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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 34

Isabel gets home one morning after her drive to see Gilbert Osmond and finds Ralph in the garden. He seems asleep and as she is about to leave, he opens his eyes and says he wasn’t sleeping but thinking of her. He tells her he’s been trying to think of how to express himself properly about her engagement. He tells her he thinks she is going to be put into a cage, that she has changed immensely in the past year, that he had wanted her to have the chance to "survey the whole field of life." He says that if she had told him sooner, he would have advised her to wait a little longer. He tells her he trusts her, but he doesn’t trust Gilbert Osmond. Isabel defends Gilbert Osmond, saying he wants her to know everything and that is why she likes him. Ralph tells her she’s "running a grave risk." He tells her he had thought she would marry someone of more importance, someone with more energy and freedom. He finds Gilbert Osmond small, narrow, selfish, and a man who takes himself too seriously. Since he does so, he never thinks of himself in relation to other people. Isabel says Gilbert Osmond is the finest person she knows. Ralph says he had thought he would see he soar, but in seeing her fall like this, he is hurt as if he himself has fallen. Ralph tries hard to express Gilbert Osmond’s sinister aspects without hurting Isabel or seeming petty. He asks Isabel if she has ever seen such an exquisite taste ruffled. He tells her she was "meant for something better than to keep guard over the sensibilities of a sterile dilettante." Finally, he tells her he loves her, but loves her without hope.

Isabel tells him she sometimes feels like kneeling at Mr. Touchett’s grave in thanks for giving her the means to marry a poor man. She is sure Ralph is sincere, but feels that he is making a mistake in judgment. She says it is the absence of wealth and position and other attributes that pleases her so much in Gilbert Osmond. Ralph is sad at heart in hearing this. He admires Isabel for her fine good faith, but feels that she has invented a fine theory about Gilbert Osmond and is dressing his poverties out with honors. He walks Isabel inside and before she ascends to stairs, he looks at her again. He feels sick and ashamed. He tells her in parting that he feels "terribly sold." He goes back out to the garden, refusing breakfast.


Notes

The discussion between Isabel and Ralph is both sad and maddening. Isabel takes on a noble view of her situation, being in love with someone whose nobility only she recognizes. Ralph speaks straight-forwardly. He tells her everything he has honestly been feeling and she doesn’t seem to hear any of it, the warnings or the high compliments. She instead reacts by being more noble in her loyalty to Gilbert Osmond and Ralph responds by admiring her more. In admiring her more, he feels her loss more.

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