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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 52

Before Isabel leaves Rome, she goes to see Pansy at the convent. When she arrives, she is greeted by Madame Merle. She doesn’t want to see this person, but knows she must for the sake of appearances. She realizes as she stands there that Madame Merle has sensed her knowledge. She is surprised to recognize that Madame Merle is, for the first time, at a loss for what to say.

When she sees Pansy, she can’t help but think of the convent as a refined prison. Pansy says her father doesn’t think she’s had enough confinement, but that she thinks she has had enough. She says she will do anything now that he asks of her. Isabel thinks it is a good thing that Edward Rosier retained a few of his precious keepsakes. Pansy wonders why Isabel looks so intense. Isabel tells her she must leave for England and doesn’t know when she will return. Pansy asks her to come back to be with her. She says she will have to obey her father but that if Isabel is there it will be easier to do so. As they part, she tells Isabel she doesn’t like Madame Merle. Isabel tells her she must never say that. They embrace and Isabel assures her that she won’t desert her. As she goes down the stairs, Pansy calls out to her "You’ll come back?" Isabel replies, "Yes--I’ll come back."

Isabel is displeased to find out that Madame Merle is still waiting for her. When she says good-bye to Madame Catharine, the nun tells her they all think Pansy has had enough of confinement. Isabel reluctantly goes in to see Madame Merle, who reveals that it was Ralph who arranged for his father to give Isabel her fortune. She says she has just realized it. As Isabel leaves, she says, "I believed it was you I had to thank." Madame Merle says she knows Isabel is unhappy but she is more so. She says she is going to America.


Notes

The visit to the convent reveals the next greatest plot complication in the novel. If it weren’t for her ties to Pansy, Isabel could leave Gilbert and Rome forever. She loves Pansy, though, and knows that she is the only part of Pansy’s life that is not mean-spirited, manipulating, and selfishly cruel. Pansy’s last appeal, "You’ll come back?" is answered quickly by Isabel in the affirmative. Pansy is her daughter in spirit and Isabel it seems will sacrifice her last chance at escape in order to comfort Pansy in her confinement.

The chapter is framed by two interviews with Madame Merle. Isabel reluctantly confronts Madame Merle. She realizes that Madame Merle sees her knowledge in her manner. Madame Merle loses her composure momentarily, the only bit of revenge Isabel gets. In the second part of the frame, Madame Merle reveals that it was Ralph who made it so that Isabel would inherit her fortune from her uncle. Since Madame Merle is the one who seized on the opportunities the money provided, it is only right that it would be she who would guess the origins of the money. Strangely, Madame Merle’s last words are that she will go to America. It’s hard to imagine someone like Madame Merle in America, though she is American in origin. It seems as if this last destination is to be regarded as a defeat. All her schemes of marrying a noble or marrying her daughter to a noble have failed. She has realized that Gilbert Osmond is capable of cruelty to their daughter and she has no standing in her daughter’s life.

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