The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 49 - Summary & Analysis

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Chapter XLIX


      The morning after her return from Naples, Madame Merle meets Isabel. She is trying to find out whether it was Isabel who had dissuaded Lord Warburton from marrying Pansy. Osmond had already met Madame Merle on the very morning of her return from Naples. Isabel asks Madame Merle what she has to do with her husband, Pansy and herself, and Madame Merle replies everything. Isabel now remembers Mrs. Touchett’s pronouncement that it was Madame Merle who was behind Osmond’s marriage with her. Recognizing that her life has been the subject of some mysterious plot, Isabel consoles herself among the ruins of Rome, where “she- dropped her secret sadness into the silence of lonely places” and. finds a familiarity in “the starved churches, where the marble' columns, transferred from pagan ruins, seemed to offer a companionship in endurance...”

      We then see Madame Merle and Osmond together. Madame Merle is horrified at her own behavior toward Isabel and begins to realize that it is Osmond’s influence on her that has made her so evil. She tells Osmond: “You have not only dried up my tears; you’ve dried up my soul”. Osmond and Madame Merle soon part company. Madame Merle looks vaguely at a chipped coffee cup and wonders, “Have I been so vile for nothing?”.

Critical Analysis

      As Isabel begins to suspect Osmond’s real relationship with Madame Merle, we are given a peep into Madame Merle's mind. The monstrous quality of Osmond appears at its worst as even Madame Merle realizes that her entire outlook has been shaped by this man. The passage in which Isabel consoles herself among the ruins of Rome is, perhaps, one of the most beautiful passages in the novel and perhaps, one of the most poignant and vivid descriptions of Rome ever written.

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