Portrait o a Lady: Chapters 28-30
Summary – Chapter Twenty Eight, Twenty Nine and Thirty
The next night Lord Warburton visits his friends at their hotel and discovers they have gone to the opera. At the theatre, he sees Isabel with Osmond and supposes the others are in the lobby. As he goes up the stairs, Ralph is descending and he says he feels low. He asks Lord Warburton to go up to the box while he walks about. In the box, Lord Warburton is bewildered as although Isabel has rejected him she speaks to him with tones of caring and detachment.
He leaves the opera early and Osmond asks Isabel about his ‘character’. She says it is ‘irreproachable and he asks if she knows him well and she says ‘well enough for all the use I have for him’ and expands that she likes to like him. Osmond says he envies his looks and wealth and she says he always seems to be envying someone. He asks why she speaks of him as ‘poor’ and Ralph explains that when women are ‘very, very good’ they sometimes pity men after they have hurt them. Isabel says, ‘pray, have I hurt Lord Warburton?’ and raises her eyebrows ‘as if the idea were perfectly fresh’. Henrietta says it serves him right if she has.
Isabel sees Lord Warburton two days later at the gallery of the Capitol. He is standing before the statue of the Dying Gladiator. He tells her he is leaving Rome and is going because he cannot keep his promise to her. He asks when he will see her again and she says some day after he is married. He says that will never be and ‘it will be after you are’ and she smiles and says ‘that will do as well’. They shake hands and part and he leaves her in the ‘glorious room, among the shining antique marbles’.
After half an hour alone, Osmond enters and is surprised to find her without company. She says her English peer has left and he notes her tone. He says that it is true what was said the other evening as she is rather cruel to him. She looks at the vanquished gladiator for a moment and says it is not true as she has been ‘scrupulously kind’. This proves Osmond’s point and we are told that he is fond of ‘originals, or rarities’ and the superior and this is how he sees Lord Warburton. He finds Isabel all the more attractive for ‘declining so noble a hand’.
Osmond proves to be of good company in Chapter Twenty Nine and he thinks Isabel’s only fault is that she is ‘sometimes of too precipitate a readiness’ and without this she would have been ‘as smooth to his general need of her as handled ivory to the palm’.
Isabel receives a telegram from her aunt saying she is leaving for Bellaggio on the 4th June and will take her if she wishes to come. Isabel lets her know immediately that she wants to join her and Osmond comes to see her in the hotel sitting room the day before she leaves. She has a book in her lap, but is not impatient to pursue her study.
As he talks, she accuses him of not respecting her travels and says he thinks women should not do this and should not be ‘bold and ungraceful’. He says he thinks it is beautiful and reminds her he has said before that ‘one ought to make one’s life a work of art’. She accuses him of despising ‘bad, stupid art; and says he would laugh if she said she was going to Japan. He says he would love to go there and does not know why she thinks he is laughing at her.
She thinks it will be as well if they do not meet again as ‘happy things don’t repeat themselves’. He tells her kindly to go everywhere and do everything and to ‘get everything out of life’. He then says he is absolutely in love with her and she asks him not to say that. He says, for him, she will always be ‘the most important woman in the world’. She thinks she fills this ‘with a certain grace’, but tells him she is ‘incommoded’ and ‘troubled’. She adds that she does not know him ‘at all’ and colors at the thought of having said this to Lord Warburton too. She bids him farewell and he asks her to do him one service – to visit his daughter at the villa as he is staying on in Rome. She agrees and her agitation is deep when he leaves.
In Chapter Thirty, Isabel returns to Florence with Ralph. She tells Madame Merle that Osmond asked her to take a look at Pansy but does not reveal his declaration of love. Madame Merle implies she should not go alone as this is the house of a handsome bachelor and not everyone knows he is away. Isabel says she has promised and asks why it is alright for her to visit alone. Madame Merle replies that she is an ‘old frump’ whereas Isabel is a beautiful young woman. She then says she should go as nobody will be any the wiser, and Isabel does.
When she visits Pansy, she is tempted to discuss Osmond but thinks this will be taking advantage of her. Pansy asks when she will come again as she leaves and Isabel replies, ‘not for a long time, I’m afraid’.
Analysis – Chapter Twenty Eight, Twenty Nine and Thirty
With Chapter 28, James begins the second volume of the book. Osmond appears to have succeeded in deceiving Isabel and tricking her into believing that he loved her for who she was and that he did not want to stifle her desire for independence. While her previous suitors wanted to marry her, Osmond simply declares his love for her and does not seem to want anything from her. This declaration does not seem to frighten her and she does not seem to shy away from him.
Isabel’s meeting with Pansy, Osmond’s daughter, is of interest because she only sees a sweet and charming young girl living within a secure environment. She does not seem to realize that Osmond has been instrumental in stifling his daughter‘s development in the name of “love”. He has made her completely dependent and loyal to him, and unable to function in the world on her own.
It is also in this section that Osmond’s value system is made evident when he reappraises Isabel as he notes Lord Warburton’s attraction to her. This is only hinted at here, in Chapter Twenty Eight, but it becomes increasingly relevant in the later stages of the novel. His preference for the superior is a marker of his taste and it is also of interest that he expects Isabel to be faultless, in his judgement, to the point that she becomes an object rather than a person. His desire for perfection, in art and the opposite sex, is made manifest in his esteem for ‘handled ivory’ in his palm. This is a chilling indicator that he prefers the inanimate over the animate and this is emphasized in his critique of Isabel (that she is ‘sometimes of too precipitate a readiness’).