Study Guide

The Portrait of a Lady Love

By Henry James


There’s nothing romantic about love in this book. Seriously. If we were more cynical, we might say that this is the most realistic element of Portrait of a Lady: love is never obvious, nor is it ever easy. Love here is brutal, obsessive, possessive, usually thwarted, and often unrequited. Fortunately for us, the readers, it’s also really fascinating, albeit sometimes in that car-crash way (you know, you want to look away, but you just can’t). Once you get past the roadblock of problematic romantic love, though, you see that there are infinite different kinds of love – love of family, love of friends, love of life – that make life more interesting and bearable for our characters.

Questions About Love

  1. Who does Isabel truly love in the novel?
  2. Does Osmond love Isabel? Did he ever?
  3. Is Isabel’s problem simply that she gives love too freely?
  4. What role does friendship and platonic love play in the novel?

Chew on This

Mr. and Mrs. Touchett’s separate married lives set the precedent for the various couples we see in the novel.

While Osmond did truly love Isabel once, he only loved his idealized image of her – much in the way that he only loves Pansy when she fits his ideal daughter mold.