The Portrait of a Lady

by

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 53 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On a train to London, Isabel’s mind has “given up to vagueness.” She experiences confusing visions and is unable to imagine her future. With time, though, she uses her recent conversations with Osmond, the Countess Gemini, Madame Merle, and Pansy to begin making some connections between previous events.
James again focuses on Isabel’s interiority rather than moving the plot forward by action in response to Isabel’s weighty new knowledge.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Isabel considers that her time in Rome has been a total waste. However, she now believes that she could perhaps achieve happiness in her future and that life does not entail only suffering and pain.
Despite her immense suffering, Isabel retains some of the earnest hopefulness that she demonstrated before her marriage to Osmond.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Isabel is met in London by Henrietta Stackpole, with whom Isabel has corresponded with about her travel plans. Isabel is surprised to see that Mr. Bantling is also with Henrietta; the pair tell Isabel that they are engaged to be married, with plans to live together in London.
Ralph’s prediction that the unlikely romantic pairing of the Old World Mr. Bantling and New World Henrietta have come true. With James’s depictions of unhappy marriages throughout the story, though, there is doubt as to whether Bantling and Henrietta’s marriage will be successful.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
Isabel is further surprised by the news of Henrietta’s engagement to Mr. Bantling and disappointed by her friend’s falling into convention. However, she acknowledges that Henrietta is simply showing her “human susceptibilities.”
Isabel would never have imagined that her independent and career-minded friend would agree to a conventional marriage. She forgets, however, how similarly shocked her peers were at news of the headstrong Isabel’s engagement.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
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