The Portrait of a Lady | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady | Chapters 34–35 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 34

Isabel Archer finds Ralph Touchett in the garden. He expresses his surprise that she has decided to get married, when just a year before she wanted only to be free to see the world. He warns her that she is "going to be put into a cage." Isabel says it is not his concern. She has "seen life," and marriage to Gilbert Osmond is what she wants. He tells her he doesn't trust Osmond, whom he finds unimportant, small, and selfish. Isabel is very offended and tells Ralph how much she admires Osmond. Ralph understands that Isabel loves the idea of Osmond she has created in her mind. Ralph hates to cause her pain, but he feels he has to warn her against the marriage, confessing that he does so because he loves her. He feels ill when he realizes that it is his father's money, which he convinced Mr. Touchett to leave Isabel, that makes her marriage to Osmond possible. If she had less money, she couldn't afford to marry a poor man. She promises him she won't come crying to him if the troubles he foresees for her come true.

Chapter 35

Isabel chooses not to tell Osmond that her family and friends dislike him, focusing instead on how their disapproval only shows that she is making the choice for her own pleasure. She fancies love always "separated its victim terribly from everyone but the loved object."

Osmond, meanwhile, is very careful to always appear to be deeply in love and, in fact, he is very pleased with his conquest. He is aware, however, of the objections others have to the union because he has no money. When he tells Pansy Osmond of their engagement, Pansy is delighted to have Isabel as a new "sister." She tells Isabel she believes Isabel will "suit" her father well and be a good companion for him. Countess Gemini will not congratulate Isabel and wonders what Isabel has to gain from the marriage. Nevertheless, the countess is happy to have Isabel in the family and says one day she will tell her more about Osmond.

Analysis

In Chapter 34 readers see into Ralph Touchett's soul. Readers find confirmation that Ralph loves Isabel Archer. He blurts it out as the two argue over the choices and future. Ralph realizes Isabel has created one of her pet theories in her view of Osmond and has convinced herself she is right. She believes that she alone sees the real value of Osmond. Her pride won't allow her to accept Ralph's warnings. To his dismay, Ralph realizes that it was his actions to convince his father to give her the money that have led to this moment. The realization makes him sick. It's his fault that he must now witness Isabel "caught" and caged up, when what he really wanted was to see her fly free.

Readers see in Chapter 34 the rift between the two cousins. Once so close, and still with much love on both sides, the two cannot agree on Isabel's choice. In her promise not to ever come to him with her troubles, Isabel suggests the break in their relationship will be permanent. Osmond and Madame Merle have come between Isabel and Ralph, although Isabel doesn't realize it yet.

Isabel is blinded by her love of Osmond or by (as Ralph suggests) her theory of Osmond, such that the opinions of her loved ones about him don't matter to her at all. In Chapter 35 she thinks of her family and friends, including Henrietta Stackpole, Caspar Goodwood, Lord Warburton, Mrs. Touchett, and her close confidant and best adviser, Ralph, who all disapprove of the match, but she refuses to heed any of their warnings. She is either very arrogant or much manipulated, and perhaps both. In Chapter 35 she savors the fact that their dislike of Osmond proves "that she married to please herself." The irony cannot be lost on readers that she feels most proud of her independence to make a choice that will effectively destroy her freedom.

In Chapter 35 Pansy Osmond's innocence and devotion to her father strike readers anew when she is happy to hear of Isabel joining her family, assuming Isabel will be like a sister to her. This can be read as Pansy's desire for a sibling, naturally assuming her stepmother will be more like a sister than a mother because Isabel is closer to her own age than to that of her father. Or, it can be read as Pansy's ignorance about sex, marriage, and Isabel's true relationship with her father. She may think Isabel and she will have the same filial relationship with Osmond. Either way, as always, what matters to Pansy is what will best please her father. She approves of the match because she believes Isabel will be what her father wants in a wife.

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