The Portrait of a Lady

by

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 29 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Osmond makes for good company in Rome. Despite his apprehensions, even Ralph acknowledges that Gilbert Osmond is an entertaining and sociable companion to the group.
Osmond manages to ingratiate himself to Isabel and her friends in his pursuit of her hand in marriage.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Osmond likes Isabel very much, noting that only a few small faults keep her from being perfect. He is surprised to find that he feels some happiness in life at the present time, even taking pleasure in composing Isabel a sonnet. Osmond has come to believe that Isabel is a good influence, and that she can help him and his exquisite tastes to influence the world around them.
Osmond’s desire for Isabel goes beyond her attractive fortune, as he finds himself benefitting from her moral propriety. Mostly, though, Osmond is thrilled at the prospect of Isabel’s wealth financing his increased influence on the art world.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Mrs. Touchett writes to Isabel to suggest that they travel to Bellagio in Lombardy. Before Isabel departs, Osmond comments that she is probably intending to experience the world through travel. He has no inclination to travel, instructing her to reconnect with him once she has achieved all the travel that she needs. Isabel criticizes Osmond for thinking that travel is a wasteful passion, but he responds that this is not the case, and that he believes in ensuring one lives life as though it is a work of art. He advises Isabel that she must follow her desires.
Isabel plans to travel further in Europe with her aunt. Osmond cleverly aligns himself with her values, not trying to tie her down through marriage but instead encouraging Isabel to follow her passions. If Osmond instead directly proposed marriage, as did Caspar Goodwood and Lord Warburton in their attempts to secure Isabel, it is likely she would immediately reject him as a suitor.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Osmond then shocks Isabel by revealing that he loves her. He doesn’t have anything to offer her but his feelings. Isabel stands, panicked, but becomes caught in Osmond’s stare. They lock eyes for some time. Osmond then reaffirms his love for Isabel despite her pleas not to. He furthermore states that he will always love Isabel, for she is “the most important woman in the world” to him.
Osmond makes an unexpected declaration of love for Isabel, but again he refrains from directly proposing marriage. Osmond’s claim that Isabel will always be “the most important woman in the world” to him calls into question his ethics, for his daughter Pansy should take priority.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
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Isabel reacts coolly, stating that she is concerned but unoffended by Osmond’s revelations. Osmond requests that she grant him a favor when she returns to Florence, asking her to visit Pansy, which Isabel agrees to.
Isabel is panicked by Osmond’s declaration, but does not reject him outright as she had Goodwood and Lord Warburton. Osmond cleverly entreats Isabel to visit Pansy in Florence, likely hoping that his daughter’s sweet nature will encourage Isabel to consider marrying him.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Osmond respectfully takes his quick leave from Isabel. Left alone, she sits down slowly and remains in place until the rest of her party return. Isabel realizes that she has imagined Osmond’s declaration of feeling to her, but in the moment has been rendered entirely in shock. The narrator suggests that Isabel’s odd reaction can be explained by her active imagination’s refusal to enter “treacherous” territory.
Again, Osmond acts cunningly by leaving Isabel alone to consider his words. His actions oppose the forceful Goodwood and Lord Warburton, who pressured Isabel in their desires to the point that she needed to order them away from her. Isabel has been happy to indulge in her imagination regarding Osmond and fails to see what is present before her very eyes.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon