The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 51 - Summary & Analysis

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Chapter LI


      Isabel receives a telegram from Mrs. Touchett, stating that Ralph is dying and would like to see her. Greatly disturbed and depressed she goes straight to her husband’s room. Osmond, when he heard that Ralph was dying, cynically remarks : “He’ll outlive us all”. Isabel wants to go to England. He forbids her to go to England since such a thing was not in consonance with his concept of an ideal wife. He goes to extent of accusing her of faithlessness. She reacts sharply, demanding why he accused her of falsity. He does not argue further but gives her an ultimatum. She is completely disintegrated.

      She returned to her room, where she met the Countess, looking for a book to read. An hour later, Countess Gemini met her a second time and unraveled the sordid tale of a love affair, of six or seven years, between Osmond and Madame Merle, and the maneuvering through which Pansy was passed off as the daughter of the first Mrs. Osmond, who was claimed to have died in child-birth. Everything now clicks into its place as Isabel now understands why Madame Merle was so exasperatingly solicitous about Pansy. It was because Pansy was Madame Merle’s daughter. Isabel decided to go and see Ralph at once, though there was a far-reaching sadness in her voice.

Critical Analysis

      In this chapter, we find Osmond in his darkest colors as we grasp the treachery to which Isabel has been subjected. In fact, this can be regarded as the climax of the book. Different layers of the secret have been lifted one by one. But there is a good deal left too and the effect which all this will have on Isabel’s character.

      The Countess surprises us in this chapter, not so much because she reveals the affair between Osmond and Madame Merle to Isabel, but because she shows great perception in understanding Isabel as well as in assessing the reasons for the break between Osmond and Madame Merle.

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