The Portrait of a Lady

by

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 35 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Osmond and Isabel take another walk together. Isabel feels somewhat isolated in her family and friends’ disapproval of her engagement. For example, she believes that her sisters, Lilian and Edith, have only written to her out of a sense of duty, wondering why their sister has not picked a more traditionally suitable husband. Isabel also tells herself that she does not care about Mrs. Touchett and Ralph’s strong objections to her engagement. In fact, she decides that she is even more adamant in her decision to marry Osmond, again reminding herself that she marries for her own desire and not the satisfaction of others.
Isabel’s unyielding personality results in her hardened resolve to see through a marriage that her family and friends disapprove of. She is blind to the truth of Osmond’s nature, ignoring her family members’ warnings that he is dangerous. Although she tries to deflect her family’s disapproval, it is clear that it makes her unhappy.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Osmond is experiencing an elated sense of achievement at having successfully charmed Isabel into marrying him. He knows that he will profit greatly from his marriage to the young woman: in fortune, and in the way that appreciates Isabel’s original spirit. He compares her to a “silver plate” that reflects his own ideas back at him in an even better form. Despite his good spirits, he never forgets himself by stepping out of the character he has built up for her. Osmond is aware of others’ objections to their engagement, although Isabel never mentions them to him. He tries to allay any concerns by reminding Isabel that he has never cared for money and will not start doing so now. Of course, his scheming with Madame Merle to win Isabel’s hand in marriage proves otherwise, but his future wife remains unaware of his true character.
Osmond is first and foremost marrying Isabel for her fortune. However, he has also come to care for her personality, specifically appreciating the way that her fine qualities reflect well on Osmond himself. His overpowering ego compares her to a valuable object for him to collect; his comparison of Isabel to a “silver plate” echoes her ability to reflect Osmond’s image in a good light. In order to secure their marriage, Osmond blatantly lies to Isabel that he does not want her inheritance. His narcissistic and immoral actions reflect the worst of European Old World decadent behaviors.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Isabel and Osmond plan for the future, deciding to reside in Italy together. Isabel is buoyed by the thought that she is giving back to the world by marrying Osmond and enabling his noble ideas to come to fruition.
Isabel again comforts herself with her imagined ideas of all of the good she can do in financing Osmond’s seemingly principled values and artistic taste.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Osmond brings Pansy to see Isabel; he still treats her as a small child, despite her now being sixteen years old. Pansy is delighted at the news of her father’s engagement to Isabel. She believes that they suit each other wonderfully, both being “quiet and so serious.” Isabel promises that she will always be a kind stepmother to Pansy.
Pansy is likely an additional reason that Isabel has agreed to marry the cunning Osmond, as Isabel recognizes the (apparently) motherless girl’s vulnerability.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
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The Countess Gemini reacts quite differently to the news of her brother Osmond’s engagement. She tells Isabel directly that she is pleased for herself that Isabel will marry Osmond, as it means she will be closer to Isabel, whom she admires greatly. However, the Countess thinks that Isabel is far too brilliant to marry into their “fallen” family. She also thinks of marriage as an oppressive institution in general, not even caring that Pansy can hear her when she describes marriage as an “awful steel trap” full of “horrors.”
The Countess echoes Ralph’s claims that Isabel will “fall” if she marries Osmond. The Countess has previously revealed to Madame Merle that Osmond is far too wicked an individual to marry the kindly Isabel; she is ware of her brother’s true narcissistic nature. Furthermore, the Countess builds on Ralph’s description of Isabel’s upcoming marriage as a trap that will limit her personal liberty, for the Countess has experienced terrible restrictions in her own unhappy marriage.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Strangely, the Countess Gemini suggests that Isabel will shortly see the truth of Osmond, and that if Isabel is strong enough, then the Countess will one day tell her all about her brother. When the Countess Gemini seems intent on telling Isabel of her brother’s ills at once, instructing Pansy to leave the room, Isabel begs the girl to stay so that she cannot hear the apparently awful tales that the Countess has to share about Osmond.
Isabel wilfully prevents the Countess from describing Osmond’s dangerous faults; Isabel vainly seems to be unable to consider the possibility that she is truly marrying a terrible man who desires her money more than her love.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon