Portrait o a Lady: Chapters 52-55
Summary – Chapters Fifty Two, Fifty Three, Fifty Four and Fifty Five
Isabel visits the convent before catching the train and as she waits the portress brings Madame Merle through. The latter guesses immediately that Isabel knows her secret and her voice falters. However, she manages to carry on talking about Pansy and Isabel says nothing. When she finishes, Isabel tells her she is leaving for England, for Ralph, and is going without her husband.
Madame Catherine enters and takes Isabel to Pansy. In her room, Madame Catherine says she is a ‘precious charge’: ‘It fell with a leaden weight on Isabel’s ears; it seemed to represent the surrender of a personality, the authority of the Church.’ When they are alone, Isabel tells Pansy about going to England and Pansy says nothing about her own feelings. However, she then admits to wanting to come out of the convent and asks Isabel not to leave her there. Isabel’s heart beats fast and she asks if she wants to go now, but Pansy declines as this is not on her father’s orders.
Pansy then says she is a little afraid of her father and Madame Merle and Isabel says she must not say that. She then says goodbye and adds that she will not desert her. Pansy goes on to say she does not like Madame Merle and Isabel repeats that she must not say that. She asks Isabel to come back, and Isabel agrees.
Before she leaves the convent, Madame Merle asks to speak to Isabel and she reluctantly agrees. Madame Merle then asks if she is fond of Ralph and says she wants to give her the benefit of her idea: that Isabel has Ralph to thank for making her rich.
Isabel’s surprise makes Madame Merle feel triumphant and as she leaves she has her only revenge and says, ‘I believed it was you I had to thank!’ Madame Merle tells her she knows she is unhappy, but she is more so. Isabel believes this, and says she does not want to see her again. The chapter ends with Madame Merle saying quietly that she will go to America.
In Chapter Fifty Three, Isabel envies Ralph for his dying, but also knows she has a long life ahead and sees this thought as a sign of strength. She is met at the station in London by Henrietta and Mr Bantling and Isabel is told they go everywhere together and they are to marry. Isabel is diverted by this news, but has a certain melancholy as she recognizes that Henrietta also has ‘human susceptibilities’.
Isabel walks in the gallery at Gardencourt, in Chapter Forty Four, as she waits for her aunt to come down. In this time, she wonders if she would have married Caspar Goodwood if her aunt had never come for her that day in Albany.
When her aunt appears, she tells Isabel that Lord Warburton is in the area and is engaged to be married. She then goes on and asks Isabel questions such as if she is sorry she did not marry Lord Warburton (she says no) and if she still likes Serena Merle (she says not as she once did).
Isabel goes to see Ralph and for three days he lies still without speaking. On the third day, he says he feels better and ‘I wish it were over for you’; she bursts into sobs and stays with her face buried. She then says she has never thanked him and asks if it is true that he made her rich. He wails that he believes he has ruined her, and she says ‘he’ married her for the money.
Ralph tells her he understands that she wanted to look at life herself and was ‘ground in the very mill of the conventional’. She agrees she has been punished. He tells her to stay here at Gardencourt and she says she will for as long as it seems right. He reminds her that if she has been hated, she has also been loved, and adored.
In the final chapter, Chapter Fifty Five, Isabel thinks she sees Ralph’s spirit the next morning and remembers him telling her on her first evening at Gardencourt that one has to suffer to see the ghost of the house. She goes to his room and she realizes he has just died.
The funeral is three days later and a considerable number attend including Henrietta, Bantling and Caspar Goodwood. She stays on at Gardencourt from day to day and feels obliged to return to Rome, but also shudders at the thought of it (she has heard nothing from Osmond or Pansy).
Lord Warburton visits and later Isabel sees the bench where she sat six years ago when she read the letter from Goodwood and Lord Warburton then proposed. She sits down on it and stays until twilight. She comes to notice Goodwood a few yards off (and surprises her as Lord Warburton did years ago). He tells her he can help her, by inducing her to trust him. He sees that she is the unhappiest of women and her husband is the ‘deadliest of fiends’. He also says the world is big, and she answers that it is ‘very small’ in a bid to resist the idea that it is a mighty sea. She beseeches him to go away and he cries, ‘don’t kill me!’
Her eyes are streaming and she asks him to leave her alone. He glares and then puts his arms around her and kisses her. She darts from the spot and finds the door; she now knows where to turn and goes on a straight path.
Two days later, Goodwood visits Henrietta in London and says he hoped to find Mrs. Osmond there as a servant at Gardencourt said she would be in London this morning. Henrietta tells him that she spent the night, but left for Rome earlier. She comes and grasps his arm and tells him, ‘just you wait’. She walks him away with her ‘as if she had given him now the key to patience’.
Analysis – Chapters Fifty Two, Fifty Three, Fifty Four and Fifty Five
The novel ends with Isabel leaving for Rome, and with Goodwood being encouraged to be patient. There is, therefore, no closure and it is left open as to whether Isabel will ever leave Osmond, as Henrietta advised her.
The death of Ralph brings a form of closure, though, and Isabel also finds out for certain that she received the inheritance because of him. This is also, of course, a poignant moment as he reassures her that although she has not found love with her husband, she has been loved and adored. The girl with the romantic dreams, but without a romantic disposition, learns as a lady that despite her attempts to be distant she has still been the object of affection.
James depicts Isabel Archer, the central figure, as a young woman who matures from being a bright, self-determining, independent person into a lady who suffers betrayal, loses her freedom, and surrenders to social convention.