knows how to please. He emphasizes that he has nothing to offer except his own love and his own self. Thus, if she turned down Lord Warburton with all he possessed, Osmond knows that she would be more impressed with the simplicity of his declaration.

Isabel's interview with Pansy emphasizes how much value Isabel places on her own promises. Consequently, her promise to marry Osmond will be difficult to break once she gives it. This aspect of her nature helps prepare the reader for her final decision to return to Osmond in Rome rather than to remain apart from him.

Isabel, however, is deceived about Osmond when she thinks that "He'll never ask anything unreasonable." The reader should remember this statement when at the end of the novel, Osmond does make unreasonable demands on Pansy.

Chapter 31 serves in many ways as an interlude. Isabel avoids Gilbert Osmond's company for a long time. What she fails to be aware of is that she is spending some of this time in the company of Madame Merle and this is about the same as being courted by Osmond, since it is likewise Madame Merle's intention that Osmond marry Isabel. Isabel, however, comes to some additional recognitions about Madam Merle. She is now aware that Madame Merle "belonged to the old, old world, and Isabel never lost the impression that she was the product of a different moral or social clime from her own, that she had grown up under other stars." In other words, Madame Merle represents everything that is empty and useless in the forms and ceremonies of European society.

The end of this chapter presents a turning point in Isabel's life. After this, she will be engaged to Gilbert Osmond and will face a new series of problems.

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