Portrait of a Lady Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Portrait o a Lady: Chapters 31-33

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Summary – Chapter Thirty One, Thirty Two and Thirty Three
In Chapter Thirty One, Isabel returns to Florence after being away for several months and it is now ‘a year from the date of the incidents just narrated’.
She has been with her sister Lilian on her stay in Europe and has also visited Greece, Turkey and Egypt and traveled like ‘a thirsty person drinking cup after cup’. She invited Madame Merle to come with her and after three months together, Isabel feels that she knows her better as she has let her know about Monsieur Merle (who she says took advantage of her youth and experience). Isabel also sees that she and Madame Merle have different moralities and with the presumption of youth sees her own as superior.
Isabel’s sense of the romantic is more active than ever and when they returned she stayed with Madame Merle in Rome and Osmond visited every day for three weeks. In April, she returned to Florence and expects to see Ralph on his return from Corfu any day now.
She is waiting for a visitor and feels she has changed from the ‘frivolous young woman she was in Albany and Gardencourt’.
She is thinking of how she has changed from the ‘frivolous young woman she was in Albany and Gardencourt’, while she is waiting for a visitor, Caspar Goodwood.  She barely has a chance to greet him when he tells her that he came as fast as he could after he received her letter telling him that she was engaged to marry Gilbert Osmond. Goodwood is gruff and extremely upset. She tries to maintain her composure and tells him that she is angry at him and that he is selfish for wishing that he could think of her as dead rather than married to another.
She then changes the subject and asks if he has seen Henrietta Stackpole. He says he has but has not told her (her news). He asks if Henrietta knows Osmond and Isabel says a little but she does not like him. She adds that she does not marry to please her. He asks when the marriage will take place and she says she does not know yet. She was worried he would reproach her, but now that he is not she resents his ‘remarkable self-control’. He asks about Osmond’s background, and she says how he is American but came to Italy as a small boy, and that he is a nobody, from no-where, who does nothing. He then reminds her that she said she would probably never marry and came for an explanation as to why she changed her mind.
When he leaves, there is no sign of parting and he says he will leave Florence tomorrow. She says she is delighted to hear it and bursts into tears five minutes after he goes.
An hour later in Chapter Thirty Three, the signs of weeping have vanished and she decides to break her news to her aunt. Before she can, her aunt tells her she already knows about Osmond, and refers to him as ‘Madame Merle’s friend’.
Isabel queries why she says this and Mrs. Touchett replies, ‘If he’s not her friend he ought to be – after what she has done for him!’ She also says she is disappointed and did not expect this of Madame Merle. Isabel declares with ‘ardent coldness’ that she had nothing to do with the engagement. Mrs. Touchett then argues that there is nothing to him (Osmond) and Isabel replies that he cannot hurt her then. She goes on to say that she wants him to have a little of her money and Mrs. Touchett tells her to give it to him, but marry somebody else.
Mrs. Touchett feels that Madame Merle has deceived her as she promised to prevent an engagement. Isabel asks what she had to gain by being insincere and she is told, ‘She gained time as you see’.
Ralph comes back two days later and does not mention Osmond. After three days of waiting, Isabel is impatient. On his arrival, his mother had greeted him with the news and Ralph felt ‘shocked and humiliated’. He saw that his calculations had been ‘false’ and now sees Isabel as ‘lost’. The chapter ends with Osmond and Isabel meeting every day away from her aunt’s as she is free to do this now that the engagement has been made public.
Analysis – Chapters Thirty One, Thirty Two and Thirty Three
The news of Isabel’s engagement to Osmond is broken gradually in Chapter Thirty Two and several points become clearer. The construction of Isabel as a wiser and more mature character in Chapter Thirty One is shown to be a strong representation of self-aggrandisement as well as of blind naivety. Despite advice and opinion to the contrary, she deflects criticism and comes to personify pride before it falls.
It is also of note that she tells Mrs. Touchett that she would like to give Osmond a little money as this is barely in keeping with the romantic nature she has been designated. This may be interpreted as another schism between her affection for the romantic and her coldness for those suitors that demonstrate uncritical affection for her.


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