The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James
The Portrait of a Lady Wealth Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
"I try to care more about the world than about myself – but I always come back to myself. It's because I'm afraid." She stopped; her voice had trembled a little. "Yes, I'm afraid; I can't tell you. A large fortune means freedom, and I'm afraid of that. It's such a fine thing, and one should make such a good use of it. If one shouldn't one would be ashamed. And one must keep thinking; it's a constant effort. I'm not sure it's not a greater happiness to be powerless." (21.9)
Isabel admits that she’s afraid of the specific kind of freedom that wealth brings. This is a different kind of liberty than that which she described to Caspar Goodwood (the independence of her former identity as a poor nobody).
"Do you complain of Mr. Osmond because he's not rich? That's just what I like him for. I've fortunately money enough; I've never felt so thankful for it as to-day. There have been moments when I should like to go and kneel down by your father's grave: he did perhaps a better thing than he knew when he put it into my power to marry a poor man – a man who has borne his poverty with such dignity, with such indifference." (34.17)
Isabel naïvely and idealistically claims that Osmond’s relative poverty is a pro, rather than a con – she seems to think that, in marrying a poorer man, she is doing some good in the world. Of course, it doesn’t occur to her that he is marrying her because she is rich.
But for her money, as she saw to-day, she would never have done it. And then her mind wandered off to poor Mr. Touchett, sleeping under English turf, the beneficent author of infinite woe! For this was the fantastic fact. At bottom her money had been a burden, had been on her mind, which was filled with the desire to transfer the weight of it to some other conscience, to some more prepared receptacle. What would lighten her own conscience more effectually than to make it over to the man with the best taste in the world? Unless she should have given it to a hospital there would have been nothing better she could do with it; and there was no charitable institution in which she had been as much interested as in Gilbert Osmond. (42.3)
After years of miserable marriage, Isabel realizes that she has deceived herself just as much as Osmond deceived her. While she created high-flown ideas about Osmond’s worthiness and superiority, their marriage was really just about her money, at its core. Without meaning to do so, Mr. Touchett (and, unbeknownst to Isabel) enabled her dire situation.