The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James
The Portrait of a Lady Lies and Deceit Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
The house had a front upon a little grassy, empty, rural piazza which occupied a part of the hill-top; and this front, pierced with a few windows in irregular relations and furnished with a stone bench lengthily adjusted to the base of the structure and useful as a lounging-place to one or two persons wearing more or less of that air of undervalued merit which in Italy, for some reason or other, always gracefully invests any one who confidently assumes a perfectly passive attitude – this antique, solid, weather-worn, yet imposing front had a somewhat incommunicative character. It was the mask, not the face of the house. It had heavy lids, but no eyes; the house in reality looked another way – looked off behind, into splendid openness and the range of the afternoon light. (22.1)
Osmond’s house, like its owner, is deceptive and masked; it warns us about what awaits within.
"You're unfathomable," she murmured at last. "I'm frightened at the abyss into which I shall have cast her." (26.63)
Madame Merle realizes that she has started a game but lost control of it – Osmond is far more deceitful than she is.
"She has deceived me. She had as good as promised me to prevent your engagement."
"She couldn't have prevented it."
"She can do anything; that's what I've always liked her for. I knew she could play any part; but I understood that she played them one by one. I didn't understand that she would play two at the same time." (33.4)
Mrs. Touchett actually admired Madame Merle for her ability to deceive and play roles before, but, now that she’s proven to be a double agent, the older woman is appalled. Apparently, some small measure of deceit is appreciated in this society, but too much is unwelcome.