Book 3, Chapters 1-2 Summary
Two years after her marriage to Adam Verver, Charlotte attends a society event that has drawn the best of London society. She encounters Mrs. Assingham, who questions her about her presence with the Prince instead of Mr. Verver. Charlotte explains that Mr. Verver did not feel like coming, but he sent Charlotte and Maggie and the Prince without him. Maggie soon felt that she ought to go back and be with her father, leaving her husband as companion for her step-mother.
Mrs. Assingham is shocked at this arrangement and asks Charlotte if it would not have been more appropriate for her, as his wife, to be with the ill Mr. Verver. Charlotte explains that Maggie has made great attempts to be with her father as much as possible, so she is off to the side. She tells Mrs. Assingham that Mr. Verver has the greatest possible affection for his daughter and she, as his wife, has been unsuccessful at drawing an even greater affection for herself. Mrs. Assingham is uncomfortable with the implications of this, especially because Charlotte professes that it is entirely reasonable for her to spend time with the equally deserted Prince, particularly because they have had a previous relationship—although this is what causes Mrs. Assingham to have some fear as to the implications of their presence there that evening. Charlotte says she fears Mrs. Assingham will leave her just at the moment when she is feeling deserted by everyone. The Prince himself comes, with the Ambassador, to tell Charlotte that “the greatest possible Personage” has requested to see her upstairs in a private audience.
When Charlotte leaves, Mrs. Assingham questions the Prince as to who requested the audience with Charlotte, thinking that it was inappropriately the Prince. Amerigo, however, assures her that it was the Ambassador. He says Mr. Verver is more like Charlotte’s father-in-law than her husband; both Amerigo and Charlotte were “acquired” to focus on Maggie. Mrs. Assingham is concerned that both the Prince and Charlotte have in effect let their respective spouses free and are spending time together, regardless of the social consequences. The Prince humorously reflects that, previous to his own wedding, he and Mrs. Assingham had thought about plotting to find Charlotte a husband. Mrs. Assingham decides she has had enough of this and wants to go home. The Prince begs her not to desert him just as Charlotte did, but Mrs. Assingham continues to walk away.