The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 26 - Summary & Analysis

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Chapter XXVI


     Osmond pays five visits to Mrs. Touchett’s house in a fortnight and arouses Mrs. Touchett’s suspicions about his visits. Ralph assures her that since Isabel has already refused two likely prospects, she won’t stop at Osmond. Mrs. Touchett discusses the issue with Madame Merle, who pretends that she is innocence personified.

      The intentions and motives of Osmond remain shadowy to Isabel. She is charmed by Pansy—“a sheet of blank paper” which she hopes to cover with “an edifying text.” Mrs. Touchett wants to avoid the Countess at all costs but Madame Merle reminds her that the Countess is one of the cornerstones of the Florentine social structure and that to offend her would reduce their stay in Florence to a haunting loneliness.

      Henrietta arrives in Florence and Madame Merle decides to ‘‘endure” her. Henrietta and Mrs. Bantling are to visit Rome and it is agreed that Isabel and Ralph should accompany them. Osmond too wheedles a place for himself in the party. After Isabel had left for Rome, Osmond informs Madame Merle at the Countess’s party of his intended visit. Madame Merle begins to have misgivings about the “abyss” into which she has cast Isabel. Even Osmond is a little disturbed that for all her good qualities her “ideas” will have to be ‘sacrificed’.

Critical Analysis

      Structurally and thematically these central chapters of the novel are important. Isabel’s friendship with Osmond creates a stir in the Touchett family. As the intriguers feel more sure about themselves, there is growing concern for Isabel’s welfare among her friends. The question of sacrificing Isabel’s ideas forebodes ill for future if she should continue to be so pleased with Osmond.

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