illustration of Isabel Archer with a hand fan positioned between two silhouetted profiles

The Portrait of a Lady

by Henry James

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Chapters 21-25 Summary

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Last Updated April 18, 2023.

Isabel accompanies Mrs. Touchett on a trip to San Remo, Italy to visit Ralph, and although she is happy to see him, she is curious about why his father left her a large sum of money. Ralph, without disclosing his own role, explains that it was because his father held Isabel in high regard. Isabel is pleased to learn this, but she is concerned about how the money will impact her life.

Ralph reassures Isabel that she will gain advantages from her newfound wealth and status. When she departs from San Remo, Isabel realizes that she has grown more at ease with her situation. She remembers her refusal of both Lord Warburton and Caspar Goodwood, and now she takes pride in her determination and the steadfastness of her choice.

Chapter 22 introduces us to Mr. Gilbert Osmond, a widower, and his 15-year-old daughter, Pansy. Pansy has been studying at a convent in Switzerland and is brought to Florence by two nuns, Sister Justine and Mother Catherine, to stay with her father. Mr. Osmond is considering whether to continue her education at the convent. The nuns express their fondness for Pansy and their sadness at her leaving. Pansy is upset at the prospect of parting with the sisters.

Merle arrives who is good friends with Osmond and Pansy. Madame Merle counsels Pansy to ignore the nuns so as not to feel sorrowful about their leaving. Later on, Madame Merle recommends that Osmond should become acquainted with Isabel Archer.

Osmond is cautious about taking his friend's advice. Madame Merle informs Osmond that Isabel is financially comfortable, which catches Osmond's attention. Madame Merle thinks that Isabel and Osmond would make a good couple. Despite his lack of fondness for the Touchetts, particularly Ralph, Osmond agrees to pay a visit to Isabel. Madame Merle suggests that it's time for Pansy to leave the convent permanently.

Madame Merle pays another visit to Isabel at Mrs. Touchett's villa and encourages her to form a friendship with Mr. Osmond. Isabel has no objections to this idea, as she has already met many fascinating people since arriving in Italy and is eager to meet more. Additionally, Madame Merle suggests that Isabel should get to know a significant number of men to determine which ones she does not like. After eliminating the unpleasant ones, she can maintain relationships with the few remaining ones. Madame Merle predicts that Isabel will dislike the majority of men she encounters.

Isabel spends her time exploring Florence's museums and galleries and admiring the exceptional art pieces displayed in the city. Madame Merle arranges a meeting between Isabel and Osmond over tea one afternoon. Although Isabel enjoys his company, she doesn't exhibit her typical humor and charisma during the interaction. Isabel feels slightly cautious about Osmond even after he departs.

Afterwards, she informs Ralph about Osmond's arrival. Ralph doesn't know Osmond well and doesn't have any particular thoughts about him, except for questioning why Madame Merle arranged for Isabel to meet him. Ralph comments that Madame Merle seems flawless in everything she does, and while he likes her, her perfection makes him uneasy. Isabel defends Madame Merle, but Ralph concludes that she would never intentionally harm Isabel.

Isabel pays another visit to Osmond with Madame Merle shortly after their initial encounter. During her visit to Osmond's residence, she is introduced to his sister, the Countess Gemini, who is a poised and stern-looking lady, as well as Pansy. While having tea together, they chat about their experiences living in Italy, with Osmond expressing his lack of enthusiasm for the place. Isabel goes for a walk with...

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Osmond and he inquires about her impression of his sister. Isabel declines to give her opinion since she feels that she hasn't yet had the chance to fully get to know the Countess Gemini.

While they are walking, Osmond expresses to Isabel that he favors a modest lifestyle and desires a peaceful existence. Although Isabel is skeptical of Osmond's statements, she chooses not to challenge him further. Osmond proceeds to reveal that his daughter Pansy brings him immense happiness. Privately, Isabel is impressed with Gilbert Osmond's appreciation and understanding of art and has concluded that she finds his company and conversation enjoyable.

Madame Merle and Countess Gemini are left alone and they talk about Isabel and Osmond. According to the Countess, Madame Merle is manipulating Isabel and has involved Osmond in her plan, which makes the Countess annoyed with her friend's interference. However, Madame Merle informs the Countess that Isabel has already fallen in love with Osmond, despite having only met him twice.

The Countess believes that Osmond will be difficult to please and she is uncertain that Isabel would be content with him. Madame Merle promises not to get involved with either of them. Shortly after, Pansy comes to offer tea to the Countess and Madame Merle. The Countess inquires whether Pansy likes Isabel and if she believes her father also likes Isabel. Pansy responds by stating that she thinks Isabel is delightful.


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