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The Portrait of a Lady

Henry James

Chapters 37–40

Chapters 32–36

Chapters 37–40, page 2

page 1 of 3

Rosier wanders through the Osmonds' palazzo, searching for Pansy. He encounters Gilbert Osmond, who insultingly refuses to shake his hand, instead offering him only two fingers to grasp. They discuss Osmond's art collection, and when Rosier asks whether he would like to sell anything, Osmond replies that there is nothing he wishes to match. The subtle implication, Rosier realizes, is that Madame Merle has revealed to Osmond Rosier's desire to marry Pansy, and Osmond has no intention of allowing the marriage to take place. Hastily excusing himself, Rosier encounters Isabel, who asks him to speak to a young woman who has shyly kept to herself throughout the party. Rosier asks Isabel why Osmond does not speak to her, and she replies that her husband does not do her such favors. Rosier finds the young woman and discovers that Pansy is with her. Moved by Pansy's beauty and by her innocence, he asks her to show him something in another room. Here, he confesses to Pansy that he has come to the party solely because she is there. She replies somewhat passively that she likes him as well.

Elsewhere in the palazzo, Madame Merle and Gilbert Osmond discuss the problem of Rosier: Osmond says that he is tired of Rosier, but Madame Merle advises him to keep Rosier around, as he might find a use for him. Merle says that Pansy has been thinking about Rosier, but Gilbert insists that he has no interest in what Pansy thinks, only what Pansy does. Rosier and Pansy enter the room; Merle says to Osmond that Rosier is coming to declare his feelings for Pansy. Osmond glares at Pansy and then strides away. Merle tells Rosier to pay her a visit the following afternoon. Rosier finds Isabel, who admits to him that Osmond thinks he is not wealthy enough to marry Pansy. She says that there is nothing she can do to change her husband's mind.

The next day, Madame Merle advises Rosier that if he has any desire to marry Pansy, he must stay away from her except at Mrs. Osmond's weekly gatherings on Thursday nights. Rosier agrees. The next Thursday, Gilbert Osmond tells him that he is glad to see that Rosier has been staying away from his daughter, who will never marry him. Lord Warburton approaches and greets Osmond, and Rosier excuses himself to speak to Isabel. She assures him that Pansy still hopes to marry him, despite Osmond's claims. As Rosier leaves to find Pansy, Warburton approaches Isabel and says that she seems changed. He tells her that Ralph Touchett is very ill and that he has planned to spend the winter in Sicily against the advice of his doctors. Alarmed, Isabel agrees to see Ralph the next morning. Isabel offers to introduce Warburton to her guests, but he says that he has come only to speak to her. When he notices Pansy, however, he says that he would like to meet her. He mentions to Isabel that he is interested in finding a wife.

Pansy is deep in conversation with Rosier, telling him not to listen to her father—she has not lost interest in him. She says that she plans to turn to her stepmother for help. Rosier tells her that Isabel will be useless, because she is obviously afraid of her husband. Pansy replies that Isabel is not afraid.

Ralph thinks about the recent past in his friendship with Isabel. He has scarcely seen her since her marriage and feels that he alienated her by telling her how he felt about her engagement. Isabel has distanced herself from all her old friends, including Henrietta, whom Osmond despises, and Mrs. Touchett, whose friendship with Madame Merle has been destroyed by Merle's deceitful role in helping Osmond win Isabel. Ralph is disgusted by Osmond, whose entire life seems to him nothing more than a pose—he pretends to be above the world, but what he really wants is for the world to notice that he is above it. Now Ralph worries that Osmond has transformed Isabel into a mere acquisition, a piece of his collection designed to make the right impression on the world.

After the last time he saw Isabel, Ralph worried that Osmond would disapprove of their friendship, so he left Rome; now, he has decided to stay in Rome instead of going to Sicily, to be near Isabel and to help her if he can. He is also keenly interested to see how she will handle life with her husband—especially now that a new complication has entered her life, the arrival of Lord Warburton and his obvious interest in marrying Pansy. Warburton has even confessed his intentions to Ralph, though he denies that, as Ralph suggests, he only wants to marry Pansy to make himself a part of Isabel's life.

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