The Portrait of a Lady By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapters 45-46

Summary

Isabel knows that her visits with Ralph are displeasing to her husband. "He wished her to have no freedom of mind, and he knew perfectly well that Ralph was an apostle of freedom." Yet Isabel knows that she has not yet directly opposed her husband; nor has he yet "formally forbidden her to call upon Ralph." Isabel is troubled by the thought that "if he should positively interpose, if he should put forth his authority, she would have to decide, and that wouldn't be easy."

On one of her visits to Ralph, Isabel asks him if Lord Warburton is in love. Ralph answers yes, but he means that Lord Warburton is still in love with Isabel. Isabel informs Ralph that the best thing Lord Warburton can do is to is to leave Pansy alone, for she is in love with someone else. Ralph suggests to Isabel that her husband will perhaps suspect her of not pushing Lord Warburton enough and will attribute it to jealousy on Isabel's part.

Upon returning home, Isabel decides that she must approach Pansy on the subject. She discovers that "the only thing Pansy wanted in life was to marry Mr. Rosier." The girl tells Isabel that she won't encourage Lord Warburton and that this nobleman is aware of her feelings. She doesn't want her father to know because as long as he thinks Lord Warburton is interested in her, he "won't propose any one else."

Later, Osmond asks Isabel why Lord Warburton doesn't come any more to visit. Osmond thinks that Isabel has been plotting against him. He accuses her of "not being trustworthy." Isabel, wounded by this accusation, retorts that he "must want to make sure" of Lord Warburton very badly. This statement "recalled the fact that she had once held this coveted treasure in her hand and felt herself rich enough to let it fall." At this point, Lord Warburton enters and tells them that he has suddenly been recalled to England. He invites them to come to visit him. He thinks that Isabel and Pansy would enjoy the English countryside. Osmond excuses himself and goes to send Pansy to bid Lord Warburton good-bye. Alone, Lord Warburton admits to Isabel that Pansy doesn't care for him, and Isabel agrees with him that it is best that he leave.

That night, Osmond confronts Isabel and directs some more accusations at her. He charges her with "having prevented Pansy's marriage to Warburton." He then accuses her of having stopped Lord Warburton's letter. He is not, however, disappointed because this has proved to him that Pansy can aim high.

Analysis

James is building up his contrast between Isabel and Osmond. It becomes a perpetual battle of nerves between them. When he accuses Isabel of preventing the marriage, we must note that he is partially right. Isabel did let Lord Warburton know that Pansy did not love him, and she did suggest to Ralph that Lord Warburton should not force himself upon a poor girl who was in love with someone else. But in all of Isabel's actions, she was thinking of Pansy's feelings. Her every act was performed out of kindness for her stepdaughter; whereas Osmond would have forced the young girl into a marriage against her will.

The depth to which Osmond can sink is represented by his accusation that Isabel intercepted and destroyed Lord Warburton's letter. Furthermore, the zeal with which Osmond desires this union makes him a much smaller person, since Isabel had once felt high and noble enough to refuse Lord Warburton's proposal.

The reader should note that Ralph's sensitivity and perception enable him to foresee what will happen to Isabel, and he knows that Osmond will accuse Isabel of acting in opposition. All through the novel, Ralph has been able to see into the depth of any given situation.

James' emphasis on the European form and established ceremony assist Osmond to act admirably when Lord Warburton comes for a visit. Osmond has "the advantage of an acquired habit," so that his inner disappointment is not noticeable.

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