The Portrait of a Lady

The Portrait of a Lady Summary and Analysis of Chapters 46-47

Chapter 46

Osmond begins to think it is odd that Lord Warburton has not yet written to him to ask for Pansy's hand in marriage. Osmond asks Isabel to remind Lord Warburton to write. Isabel tells him to do so himself. Osmond retorts that Isabel is working against him. Isabel begins to tremble. She notes, "How much you must want to make sure of him!" (She is suggesting that Osmond is needy, and that he desperately wants something of someone else. This is a crack at the façade of Osmond's usual imperviousness.) She feels delight at having wounded him.

Lord Warburton suddenly arrives. He announces that he will be leaving soon, and he speaks as if he will not be seeing them for quite some time more.

A complex operation occurs in Isabel's mind as Warburton gallantly departs. She listens to Warburton, reading between the lines of what he said. On the other side of her mind, she knows Osmond's emotions. She almost feels sorry for him as his hopes vanish. But she also sees how proportionate his inexpressiveness is to his indifference. As his hopes vanish, she sees how he had the comfort of thinking how well he had kept out of the whole affair, as if he had been indifferent the entire time.

Lord Warburton begins to stay and chat for an awkwardly long time. Osmond excuses himself. Pansy is sent into the room, and Warburton tells her that Pansy has a "guardian angel" (422). He then retreats. Pansy tells Isabel that she is her guardian angel. Pansy believes that Isabel has asked Osmond to be gentle with her, but Isabel recognizes that Osmond is only gentle because he can never be put in the wrong with his daughter.

When Isabel is about to go to bed, Osmond calls her into the drawing room. He asks what she means to do. She responds that she has no intentions. Osmond believes she is trying to humiliate him, playing a very deep game. Isabel tells him that Pansy did not like Lord Warburton, and Osmond simply dismisses this as an unimportant detail.

Chapter 47

During a period of Madame Merle's absence from Rome, Isabel is haunted by strange visions at night of her husband and Madame Merle together. She feels her imagination arrive at an elusive point only to be checked by a nameless dread.

Henrietta arrives in Rome and visits Isabel. She informs her that Caspar Goodwood is also in Rome, but Goodwood delays in coming to see Isabel. Sometimes Isabel believes she sees him on the street. Isabel feels she must put her own spiritual affairs in order, but she is afraid that if Caspar comes to see her he will know how much such affairs are in disarray. Isabel lets Henrietta know how unhappy she is, and Henrietta responds by asking her why she does not leave. Isabel declares that she must accept her choice, because she made it freely. Henrietta shows herself to be a good friend who has made the journey from America simply because she knows her friend Isabel is unhappy. Henrietta tells Isabel about Mr. Bantling's journey to America and how he was received there as a "simple" man.

In this chapter, we get a sense of the various ways Isabel's friends constellate with each other and with her husband. Pansy finds Henrietta fascinating, and Henrietta thinks that Pansy is suspicious, remembering everything she says. Osmond dislikes Ralph, believing he is pompous. He thinks his only redeeming quality is the fact that he is ill, but thinks he ought to prove how ill he is by dying. He is offended by Lord Warburton's behavior, comparing him to a man that has come to buy a house, gone and looked around in each and every room, only to escape having not paid for any rent. Osmond likens Henrietta to a "steel pen" - she is sharp and grating, and he finds her simply to be a "monster" (431). Caspar finally visits Isabel and surprisingly he and Osmond get along quite well. When Osmond learns that Caspar proposed marriage, he is surprised that Isabel did not accept, saying it would have been like living under a "tall belfry" (435). Caspar comes to Isabel's Thursday evening gatherings regularly.

Isabel asks Caspar to visit Ralph as a favor to herself. When Caspar goes to visit Ralph, he finds Henrietta has also been keeping Ralph company. Ralph and Henrietta jokingly have declared each other enemies, and of course they seem to accord in nothing. Isabel's plan is to have Caspar accompany Ralph back to Gardencourt. This would be convenient too because it would give Caspar an occupation away from herself. She believes it would be fitting if Ralph would take his final resting place in his own home. She associates Gardencourt with a sacred time in her life.


Isabel's conversation with Osmond declares her intention not to help him in his quest to marry Pansy to Lord Warburton -- he accuses her then of taking a direct action against him. This is the beginning of an open confrontation with her husband that she has never before had, and which she had feared at the beginning of Chapter 45 would occur in reference to Ralph. It is a demonstration of a kind of psychological violence that people can do to each other by acting against one another's interests, or ignoring each other's desires. Osmond shows his own limited perspective when he refuses to acknowledge Pansy's own desires as even factoring into her life: he simply believes she should follow convention and try to ambitiously climb as high in society as possible through marriage.

Chapter 47 is a very quick overview of how all Isabel's relations think of each other. She seems to have brought them all together and they are almost like a kind of community, all built around their common concern for her. They also provide her with an opportunity for a genuine re-entry into the social world, as opposed to the false appearance she presents at her Thursday evening social gatherings. Henrietta allows for light comic relief from the gothic melodrama of Isabel's life -- she is "living" in Osmond's dark, fine mind, as it were. It is surprising that Osmond and Caspar get along with each other: Osmond is very much representative of Old World convention, and Caspar is representative of a forceful capitalistic New World impulses.

Isabel's response to Henrietta's suggestion that she simply leave Osmond implies that Isabel believes in a certain moral standard for her own behavior. Unlike being tied to conventionality, like Osmond's understanding of marriage, Isabel takes responsibility for her actions, believing that she freely made her choice to be with Osmond and that she ought not to hypocritically act in ways contradicting the oath she made. Robert Pippin (see works cited) has understood Isabel to be one of Henry James' best moral heroines, who is asking the question of how she can morally assert her own freedom in life - how she can act independently, taking responsibility for her own actions. She is faced with the modern problem of decaying social relations that are empty formal conventions with no real moral values. (For example, Mrs. Touchett was married to Mr. Touchett but they did not love each other; they were in no sense partners.) She is faced with a problem of meaning that is unstable because nobody shares common meanings. Gilbert Osmond for example sees marriage as a financial transaction, but Isabel marries for her own ideas. Her assertion to Henrietta that she must adhere to the consequences of her actions shows Isabel's commitment to keeping her actions consistent, even in the realization that they are isolating.