The Portrait of a Lady

Henry James
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Chapters 45–48

Summary Chapters 45–48

Isabel and Ralph bid one another farewell. Isabel tells Ralph that she would go with him to England but that she cannot because of Osmond. But she says that if he sends for her, she will find a way to come to him. Isabel tells Ralph that he has been her dearest friend; Ralph says that Isabel is the sole reason he has struggled to stay alive.

Caspar Goodwood comes to the palazzo to say goodbye to Isabel as well. Before he sees her, Osmond arrives and treats him mockingly, saying that Goodwood has helped him resign himself to the future. Perplexed and annoyed, Caspar does not know what he means but realizes that Osmond is more sinister than he had thought—before, he always felt that Osmond was an insignificant, dilettantish man with a quick wit; now, he has an inkling that he has a darker side. Osmond tells him again and again that his marriage to Isabel is blissful, which confuses Goodwood to no end.

Goodwood at last speaks to Isabel, and with a pang in his heart he tells her that she has changed and no longer reveals to him how she feels. He says that he loves her and that he knows she is unhappy with Osmond. He asks her if he may devote his life to feeling pity for her. Nearly weeping, Isabel tells him that he must not devote his life to it but that he may think of her every now and then. Isabel hastily excuses herself; Goodwood leaves, having at last received a glimpse of Isabel's inner self.


In this section, all of the people who love Isabel the most—Caspar, Ralph, and Henrietta—have come to Rome and reentered her life, and as a result, this section is dominated by a new kind of tension in Isabel's life. On the one hand, she is happy to have her friends close at hand; on the other, being around people who know her well makes it much more difficult for Isabel to sacrifice her happiness for the sake of social propriety and her marriage. She is cold to Ralph, evasive with Goodwood, and fatalistic with Henrietta. When they leave for England, Isabel is at the same time sad (after all, Ralph is going home to die) and relieved. With her friends gone, Isabel will be able to devote herself to working for her marriage. She has discouraged Warburton from marrying Pansy, as her conscience seemed to require, but her duty to Osmond stops her short of helping Pansy marry Rosier. Instead, she tells Pansy that she must do as her father wishes.

In previous chapters, Osmond has emerged as a sinister, even monstrous character, treating other people (especially women) as objects, stifling his wife, shamelessly using Madame Merle for his own benefit, and even basing his daughter's upbringing on his desire for her to be devoted and obedient only to him. He has exhibited bizarre and unsavory ideas, such as his claim to Isabel that married women all lie and cheat on their husbands, as his sister does.

In this section, Osmond's self-absorption and ominous quality of mind come out in a new way: his increasing paranoia. Deeply threatened that his wife, rather than being a reflection of him, seems to have ideas of her own—and possibly recognizing that Isabel is more intelligent and charismatic than he is, and furthermore that his social status is based on his access to money that belongs to her—he begins to harbor dark fantasies that she is consciously working against him and that her goal in life is to thwart his desires.

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