The Portrait of a Lady Chapters 21-25 Summary and Analysis
by Henry James

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Chapters 21-25 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Gilbert Osmond: an old friend of Madame Merle’s who is living with his daughter in Italy

Pansy Osmond: Gilbert Osmond’s young daughter

Sister Catherine: a nun from the convent in Switzerland where Pansy attends school

Sister Justine: another nun from the Swiss convent

Countess Gemini: Gilbert Osmond’s sister

Isabel travels with Mrs. Touchett to San Remo, Italy, to visit Ralph. Isabel is pleased to see Ralph, but she wants to know why his father left her so much money. Without revealing his own involvement, Ralph tells her it was because old Mr. Touchett liked her so much. Isabel is pleased to hear this, but she worries about the effect the money will have on her life. Ralph assures her, however, that she will benefit from it, and by the time she leaves San Remo, Isabel finds she is more comfortable with her new wealth and status. She recalls her rejection of both Lord Warburton and Caspar Goodwood, feeling now a certain measure of pride at her resolve and in the firmness of her decision.

In Chapter 22, we are introduced to Mr. Gilbert Osmond, a widower, and his young daughter Pansy. Pansy, who is 15 years old, has been attending school at a convent in Switzerland. Two nuns have escorted her to Florence to be with her father, who is trying to decide whether to keep Pansy in school. The good-natured nuns, Sister Justine and Mother Catherine, assure Osmond that they are very fond of his daughter and will certainly miss her. Pansy is also quite upset at the thought of leaving the sisters.

Madame Merle arrives; she is close friends with Osmond and Pansy. She is somewhat cool toward the nuns and urges them to leave, even though Pansy doesn’t want them to go. Madame Merle advises her not to think of them and then she won’t be sad. Madame Merle then suggests that Osmond acquaint himself with Isabel Archer. Osmond, however, is wary of his friend’s advice. Madame Merle tells Osmond that Isabel is well off financially, information that sparks Osmond’s interest. Madame Merle believes Isabel would be a good match for Osmond. Although he doesn’t care much for the Touchetts, especially Ralph, Osmond promises to visit Isabel. Madame Merle then remarks that it is time Pansy left the convent for good.

Madame Merle next visits Isabel at Mrs. Touchett’s villa. She advises Isabel to become friends with Mr. Osmond. Isabel has no objections as she has been meeting a great number of interesting people since her arrival in Italy and would enjoy meeting more. Madame Merle also suggests that Isabel become acquainted with a large number of men in order to find out which ones she dislikes. Once she has weeded out the disagreeable ones, she can stay friends with the remaining few. Madame Merle believes Isabel will “despise” most of the men she meets.

Isabel begins touring the museums and galleries of Florence, enjoying the many great works of art on display throughout the city. One afternoon, Madame Merle invites Osmond to tea with Isabel. During the meeting, Isabel is reserved, revealing none of her usual wit and charm. After Osmond leaves, Isabel remains a bit wary of him, although she enjoyed his company. Later, she tells Ralph about Osmond’s visit. Ralph is only slightly acquainted with Osmond and does not have any real opinion about him, although he wonders why Madame Merle arranged for Isabel to meet him. Ralph tells Isabel that Madame Merle is a little too perfect in everything she does. He claims to enjoy her company, but he finds her perfection unsettling. When Isabel defends Madame Merle, Ralph decides that the woman would never really do anything to hurt his cousin.

Soon after their first meeting, Isabel again visits Osmond with Madame Merle. At Osmond’s home, she meets Pansy and Osmond’s sister, the Countess Gemini, who is an elegant, severe-looking woman. Over tea, they discuss living in Italy; Osmond is not overly fond of the place. Afterwards, Isabel takes a stroll with Osmond and he asks her for her...

(The entire section is 1,461 words.)