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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 30

Isabel returns to Florence along with Ralph. She is to stay in Florence for three days before leaving with her aunt. She speaks to Madame Merle of her promise to visit Gilbert Osmondís daughter. Madame Merle says she too wants to visit her. Isabel is disappointed since she wanted to make "her small pilgrimage" in solitude. Madame Merle seems to sense this and tells her she wonít go with her. She warns her, however, that it isnít quite proper for a young woman to go visit a single manís home even in his absence. Isabel thinks this is ridiculous. She feels as though thereís a note of falsehood in Madame Merleís tone.

When she gets to the Osmondsí house, she finds Pansy practicing at the piano. She wonders at "how prettily [pansy] has been directed and fashioned; and yet how simple, how natural, how innocent she had been kept!" She even wonders for a moment if Pansy is ingenuous or if she is more self-conscious of the impressions she gives other people. Pansy tells her all of her life issues. One of these includes her curiosity about what her father plans to do with her. She says that one of her good friends at the convent was taken away a year earlier so her family could save the money for her dowry. She wonders if her father is doing this himself.

When Isabel leaves, she embraces Pansy and looks at her a long time. She tells her to "be very good and give pleasure to [her] father." Pansy tells her thatís just what she lives for. She adds that her father is a sad man. Isabel feels a strong urge to get Pansy to say more about her father, but thinks this would be taking advantage of Pansy. When she says good-bye, she looks at Pansy almost with envy. She thinks of how much pleasure she would get out of discussing Gilbert Osmond with Pansy. Instead she kisses Pansy good-bye and leaves. She tells Pansy sheís right to obey her father and that heíll never ask her to do anything unreasonable.


Notes

Isabelís visit to Pansy gives Henry James a way to demonstrate indirectly for the reader how Isabel feels about Gilbert Osmond. When Pansy says her father is a sad man, Isabel feels a strong urge to get her to say more of her father, but holds herself back. When Pansy repeats her fatherís instructions over and over and her own eagerness to obey them, Isabel agrees eagerly that Pansy should obey everything he tells her and assures the girl that her father will never tell her to do anything that isnít reasonable.

In her attraction to this kind of upbringing for a girl, the reader might be puzzled. Isabel herself received a vastly different kind of education. Instead of being treated as if she were a blank page to be written on, she was left to herself to decide for herself what she wanted to read and do. Why is Isabel so quick to valorize this kind of upbringing for a girl? One reason might be Isabelís own childhood. Though she doesnít seem to have found it a problem, the adults around her found her father negligent in his duties towards her and her sisters and even neglectful. One incident is repeated twice in the novel of the time in Isabelís childhood when she and her sisters were abandoned by their governess and left at an Inn. When people tried to help them, they couldnít find the girlsí father anywhere. The girls seem to have thought of it as some sort of adventure, but everyone else thought it was a scandal. Perhaps the neglected daughter, essentially abandoned by her distracted father, is fascinated by a daughter who is so strictly cared for that she is given detailed instructions for almost every hour of the day.

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