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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 31

Isabel comes back to Florence, but only a year later. During that year, she spends five months with her sister Lily and Lilyís children and, briefly, Lilyís husband. Lily finds herself disappointed in what Isabel has done with herself all this time. Lily was expecting to find Isabel the center of social life in Europe and she finds her still retiring and quiet. Isabel for her part, never speaks to her sister about the proposal of Lord Warburton or the protestation of love from Gilbert Osmond. It feels too romantic to have it all to herself. After she sees Lily and her family off at Euston Station, she feels exhilarated by a sense of freedom. She feels as if the "world lay before her."

She writes to Madame Merle that she will come to Rome to spend some time. Ralph Touchett is spending the winter in Corfu and Henrietta Stackpole has been called back to the States. Mrs. Touchett, meanwhile in Florence, is happy to notice that Isabel isnít hurrying back to Florence and Gilbert Osmond and that he isnít hurrying to Rome to meet her there. After arriving in Rome, Isabel proposes a trip to the East, Athens and Constantinople. She travels "rapidly and recklessly." Madame Merle is her traveling companion, all expenses paid lavishly. After spending three months of traveling with Madame Merle, Isabel feels as if she knows her better. She has heard Madame Merleís story. She was married to Monsieur Merle years before and he turned out to be an adventurer who seems to have behaved abominably. Isabel is surprise that Madame Merle can still be so interested in life after such an experience. She always feels that Madame Merle holds back something essential. She thinks of the older woman of having a different, and inferior, morality. Sometimes she catches her in a flash of cruelty or a lapse of candor. Sometimes she feels a sense of "vague dismay" and even a foreboding where Madame Merle is concerned.

They return to Rome and Gilbert Osmond arrives from Florence and sees Isabel every day. At the end of April, Isabel returns to Florence and waits expectantly for Ralph to arrive. She hasnít seen him in almost a year.


Notes

This chapter opens one year later, when Isabel returns to Florence, but then it back-tracks and relates what sheís done during the year. It begins with her time spent with her sister Lily. The key feature of this time is that Isabel Archer is thinking of Gilbert Osmond almost constantly, though not telling her sister this. She thinks itís more romantic to say nothing. She thinks that if she asked Lilyís advice, it would be like shutting a rare romance novel. The chapter seems to function largely as a time marker. If gives the sense that Isabel Archer didnít just fall into Gilbert Osmondís arms, but will do so only after having done all the traveling she wants to do. The sense one gets is that Isabel is relishing freedom as much as possible before she resigns herself to a married existence. Freedom is the keynote of this chapter. When she leaves her sister in London, she walks alone back to her hotel and feels exhilarated by her sense of freedom. When she travels, "she travel[s] rapidly and recklessly; she [is] like a thirsty person draining cup after cup."

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