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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 29

Ralph Touchett has to admit that Gilbert Osmond is a delightful companion. Everyone is delighted with him. For his part, Gilbert Osmond is happy with everything about Isabel archer but one thing. He doesnít like her eagerness and enthusiasm in praising things they see. He feels that if it werenít for this fault, "she would have been as smooth to his general need of her as handled ivory to the palm." He is so pleased with everything, that he realizes he has never been so happy in his life. Usually, his pleasure in life is ruined by his perception of some flaw that ruins the whole. Now, he has a strong sense of success. Since heís never had success before, he is relishing the feeling.

Isabel gets word from Mrs. Touchett that she is planning a trip to Bellaggio and would be happy to have Isabel along. Isabel wants to go and so one evening she discusses her plan with Gilbert Osmond. The discuss her prospects, whether she will come back, how long sheíll be gone, and how she will find him when she comes back. Isabel thinks he is judging her for wanting to travel. She says "You donít think a woman ought to do that. You think it bold and ungraceful." He tells her this isnít so. He reminds her that his idea is that a person should treat life as if it were a work of art. Isabel should, therefore, do as she pleases. She tells him he knows everything and she knows nothing. He encourages her to travel, therefore, so she can learn.

Isabel wonders if her travels will take her away from him so that she would never see him again. She thinks it wouldnít be a bad thing for this to happen because she doubts that she could be as happy with him again as she is now. He tells her he wants to tell her something. He tells her heís in love with her. She rises from her seat and tells him not to tell her this yet. He tells her again that he is "absolutely in love with [her]." Tears come to her eyes. She feels as if some "fine bolt" has slipped inside her and she doesnít know what it means. She feels as if sheís holding something back and that if she touches it, it will all come out. He tells her this news shouldnít matter to her since he has nothing to offer her. He only tells her because itís a relief. Being in love with her makes him happy and heís looking for nothing more than this. He tells her sheís the "most important woman in the world." Isabel tells him she doesnít know him.

As they part, he tells her he likes the fact that sheís going with her aunt since itís proper that she should. He tells her heís not just conventional, but convention itself. He asks her to do him one favor in Venice. He wants her to visit his daughter who he has left alone at the Villa since he doesnít think his sister has the same ideas as himself. He leaves. Isabel sits and thinks. Her imagination has been going toward this eventuality of being in love with Gilbert Osmond for a week now, but now that he has told her he loves her, she feels stifled. She holds back. She feels as if in front of her is some "last vague space" which she canít cross--"a dusky, uncertain tract which looked ambiguous and even slightly treacherous."


Notes

For the third time, Isabel sits and listens to a man tell her his feelings for her. The difference, here, is that he doesnít ask her to marry him; he only tells her he loves her. This time, she feels the fear that if she lets go, she will lose her reticence and go to him. Gilbert Osmond has certainly played his part well. He has made himself agreeable even to Ralph who admits that Osmond is a "delightful associate." Just as Isabel is leaving Rome, he tells her he loves her and acts as though he expects nothing from this news. Such a seemingly passive position on his part is just what is required to let Isabel be active in choosing him for herself. To make sure of her, he adds one more element to his attractiveness. He asks her to go visit Pansy before she leaves. In this way, he makes Pansy part of the package. Since Pansy is a large part of why he wants to marry Isabel anyway--that is, to get Isabelís money which will help Pansy marry well--it is fitting that he would include his daughter in his seduction of Isabel.

For her own part, Isabel seems to have been quite won over. The manner of her succumbing is fairly disappointing, at least for a late twentieth century reader. She seems to have made of Gilbert Osmond some kind of god-like figure. She tells him he knows everything and she knows nothing. She worries that he thinks sheís stupid for doing what she wants to do in traveling around the world. She worries that she is saying stupid words. She has lost much of her sense of self-confidence and her sense of her own powers of discretion and imagination. She seems to have ceded it all to him. Yet there are a couple of moments when she has an inkling that there is something about this relationship that should give hr pause. First, she thinks that if they donít meet again in the future, it will be fore the best since such a good experience canít be repeated. Second, she has a vague foreboding as she sits and thinks after heís left. She feels she will have to cross some treacherous ground in regard to him.

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