The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

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Chapters 31-35 Summary and Analysis

After several months of travel with her aunt, Isabel returns to Florence. Standing by a window in the Touchett home, Isabel recalls the events of the past year: She had been traveling first with Mrs. Touchett, and then her sister Lily, who had come with her family from America to visit Isabel. After saying good-bye to Lily, her children, and husband in London, Isabel traveled to the Middle East with Madame Merle. When she finally returned to Rome, she was reunited with Gilbert Osmond. Osmond stayed in Rome and visited Isabel and Madame Merle frequently for the next three weeks. Isabel then decided to return to Florence to stay with Ralph and Mrs. Touchett. Now, back in Florence, Isabel considers her next course of action.

Shortly after her return to Florence, Isabel receives a visit from a tense and irritated Caspar Goodwood. He is still in love with Isabel and tells her, “I would rather think of you as dead than as married to another man.” At this point in the story, we learn that Isabel has decided to marry Gilbert Osmond, but she has not revealed the news to anyone but Caspar and Madame Merle. Upon receiving this announcement from Isabel, Caspar sailed immediately for Italy. Angry and upset that Isabel is marrying Osmond, Caspar was determined to see her one more time. Caspar does not understand Isabel’s decision, and Isabel makes no real attempt to defend Osmond or to explain her reasons for marrying him. She says she had thought, once, that she would never marry, but now she has changed her mind. She offers no other explanation and Caspar leaves, furious and hurt. As he walks out the door, Isabel bursts into tears.

After Caspar leaves, Isabel tells Mrs. Touchett about her marriage plans. Mrs. Touchett is very disappointed in her niece. She warns Isabel that Madame Merle manipulated her into the marriage. Isabel finds this hard to believe, even when her aunt tells her that Madame Merle is capable of “anything.” Despite her misgivings, Mrs. Touchett accepts the situation and promises to allow Isabel to do as she wishes. Ralph, however, feels “shocked and humiliated” when he hears the news. He has just returned from spending the winter in Corfu, and he is quite ill and looks gaunt and haggard. He blames himself for assuming that Isabel would lose interest in Osmond. Meanwhile, Isabel meets with her fiancé every day, strolling with him through the Cascine, a large park outside Florence.

One morning, Isabel encounters Ralph sitting in the garden of the Touchett estate. Ralph is deep in thought, considering, he tells Isabel, his cousin’s impending marriage to Osmond. Ralph admits that he does not approve of the union and doesn’t think much of Isabel’s intended. Isabel, hurt and insulted, defends Osmond, saying she finds his simple lifestyle admirable. Ralph retorts, “I think he’s narrow and selfish. He takes himself so seriously!” Ralph believes Osmond is merely a dilettante, a man not worthy of his cousin. Then...

(The entire section is 1,313 words.)