Portrait of a Lady Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Portrait o a Lady: Chapters 34-36

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Summary – Chapters Thirty Four, Thirty Five and Thirty Six
One morning after seeing Osmond, Isabel returns home and talks to Ralph. She has noted his indifference, but thought this was due to his illness and business concerns. He explains his quietness over her engagement and says she is the last person he expected to be caught; that is, ‘to be put into a cage’, because she had wanted to see life. She says she has seen it and it is not such an ‘inviting expanse’ now. She thinks one must ‘choose a corner and cultivate that’.
As they talk, he reveals that although he trusts her, he does not trust Osmond. She tells him it is too late and that his thoughts will not move her an inch.  He says he thought she would have married ‘a man of more importance’. She becomes rather cold at this point and he blushes a little. Isabel says that Osmond’s nature is the ‘finest’ she knows and Ralph says he planned her destiny and expected her to soar and sail. Isabel defends herself by saying ‘there’s nothing higher for a girl than to marry a – a person she likes’. He criticizes Osmond again and refers to him as a ‘sterile dilettante’. She says he has gone too far with this and he says he tells her this because he loves her.
She turns pale and wonders if he is also on ‘that tiresome list’, but he tells her he loves without hope. She explains it pleases her that Osmond has no money: ‘Mr. Osmond’s simply a very lonely, a very cultivated and a very honest man – he’s not a prodigious proprietor’. Ralph notes her good faith and thinks it is ‘wonderfully characteristic’ of her to have ‘invented a fine theory’ about Osmond. He also feels sick and ashamed that he wished her to have the power ‘to meet the requirements of her imagination’ as she has done so. The chapter ends with him repeating that he thinks she has made an error, and she says she will never complain of her trouble to him.
When she and Osmond stroll in the Cascine in Chapter Thirty Five, she feels no compulsion about the ‘discreet opposition’ of her cousin and aunt. Their dislike of Osmond does not alarm her as it demonstrates all the more that she has married to please herself and she does not mention it to him.
Despite ‘the elation of success’, Osmond emits ‘very little smoke for so brilliant a blaze’ and never forgets himself.  Although she has not told him of the doubts of others, he is aware of them and says he only cares that she does not have one.
They make many plans and decide to live in Italy for the present. He brings Pansy to see her and she is not much taller or older than the previous year. Her father says she will always be a child and tells her to go and play (although she is in her 16th year). When told of the engagement, Pansy says she is pleased. The Countess, on the other hand, says she is glad for her own sake, but is not happy for Isabel and compares marriage to a ‘steel trap’.
In the autumn of 1876, in Chapter Thirty Six, Edward Rosier comes to see Madame Merle in Rome. In the summer, he met Pansy and ‘she struck him as exactly the household angel he had long been looking for’. He wants Madame Merle to intercede for him and put in a good word with Osmond. He supposes she has influence on the family (on Osmond and Isabel).  She says Mr. Osmond’s wife ‘can scarcely be termed a member of her family’ and adds that Isabel is likely to favor him if her husband does not as they think differently in everything.
She asks Rosier about his finances and says that although Isabel has money she may want to keep it for her own children. She had a boy two years ago and he died six months after his birth, but others may come.
The object of Rosier’s affection lives in a high house in the heart of Rome and he goes there for Mrs. Osmond’s Thursday ‘evenings’. He admires the building but also supposes that at certain periods young girls were shut up there to keep them away from their true loves. He thinks it is an ‘ill omen’ that the young lady he wishes to marry is immured in this ‘domestic fortress’.
Analysis – Chapters Thirty Four, Thirty Five and Thirty Six
Isabel’s talk with Ralph about Osmond gives the readers a clearer glimpse of her then husband-to-be from Ralph’s perspective. ‘Sterile dilettante’ is a damning judgement at this point, but is also one that proves to be extremely insightful.
Isabel’s refusal to see this and the pleasure she gains from marrying to please herself perhaps reveals an aspect of masochism that has previously only been hinted at. Before her engagement to Osmond, Isabel was characterized as thirsty for knowledge and travel, but has come to believe that one should choose a corner and cultivate it and appears to take pleasure in narrowing her focus.
From Chapter Thirty-Six the reader learns about Isabel and her married life over the past three years.  The marriage is an unhappy one, Osmond’s family has not accepted her and Isabel is miserable.
Finally, it is of note that Rosier experiences a sense of an ill omen at the thought of his beloved in this home, which he thinks of as a ‘domestic fortress’. This omen proves to be true figuratively speaking for both Pansy and Isabel.


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