The Portrait of a Lady

by

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 42 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Isabel refrains from answering Osmond’s rude request for her to influence Lord Warburton into marrying Pansy. After he leaves the room, she sits back into her her chair and closes her eyes, “given up to her meditation.”
Isabel refrains from open conflict with Osmond, perhaps trying to abide by her marital promise to obey him as his wife. Osmond’s exit now sets the scene for the climax of the novel, surprisingly consisting of Isabel’s “meditation” rather than action.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
A servant enters the room to stoke up the fire, with Isabel asking him to also bring candles. She then sits alone into the deep of the night, reflecting on her situation and the many choices that have led her here. She questions whether Lord Warburton still desires her and admires her beyond all other women; if so, is it possible that he would marry Pansy to please Isabel? Isabel admits to herself that she is sickened by the idea of Pansy marrying Warburton. She resolves to wait on action by seeing whether Warburton is truly invested in Pansy. She reasons that he cannot realistically be in love with two women at one time.
Isabel’s inner thoughts are complex and crowded. Firstly, she experiences another about-face in her opinion on how to support Pansy in finding a husband, deciding that she cannot encourage Lord Warburton as Pansy’s potential husband after all. Her decision seems to rest on her accepting the realization that Warburton is still in love with Isabel, a problem that she seems to somewhat enjoy.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Still seated before the fire, Isabel’s thoughts turn to Osmond and Madame Merle’s strange familiarity earlier that day. She had never known that the two kept in touch, for Madame Merle rarely visited the Osmonds. Isabel considers the way that her husband spoils everything around him; she was blind to his vices during their courtship, and tried to ignore his weaknesses during their first year of marriage, but now she sees “the whole man.”
Isabel also acknowledges her own deep faults in marrying Osmond despite the obvious signs they were not a good match. She is resigned to the truth of his “small” character now that she can clearly see the flaws that were previously hidden under a façade of European sophistication and elegance.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
Isabel comes to realize that Mr. Touchett’s gift of a significant fortune has been a burden that has ruined her life. Her naïve idealism led her to marry Osmond so that she could fund the apparently noble pursuits of “the man with the best taste in the world.” However, Osmond’s apparent taste and moral values were a mask. Isabel wishes she had realized her folly in marrying Osmond when he chastised her during their courtship as having too many foolish ideas.
Even more significantly, Isabel admits to herself that her inheritance has been her downfall. Her grand idea to finance Osmond’s noble artistic pursuits was in fact a selfish desire to ensure her money was used to enable great ideas in the world. In a way, Isabel did marry for financial reasons; however, this was not to improve her own wealth, but to ensure her new money was used for an admirable purpose.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
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Isabel thinks that living with Osmond is like living in “a house of darkness [and] […] suffocation.” His selfishness and arrogance crush her independence. He dislikes most of society, but relies on society to build up his self image. He is also petty of spirit; for example, he hasn’t spoken to his wife for a week, likely because he is angry that Isabel has been visiting Ralph regularly.
Isabel feels that Osmond has trapped her and now smothers the identity and life out of her. James reveals Osmond is a man who embodies the worst of European Old World values: he fakes sophistication while harboring meaningless traditions and tastes. He has furthermore tricked Isabel into an unhappy marriage in pursuit of money to finance his worthless lifestyle.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Isabel remembers fondly her recent visit to Ralph. Her cousin has become a pillar for her again, as she relies on his friendship greatly, feeling as though he is like a brother to her. However, she never reveals her deep unhappiness in her marriage to him.
Despite their repaired relationship, Isabel refrains from telling Ralph of her unhappiness in marriage because she believes it to be a kindness in sparing his anguish for her. It is evident that Isabel holds herself to a strict code of ethics, despite her husband’s total lack of moral integrity.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
Isabel’s intense internal reflections have reached a climactic frenzy; she stews quietly in front of the fire until four in the morning, when she finally retires to bed. Her last thoughts are of the strange interactions between Osmond and Madame Merle earlier that day.
Isabel’s rich inner discourse occurs for hours as she sits quietly; this was a very unusual literary technique for James to use and heralds the incoming modernist literary movement that similarly favored expressing ideas in new forms and styles.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon