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The Portrait of a Lady

Henry James

Chapters 32–36

Chapters 28–31

Chapters 32–36, page 2

page 1 of 3
Summary

Some time passes; when we rejoin Isabel's life, she is waiting anxiously for Caspar Goodwood to arrive, dreading the scene she believes will ensue. Goodwood enters and tells Isabel that he has received her letter informing him of her decision to marry Gilbert Osmond. Isabel says that she has told no one but him and Madame Merle. Goodwood is obviously hurt, but he is his usual aggressive self: he presses Isabel to tell him about Osmond's attitudes, opinions, and personality, particularly his feeling for America. Isabel angrily insists that Osmond does nothing, thinks nothing, and has no opinions. Brokenly confessing his selfishness, Goodwood tells Isabel that he would rather she never marry than to marry another man. He storms away, and Isabel begins to cry.

After a short time, Isabel collects herself; she goes to tell Mrs. Touchett about her engagement. Mrs. Touchett is furious, realizing that Merle has tricked her, having convinced her not to interfere in Isabel and Gilbert's romance by promising to end it herself. Mrs. Touchett implies that Merle and Osmond have tricked her into the engagement, and in any case she cannot understand why Isabel would be interested in a man as insubstantial as Gilbert Osmond. Isabel says that if he has no substance, he cannot hurt her. Ralph arrives in Florence two days later, looking grim and ill. To Isabel's surprise, he says nothing about the engagement; she assumes that he disapproves, and Mrs. Touchett tells her as much, but she chalks up his disapproval to their family relationship—she thinks that all cousins must disapprove of one another's marriages. While coming to terms with her family's disapproval, Isabel continues to meet with Osmond every day.

After three days, Ralph encounters Isabel in the garden at the Palazzo, and tells her that he is ready to speak to her about her engagement. He says that he worries that she is putting herself into a cage, forfeiting her chance to travel and to observe a wide array of life and allowing herself to be taken adavantage of by a narrow, dry, selfish man; he says that Osmond's only quality is his aesthetic taste, and Isabel deserves to do more in her life than protect the aesthetic taste of such an insignificant man.

Isabel defends Osmond, implying that he has inner qualities that only she appreciates. She says that she is eternally grateful to Mr. Touchett for giving her the means to marry a man such as Osmond, who has no money and little social position. Ralph says that he worries that her love of Osmond is based on an illusion that she has convinced herself to believe. Ralph also confesses to Isabel that he loves her, but he says he has no hope of ever acting on his love or having it returned.

Isabel does not tell Osmond that her family disapproves of the engagement, but he guesses it; one day he tells Isabel that he has never worried about money, and he hopes her family does not believe that he would marry her for her money. Inwardly, Osmond is very pleased with Isabel; he thinks that she reflects all his ideas like a perfect silver dish. Pansy is also pleased that Isabel will be her stepmother. When she encounters Pansy at a party thrown by the Countess Gemini, she has a brief sense of fear, thinking that she may one day have to protect Pansy from her father. But she puts the thought out of her head without fully understanding it. At the party, the Countess also tells Isabel that she is pleased with the engagement. She asks Pansy to leave them for a time, as she has some advice for Isabel about marriage. Isabel asks Pansy to stay, saying that she does not wish to hear anything that is unfit for Pansy.

Three years pass. A young man named Edward Rosier, who was friendly with Isabel and Madame Merle in Paris, calls on Madame Merle in Rome. He asks her for help with his suit to marry Pansy; he and Pansy love one another, but he suspects that Pansy's father will oppose their marriage. He wants to speak to Isabel about it, but Madame Merle warns him that Isabel has no standing in her marriage—she is barely treated as part of the family. Instead, she and Gilbert disagree about everything and seem to despise one another. She also reveals that Isabel gave birth to a son two years ago, but he died when he was only six months old.

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