The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 42 - Summary & Analysis

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      Isabel had answered nothing and after Osmond had gone she leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, and for a long time was lost in meditation. Was Isabel to make Lord Warburton commit herself to Pansy? Was this the service her husband had asked of her? This at any rate was the duty with which she found herself confronted. Once awakened, her mind was now “haunted with terrors”. The impression of Osmond’s intimacy with Madame Merle that she had received that afternoon haunted her. Added to it was her meeting with Osmond half an hour ago.

      Isabel realized that it was the money which was at fault. At bottom her money had been a burden. She felt that a grand gesture was involved in using her money to support a mind as fine as Osmond’s. Her life with Osmond had been a rapid process of non-entitization. She had to support his ideas and ideals. The rigidity of the sterile system which Osmond had retreated into required the surrender of all freedom, but when she had done this he had merely scorned her individuality. Her ultimate offense was having a mind at all.

      He detested Ralph’s stay in Rome. He told her that it was indecent that she should go to him at his hotel. She liked Ralph because he made her feel the good of the world; he represented for Isabel a lamp in the darkness.

      She lingered on her chair half the night. It was four when she got up. She was going to bed at last. But even then she stopped again in the middle of the room and stood there gazing at a remembered vision - that of her husband and Madame Merle unconsciously and familiarly associated.

Critical Analysis

      James considered this chapter the best one in the novel and “a supreme example of the general plan”. Summary here does not do full justice to James’s style because the shades of meanings and motivations, shadings and refinements of thoughts can not be separated from the tensions of language.

      This chapter is Isabel’s stock-taking of her mistake—the climax, where she spares neither herself nor Osmond in the disappointment she feels over her marriage. Imagery of houses, flowers and battles abounds in this chapter. Her attitude towards Ralph also changes. She hides her misery from Ralph not because she hates him, but because she does not want to give him pain. The “ghosts” she wanted to see at Gardencourt now rise as “haunting shadows” in the shape, of her own error of judgement.

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