The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

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Chapters 36-40 Summary and Analysis

Summary
A few years have passed. We learn that Isabel has married Osmond and they have recently lost their only child, a baby boy. The Osmonds are living in Rome with Pansy, who has grown into an attractive and charming 19-year-old woman.

Edward (Ned) Rosier, the American we had been introduced to earlier in the novel, has traveled to Rome to ask for Pansy’s hand in marriage. Ned met Pansy earlier, in the summer, when they were both staying at a resort in Switzerland. Now, in Rome, Ned approaches Madame Merle and asks her to intervene on his behalf. He believes Pansy loves him and thinks Isabel will not object to the marriage. Ned is wary, however, of Pansy’s father; he doubts Osmond will approve. Although she cannot guarantee his success, Madame Merle agrees to help Ned. She warns him, though, that Mr. and Mrs. Osmond are frequently at odds. She advises Ned not to pursue the matter until she has made the proper inquiries for him. Madame Merle then tells Ned how much she admires his collection of expensive miniatures, hinting that he might want to reward her for her efforts by presenting her with a little gift. After he speaks to Madame Merle, Ned ignores her advice and rushes off to visit Pansy at the Osmonds’ villa.

When Ned arrives at their home, the Osmonds are entertaining a number of guests. After he receives a cool reception from Gilbert Osmond, Ned asks Isabel for permission to speak to Pansy, but Isabel tells him that she cannot help him. Ned finally seizes an opportunity to speak to Pansy alone and admits his feelings for the young woman. Pansy declares that she likes Ned, but says little else to encourage him. Meanwhile, Madame Merle arrives and Osmond promptly informs her that Ned Rosier is a bore and is not rich enough to marry his daughter. Madame Merle believes, however, that Ned may be useful to Osmond at some point. She quietly tells Ned to heed her advice and to not approach Pansy again. Then Ned once again appeals to Isabel, who says that she “simply can’t” help him.

Ned waits a week before visiting Pansy again. When he does, Osmond bluntly tells Ned that he will not allow Pansy to marry him. Ned seeks out Isabel, but again she refuses to help him, although she hints that Pansy is still interested in him. As Ned is speaking to Isabel, Lord Warburton unexpectedly arrives at the Osmond’s home. It has been four years since he last saw Isabel, when he left her with Osmond in Rome. Warburton is an influential politician now. He has traveled to Rome with Ralph, who continues to suffer from his debilitating consumption. Warburton tells Isabel that Mrs. Touchett is visiting America; even though her son is quite ill, the old woman never changes her travel plans.

Isabel is concerned about Ralph’s health, but she is happy to see Lord Warburton. The Englishman has apparently gotten over Isabel’s rejection of him. Across the room, as Pansy busies herself serving tea to the guests, Ned approaches her. Pansy admits that she loves Rosier, but she will never marry him; her father would never allow it. Crushed, Ned watches helplessly as Isabel introduces Pansy to Lord Warburton, who appears to be quite interested in the young woman.

In Chapter 39, we find out that Ralph and his mother have seen little of Isabel since her marriage to Osmond. The Touchetts still dislike Isabel’s husband, and Ralph continues to regret his miscalculation regarding Isabel’s intentions toward Osmond. In Ralph’s opinion, Osmond is a phony who pretends to be disinterested in society but actually lives to impress everyone he meets. Henrietta has not been in touch with Isabel, either. Her unkind opinion of her friend’s new husband matches Osmond’s harsh view of Henrietta. Consequently, Isabel’s good friend has stayed away from the Osmond household. But Isabel appears, on the surface, to be quite happy.

Following an evening at the Osmond’s, Ralph and Lord Warburton discuss their travel plans. Ralph had intended to go to Sicily...

(The entire section is 1,615 words.)