The Portrait of a Lady

by

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 26 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Gilbert Osmond has visited Mrs. Touchett’s Florence home five times in just two weeks, which is a great many times more than his usual annual visit. Ralph discerns that Isabel is the reason.
Osmond has been acting on his desire to marry Isabel for her wealth; Ralph recognizes that Osmond is clearly courting Isabel.
Themes
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Mrs. Touchett also recognizes Osmond’s interest in Isabel. She wonders if his attentions would remain once he had spent her fortune. Ralph assures his mother that Isabel is not foolish enough to marry Osmond, for she is intent on retaining her personal freedoms to travel the world. Mrs. Touchett is not so convinced as her son is of Isabel’s immunity to Osmond’s attentions. She explains her concerns to Madame Merle, who stops Mrs. Touchett from warning Isabel of Osmond’s intentions. Merle promises to help Mrs. Touchett find out the truth of the matter from Osmond.
Mrs. Touchett is similarly aware of Osmond’s desire to court Isabel and that her niece’s wealth is the likely attraction. Unlike Isabel, Mrs. Touchett and Ralph are experienced in the workings of society. They do not realize the extent of the danger that Isabel will soon find herself in, for her naivety is a huge vulnerability.
Themes
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
The Countess Gemini also visits Isabel at Mrs. Touchett’s home. Mrs. Touchett is annoyed by her appearance, as there are rumors that the Countess has behaved unfaithfully in her marriage. Mrs. Touchett does not want to associate with such an individual, although Madame Merle defends the Countess’s character.
The eccentric Mrs. Touchett clearly adheres to some social conventions, wanting no interaction with the scandalous Countess Gemini. Little does Mrs. Touchett know that her good friend Madame Merle is the more scandalous threat.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Henrietta Stackpole also visits Isabel again. She is currently traveling to Rome from Venice; Ralph suggests that he and Isabel join Henrietta and Mr. Bantling in their trip to Rome.
Henrietta appears once again to act as a mechanism who moves the plot forward. Surprisingly, the American journalist is still traveling in the European continent that she detests, and with a man steeped in English tradition no less.
Themes
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
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Before Isabel leaves Florence for Rome, Osmond tells Isabel he would have liked to travel with her. She suggests he go to Rome also, bringing Pansy with him, but he declines traveling in a group.
Isabel’s attachment to Osmond grows; her kindness is also evident in her extending the invitation to Rome to Pansy as well as Osmond. Her care for Pansy foreshadows her considerate relationship with Pansy later in the novel as the girl’s stepmother.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Osmond lets Madame Merle know that her plans for his marriage to Isabel are moving along nicely. Merle states that she is “frightened” of the situation she has put Isabel in by introducing her to the dastardly Osmond. However, Osmond is unconcerned by her fear and says that it is too late to stop the plan now. He is quite taken with Isabel, despite her flaw in having too many ideas. Merle encourages Osmond to travel to Rome to spend time with Isabel, but he cannot be bothered with the effort of it all. When Madame Merle makes to leave the villa, Osmond accompanies her outside, where she rebukes him for being too reckless in his behaviors. 
The confident Madame Merle reveals a sudden fear for Isabel’s wellbeing. Osmond surprisingly finds himself attracted to Isabel’s personality as well as her fortune. However, despite Merle’s prompting it seems he is too lazy to make the effort to meet Isabel in Rome. Merle’s later critique of Osmond’s familiarity in her presence demonstrates the two’s disreputable history that they hide from their peers.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon