The Portrait of a Lady

by

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 33 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
An hour later, Isabel has ceased her weeping. She means to share the news of her engagement to Gilbert Osmond with Mrs. Touchett, although she expects that there will be a scene when she does. Isabel had waited to tell her family until after she spoke with Goodwood, feeling obliged to hear his objections before informing everyone else of her impending marriage.
Isabel’s decision to tell Goodwood about her engagement before her family demonstrates the high regard that Isabel holds for the businessman. She now commits herself to telling the Touchetts that she is engaged, but dreads their reactions.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Isabel is surprised to find out that Mrs. Touchett already has some inkling of the engagement. In fact, Mrs. Touchett has realized that Madame Merle played her friend for a fool, convincing her that she would dissuade Osmond’s interest in Isabel when really Merle was encouraging it. Mrs. Touchett refers to Isabel’s fiancé as “Madame Merle’s friend” because she has done him a great favor in intentionally setting him up with Isabel. Isabel does not believe her aunt’s accusation that Merle was involved in Osmond and Isabel’s courtship.
Mrs. Touchett has been betrayed on two counts: firstly, her niece has decided on a poor choice of marriage despite her aunt’s disapproval, and secondly, it is Mrs. Touchett’s own friend Madame Merle who helped to engineer the match.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Mrs. Touchett cannot understand why Isabel wants to marry Gilbert Osmond when he has no conventional marital advantages: no name, status, or wealth. She wonders if Isabel is marrying the man out of charity. Indeed, Isabel suggests that she wants to give her husband-to-be some of her money immediately. At Mrs. Touchett’s continued objections to the man, Isabel asserts that she need not explain her decision to her aunt.
Isabel is unable to clearly explain her reasons for marrying Osmond to her aunt. Mrs. Touchett suspects Osmond is marrying Isabel for her wealth, a suspicion that is heightened when she learns that Isabel wants to give him money now. In Victorian times, a man should provide for his family, but in this case, Osmond lives an idle life focused on producing art of little value.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Two days later, Ralph arrives to Florence. He does not mention his cousin’s engagement, despite Isabel knowing that he has heard of it. In fact, his mother had shared the shocking news with him immediately. Ralph is “humiliated” by his poor judgment in having previously concluded that Isabel would never seriously consider Osmond’s courtship. He is devastated that she is now lost to him forever.
Ralph’s usually good sense of character has failed him, for he has judged the situation with Isabel and Osmond completely wrong. The fact that he is “humiliated” by his error likely stems from his additional strong romantic feelings for Isabel.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Isabel grows impatient at Ralph’s lack of a response to her engagement to Osmond. She knows that he is likely to be disappointed at her choice of husband. However, she is also respectful of his poor health, for he has arrived to Florence looking extremely sickly.
Isabel’s close friendship with Ralph means that she hopes to have his blessing for her marriage to Osmond, although she is not expecting Ralph’s easy endorsement.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Isabel occupies her time with meeting Osmond in different places around the city each day. With their engagement now common news, they are free to meet in public.
One of the reasons Isabel is attracted to Osmond is his European sophistication, as the engaged pair meet in romantic places throughout Florence.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon