The Portrait of a Lady

by: Henry James

Chapters 20–24

In this section, James introduces the most lasting and most compelling unsolved mystery that occurs in Portrait of a Lady and one that is not explicitly solved until the end of the book: what is the relationship between Madame Merle and Gilbert Osmond? They seem to be very close, to have a long history together, and to work together in certain ways, but their history is not elaborated and their relationship seems very mysterious. What kind of relationship, particularly in sedate nineteenth-century Europe, features a woman manipulating another woman into marrying a man to which she is very close?