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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 42

Isabel didnít answer Gilbert when he spoke to her because the way he put the situation threw her into thought about it. She sits far into the night thinking over the situation sheís in. She wonders if Gilbert is right, that her past with Lord Warburton has some force today. She wonders about Lord Warburtonís motives for a while and then jolts herself back into reality, telling herself that she will wait until Lord Warburton proves tat he is ignoble to believe it of him. She thinks again about the image she got that afternoon of Madame Merle and Gilbert together. She thinks back on her short talk with Gilbert before. He makes "everything wither that he touch[es]." She had wanted to do something noble, play the part of the good wife by trying to help him with Warburton and Pansy, but when he came in and pushed her towards this goal, she had wanted nothing more to do with it. Distrust is the keynote of their marriage. When she had first gotten married, she had had pure confidence. Then she saw that her life would be nothing but a "dark, narrow alley with a dead wall at the end." Unlike many people, Isabel suffers actively and passionately. She thinks back on their first year of marriage when she felt they were so "admirably intimate." It was only at the end of that year that she had gotten the first alarm. She realized one day that Gilbert hated her. She realized that he had imagined before their marriage that he would be able to change her. She tried to be what he wanted her to be, but she was herself and couldnít change that.

She realizes that during their courtship, she "effaced herself." She had tried to be just what he wanted her to be. She had "pretended there was less of her than there was." She had been under a powerful charm he exerted on her. She had only seen half of his nature at that time. He had told her she was the most imaginative woman he had ever known. Now she thinks ruefully of this description. It was her imaginative powers that got her into the marriage. She had imagined "a world of things that had no substance." She had made an image of him; she "had not read him right." She had thought that he was like a skeptical voyager and she wanted to launch his boat for him. She realizes there was a strange maternal strain in this. Yet she also realizes it wasnít just charity that made her want to marry him. She had felt the burden of all that money and Gilbert Osmond was the best place to put it. She transferred it to a man who had the best taste in the world.

There was also something other than this. She had also felt a great ardour for him. She had thought he was better than any other person and more intelligent. She had thought "the finest . . . manly organism she had ever known had become her property." She still thinks highly of his intelligence and fineness of perception. Now she remembers the first sign of the huge mistake she made in marrying him. He told her one day "that she had too many ideas ad that she must get rid of them." She remembered he told her this before they were married, but she hadnít believed him or hadnít heard him right. She realizes that he meant that he wanted her to get rid of "the whole thing--her character, the way she felt, the way she judged." He took personal offence of the way she looked at life.

She had felt "incredulous terror" in this insight. She realized she was living in "the house of darkness, the house of dumbness, the house of suffocation." She recognized finally his outrageous egotism. He regarded himself as the "first gentleman of Europe" and she had married him in that light. He feels contempt for everyone in the world but he desires their recognition of his worth. He lives to get recognition of his sovereignty from people he scorns. Their ideas of the "aristocratic life," she realized that year, were sadly at odds. For Isabelle, the aristocratic life was "the union of great knowledge with great liberty." For Gilbert, it meant living according to traditions, conventions, and forms. He made her live inside the confines of these social conventions which she had always taken so lightly. At first she had tried to "plead the cause of liberty" but then she realized it was no use when she realized that Gilbert was ashamed of her. He took offence at her having her own mind. His idea of their two minds was that his was a deer-park and hers was a small garden plot attached to his. He should have complete control over hers and use it for gathering flowers. She had also been morally repelled by things he told her. He had told her things which she thought were "hideously unclean." For instance, he told her that all married women lie and have affairs. She wondered if he put all women in the same class as the Countess Gemini. When he saw that she scorned his assumptions, he drew himself up. He had never thought that his clever wife would find fault with his ideas. He had liked that she was clever, but had thought of it as just another asset for his own wealth, not something he would have to contend with.


For her part, Isabel doesnít hate him. Often, however, she feels afraid. He hadnít spoken to her for a week before this morning. She knows he is angry at her for seeing so much of Ralph Touchett. Isabel has realized that Ralph is really dying and she feels a great tenderness for him. She realizes Ralph is generous and good. Being with him makes her "feel the good of the world." She regards it as "an act of devotion to conceal her misery from him." She doesnít realize that he knows she is doing this.

Isabel realizes it is four in the morning and prepares to go to bed. Before she leaves the parlor, she thinks of the image that arrested her that day: her husband and Madame Merle "unconsciously and familiarly associated."

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