The Portrait of a Lady

by

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 31 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrative skips forward by a year. Isabel has returned to Florence, having been away for several months. She has been traveling Europe with her eldest sister, Lilian; the two have visited exotic location such as Greece and Egypt, soaking in new cultures.
Isabel has been able to indulge in her desire for personal development through European and even African travels. Lilian is shown to be another American woman who is keen to partake in the trend to cross the Atlantic to soak up exotic cultures.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
Although Isabel is currently sitting beside a window at Mrs. Touchett’s house, waiting for someone, the narrator flashes back to some of the events of Isabel’s recent travels. Isabel had also invited Madame Merle to travel with she and Lilian. After spending three months with her friend, Isabel feels that she has even closer bonds with Madame Merle despite their previously strong friendship. Merle has even related some of her history with her deceased husband to Isabel, revealing that he was a selfish and manipulative character who took advantage of her youth.
Isabel is thrilled to have bonded even more closely with Madame Merle, a woman who Isabel believes embodies the best of European sophistication and elegance. Isabel likely aspires to grow into a figure like Merle, despite Merle’s earlier assertions that her life is superficial.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
During their time together, Isabel does realize that she and Madame Merle have different ethical codes. Isabel presumes that her own is superior, describing Merle’s as “values gone wrong.” The narrator also observes that Isabel’s imagination is just as active as ever.
Isabel’s presumption again demonstrates that arrogance accompanies her independent spirit. She admires Merle and defends Merle’s sometimes questionable moral qualities as good principles that have simply “gone wrong.”
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
Upon her return to Italy, Isabel goes to Rome to stay with Madame Merle. There Gilbert Osmond calls upon her each day over a three week period. In April, Isabel goes back to Mrs. Touchett’s house in Florence. She hopes to meet Ralph there upon his expected return from Corfu.
Osmond demonstrates his commitment to Isabel and she allows his daily visits with the knowledge of his feelings for her.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
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