The Portrait of a Lady | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady | Chapters 28–29 | Summary



Chapter 28

Lord Warburton goes to the opera when he learns the rest of the group is there. He sees Isabel Archer seated close to Gilbert Osmond, and after staying a while and feeling uneasy, Lord Warburton leaves. Osmond asks Isabel about Lord Warburton, and Ralph Touchett implies Isabel is nice to Lord Warburton because she hurt him in the past. She acts innocent of this charge.

Isabel encounters Lord Warburton later at a gallery, and he tells her he is leaving Rome because he can't keep his promise not to renew his attentions to her. Osmond joins Isabel, and he knows she has been talking to Lord Warburton. He surmises she has indeed hurt the lord by turning him down at some point, and this makes Isabel all the more attractive to Osmond as something to "figure in his collection of choice objects." He thinks it would be "proper" that his prospective wife had declined a nobleman.

Chapter 29

Osmond makes himself pleasant to the whole group and seems to enjoy his time in Rome immensely. Isabel receives a telegram from her aunt saying Mrs. Touchett will be leaving Florence for Bellagio and that Isabel may join her if she comes back in time. Isabel tells Osmond about her plan to meet her aunt. He tells her to enjoy her travels and that he hopes they will meet again when she is satisfied and finished with her wanderlust. He proclaims his love for her, and asks her to visit Pansy Osmond before she leaves Florence with Mrs. Touchett. She says she will.


In Chapters 28 and 29 Isabel Archer listens to Lord Warburton's confessions of unrequited love for her and witnesses his discomfort and pain without signs of much compassion in both chapters. She simply reminds him of his promise not to speak to her about it. She also acts as if she doesn't know she has hurt him in the past, when Ralph Touchett implies that is why she is so civil to him. Readers may wonder where the kind, empathic girl has gone, the girl they saw writing a sensitive refusal to her suitor in earlier chapters. It is striking how much colder Isabel seems since coming to Italy and, readers may note, since befriending Gilbert Osmond and Madame Merle.

In Chapter 28 Osmond objectifies Isabel, thinking of her as a rare specimen to add to his collection. He also thinks of her as a personal adornment, like a badge of honor he might wear, distinguishing himself as important. He seems to think her even more attractive because of her "achievements," like turning down a nobleman. It is "proper" he would have a wife who had done something so unusual.

In Chapter 29 a telegraph signals a shift in the plot, and Osmond must change his tactics by declaring his love before she gets away. Mrs. Touchett tells Isabel that Isabel must join her in Florence before she leaves for Bellagio, if Isabel is to come along. Isabel is ready to leave Rome to continue her journeys. Osmond seems supportive of her travels, but he wants to see her again when all her goals and desires are satisfied; he says he wants her "tired." He gets his hooks in her while he can by telling her of his feelings for her but also by drawing out his influence on her as long as possible, asking her to do him the favor of visiting Pansy Osmond, which he knows will tug at her heartstrings and remind her of the girl's father one last time before she leaves for good.

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