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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 24

Isabel and Madame Merle ride out to Gilbert Osmondís hill-top house one afternoon. In looking at the house, one saw that there was something "grave and strong in [it]; it looked somehow as if, once you were in, you would need an act of energy to get out." Isabel, however, isnít at all interested in getting out. She goes inside and meets the Countess Gemini, Gilbert Osmondís bird- like sister, who talks incessantly and irritatingly. Isabel realizes that "perfect simplicity [is] not the badge of his family." She feels the need to be very direct. Isabel and Gilbert Osmond talk together while Madame merle and the Countess talk. She finds him putting out a special effort to be charming. He tells her it is sad to think she will move along soon. She hints that she might settle in Florence. He tells her his witty opinions of her aunt. Isabel feels a thrill of a new relation to a new person. When his sister and Madame Merle go out to the garden, he asks her what she thinks of his sister. She wonít say since she hasnít known her for long. He tells her that his sister is unhappily married and responds the sadness of her life in being comic.

Isabel thinks of Gilbert Osmond as resembling no one else sheís ever seen. He seems like an original, more so even than her aunt. He seems very fine to her. She realizes he has consulted his taste in everything in his life. She thinks of him as having achieved the refinement of high culture. He takes her on a tour of another two rooms, showing her all his art works. She begins to feel very tired from the effort of trying to say and notice exactly the right things. She can no longer follow him and hopes he wonít find out that sheís not as intelligent as he has been led to believe.

They go out to the garden to join the others. It is beautiful outside. He asks her again if she will come back to visit him and if she will settle in Florence. She tells him she will come back and that she doesnít know yet where she will settle. He tells her "a womanís natural mission is to be where sheís most appreciated." Then he tells her what his plan of life has been. It has been not to strive or struggle, but to resign himself and to be content with little. He calls it a willful renunciation. He tells her he had no prospects and no fortune and so he decided when he was a young man--the "most fastidious young gentleman alive"-- that he would do nothing. He tells her the events of his life have been unnoticed by anyone else but himself. Isabel thinks to herself that he must be leaving out the human element in describing his life out of modesty or reserve. She thinks he must have had relations with people. Still, she thinks it must have been a pleasant life to renounce everything but art. He tells her he wonít be able to keep it up for much longer since heíll have to take his daughter into account now, calling Pansy "a little saint of heaven."


Notes

Gilbert Osmond takes the first step in fulfilling Madame Merleís ambitions for him. He woos Isabel Archer in the most subtle way. Isabel Archer has a few categories in her mind in which she finds a place for all the people she knows. Mr. Osmond, however, fits none of these categories, and it is just such a nature that is likely to attract Isabel intensely. The other elements of this scene that are sure to attract Isabel include the romantic and the artistic. Ralph has said in the previous chapter that Mr. Osmond is like a prince who abdicated in a fit of fastidiousness and then lived the rest of his life in a state of constant disgust. Gilbert Osmond says almost the same thing of himself, but puts it in a more flattering light. He tells her that he was "the most fastidious young gentleman living" in his youth and decided that since he could do nothing really to distinguish himself, he would do nothing at all. So he renounced all activity. Isabel falls into the trap that many new lovers do. She doesnít believe what he says. She supplies the romantic cloak to drape over the bare truth that he has told her. She says to herself that there must be a "human element" in this renunciation and that he is just not telling her all of it at once.

In Gilbert Osmondís family, the reader might find an ominous note for any future wife. His daughter is praised for her abject submissiveness. She is treated as an otherworldly angel or a this- worldly piece of art. His sister is unhappily married and a frenetic talker who canít pause for a moment, it seems, to be real with a new person she meets. If Madame Merle can be considered part of the family by virtue of her intimacy with its members, she is also not the best figure to produce warm family feeling. What is it here then that would attract a young woman from American who has spent most of her life in a library reading? Gilbert Osmond is the prince without a princess. His sister is a countess. Pansy Osmond is the precious jewel of a daughter. Perhaps Madame Merle is the fairly godmother.

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