The Portrait of a Lady
How we cite our quotes:
Pansy was really a blank page, a pure white surface, successfully kept so; she had neither art, nor guile, nor temper, nor talent – only two or three small exquisite instincts: for knowing a friend, for avoiding a mistake, for taking care of an old toy or a new frock. Yet to be so tender was to be touching withal, and she could be felt as an easy victim of fate. She would have no will, no power to resist, no sense of her own importance; she would easily be mystified, easily crushed: her force would be all in knowing when and here to cling. (30.5)
Pansy, at this point, has no identity. Really – as Isabel notes, she’s a total blank slate. We get an eerie peek into her future through these observations as well. Her vulnerability makes her easily misled… and crushed. Cue ominous music….
Isabel, as she herself grew older, became acquainted with revulsions, with disgusts; there were days when the world looked black and she asked herself with some sharpness what it was that she was pretending to live for. Her old habit had been to live by enthusiasm, to fall in love with suddenly-perceived possibilities, with the idea of some new adventure. As a younger person she had been used to proceed from one little exaltation to the other: there were scarcely any dull places between. But Madame Merle had suppressed enthusiasm; she fell in love now-a-days with nothing; she lived entirely by reason and by wisdom. There were hours when Isabel would have given anything for lessons in this art; if her brilliant friend had been near she would have made an appeal to her. She had become aware more than before of the advantage of being like that – of having made one's self a firm surface, a sort of corselet of silver. (40.1)
As Isabel grows older, she transforms both inwardly and outwardly – we have to wonder if the real Isabel that we know and love is still in there, under the Madame Merle-like shell she’s trying to construct.
It had not been this, however, his objecting to her opinions; this had been nothing. She had no opinions – none that she would not have been eager to sacrifice in the satisfaction of feeling herself loved for it. What he had meant had been the whole thing – her character, the way she felt, the way she judged. This was what she had kept in reserve; this was what he had not known until he had found himself – with the door closed behind, as it were – set down face to face with it. She had a certain way of looking at life which he took as a personal offence. Heaven knew that now at least it was a very humble, accommodating way! (42.4)
Too late, Isabel realizes that it wasn’t just her ideas that Osmond found offensive, it was her whole being and way of life. She feels ambiguously as though she may have deceived him by not revealing her true self before their marriage. Come on, don’t be so hard on yourself, Isabel…