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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 26

Gilbert Osmond comes to the Palazzo Crescentini five times. Mrs. Touchett realizes he has never come more than twice in a single year and that since he can’t possibly be interested in Madame Merle, he must be interested in Isabel. She asks Ralph about it and he says it is sure that Gilbert Osmond is interested in Isabel, but that they needn’t worry since Isabel has higher plans than would be fulfilled by Osmond. Mrs. Touchett also confers with Madame Merle about it. Madame Merle acts as if the thought hasn’t occurred to her, but says she will sound Gilbert Osmond out about it and advises Mrs. Touchett not to say anything to Isabel. Isabel, her own part, has developed her initial romantic image of Gilbert Osmond as a "quiet, clever, sensitive, distinguished man, who is living a "lonely, studious life in a lovely land," picturesquely standing beside his remarkably innocent daughter.

The Countess Gemini comes to call several times as well. Mrs. Touchett doesn’t like to receive her since she is such a scandal to talk to. Madame Merle tries to soothe her about the Countess taking the latter’s part. By the way of doing this, she informs Isabel of Amy and Gilbert Osmond’s parentage. Their mother had been a minor poet who moved to Italy with her two children after her husband, "originally rice and wild," had died. Isabel tries to be kind to the Countess only because she likes Gilbert Osmond and wants to like his sister.

Meanwhile, Henrietta Stackpole comes to Venice and spends time with Isabel. She has been having a wonderful time in France and is now proceeding through Italy. She is preceded by Mr. Bantling, who tells Ralph of his admiration for her and his determination to follow through with all that she allows him of her company just to see how far she’ll go. When Henrietta arrives, she proposes a trip to Rome. Ralph wants to go as well. The four of them leave together.

Gilbert Osmond meets Madame Merle at the Countess Gemini’s house at one of her parties. He sits slightly behind and to the side of Madame Merle and they carry on a conversation in whispers, acting like they are not together. They discuss the idea of Madame Merle’s of getting him and Isabel Archer married. He tells her that the way she takes his attention to the younger woman is beautiful. He tells her Isabel is "not disagreeable." She says he is "unfathomable" and that she is afraid "at the abyss into which [she] shall have cast [Isabel]." He gets up and leaves, but when she gets up to leave the house, he goes out with her. When they get outside and she’s in her carriage, she scolds him with being so indiscreet. They continue their conversation. He tells her Isabel is very charming and graceful. Madame Merle says the more he likes Isabel, the better it is for her, Madame Merle. Gilbert says the only problem with Isabel is that she has too many ideas, but since they’re bad ideas, it’s not so bad, since they will have to be sacrificed. Their last words are about Pansy. Madame Merle says she’ll take care of Pansy while he goes to Rome.


Notes

This is an unusual chapter for this novel. In it, Henry James shifts point of view from one scene to the next and from one character to the next whereas in most of the chapters of the novel, he maintains more of a unity of scene and point of view. At most, he describes two scenes in one chapter. Here, however, he begins with Mrs. Touchett’s point of view as she recognizes Gilbert Osmond’s increase in visits to her house and her guess that he is interested in Isabel. Second, we get an almost imperceptible shift to Ralph’s point of view as he thinks it is true that Gilbert Osmond is interested in Isabel, but feels sure that Isabel won’t be interested in him for long. Next, the scene shifts to a conversation between Mrs. Touchett and Madame Merle in which Madame Merle pretends that she has had not inkling of the budding romance and then promises to sound Gilbert Osmond out about it. Fourth, there is a description of the Countess Gemini making visits to Mrs. Touchett’s house and the flurry this causes. This gives James a chance to bring in more background on Gilbert Osmond’s family background. Fifth, we get an update on the career of Henrietta Stackpole who has arrived in Venice and who proposes a trip to Rome. With Isabel and her party dispatched to Rome, we get the sixth and last scene, Gilbert Osmond and Madame Merle having a clandestine conversation together at a party about whether he should go to Rome as well.

The chapter is structured almost as a play with six acts, the final one being the cliff hanger. We are left sure that Gilbert Osmond will proceed to Rome and finish off the wooing of Isabel Archer. Her champion--Ralph Touchett--is disarmed by his own romantic projections. He thinks too highly of his hopes for Isabel to think that she will spoil them by marrying Osmond.

The structure of the chapter also functions to build up the final suspense before the end of Volume I. In this way, Volume I gains a certain wholeness, with its own rising action and climax. All the characters are brought together. All Isabel’s satellite figures are in place, ready to witness her decision in regard to her future.

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