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 36-40 Summary

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Last Updated April 19, 2023.

After a few years we find out that Isabel and Osmond are now married and have recently suffered the loss of a male infant. The Osmonds are living in Rome along with Pansy, who has matured into a pleasant and captivating lady of 19 years.

Edward (Ned) Rosier iss an American who has traveled to Rome with the intention of proposing to Pansy. Ned and Pansy previously met while vacationing in Switzerland. To assist him with his proposal, Ned seeks out Madame Merle and requests her help. He is confident in Pansy's love for him and believes that Isabel, Pansy's aunt, will not have any issues with their marriage.

Ned is cautious about Pansy's father, suspecting that Osmond will not approve. Despite not being able to guarantee success, Madame Merle agrees to assist Ned, but cautions him that Mr. and Mrs. Osmond often disagree. She advises Ned to wait until she has checked out the situation before pursuing the matter further. Madame Merle compliments Ned's expensive miniature collection, implying that he may want to give her a gift in exchange for her help. Ned disregards Madame Merle's advice and hurries to visit Pansy at the Osmonds' villa.

Upon arriving at the Osmonds' residence, Ned finds them entertaining several guests. Gilbert Osmond greets Ned with a cold reception, prompting Ned to request Isabel's permission to speak with Pansy. Unfortunately, Isabel tells Ned that she cannot assist him. Ned eventually manages to speak with Pansy privately and confesses his affection for her.

Pansy admits to liking Ned, but does not say anything else to show her interest. Madame Merle comes in and Osmond immediately tells her that Ned is not wealthy enough to marry his daughter and that he is dull. However, Madame Merle thinks Ned may be beneficial to Osmond in the future. She privately advises Ned to stay away from Pansy. Ned then turns to Isabel for help again, but she declines, saying that she cannot assist him.

After waiting for a week, Ned finally goes to see Pansy again, but Osmond directly informs him that he will not permit Pansy to wed him. Ned then tries to approach Isabel for assistance, but she declines to aid him, even though she implies that Pansy still holds affection for him. While talking to Isabel, Lord Warburton surprisingly shows up at Osmond's residence.

Four years have passed since Lord Warbuton parted ways with Isabel, leaving her behind in Rome with Osmond. Warburton has become a powerful political figure and is currently accompanying Ralph, who is still struggling with his weakening condition, on a trip to Rome.

Isabel is worried about Ralph's well-being, but she feels pleased to see Lord Warburton who seems to have moved on from his disappointment of Isabel's rejection. Meanwhile, Pansy is serving tea to the guests and Ned approaches her. Pansy confesses that she has feelings for Ned, but she knows that she cannot marry him because her father will never approve of it. Ned feels devastated as he helplessly watches Isabel introduce Pansy to Lord Warburton, who appears to be showing a keen interest in her.

Chapter 39 reveals that Ralph and his mother have had very few opportunities to spend time with Isabel since she wed Osmond. The Touchetts still harbor negative feelings towards Isabel's spouse, and Ralph remains remorseful for his misjudgment about Isabel's feelings for Osmond. Ralph believes that Osmond is a fraud who puts on a facade of being uninterested in socializing, but in reality, he strives to impress everyone he comes across.

Henrietta and Osmond do not seem to care for each...

(This entire section contains 886 words.)

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other so Henrietta has not visited Isabel and her new husband. Despite this, Isabel appears to be content on the outside.

After spending an evening at the Osmond's, Ralph and Lord Warburton talk about their upcoming trips. Ralph originally planned to travel to Sicily for his health, but he has now changed his mind and intends to stay in Rome. Lord Warburton reveals that he too has decided to stay in Rome. They both confess that their primary motivation for staying in the city is to be close to Isabel. Ralph believes that he needs to keep Isabel safe from Osmond.

Warburton concurs, but he also has Pansy in mind. Ralph is confident that Osmond will support Warburton's attraction towards Pansy because of the Englishman's affluence and social status. However, Ralph ponders whether Warburton's true intention is to stay connected to Isabel by spending time with her stepdaughter. Warburton strongly objects, vehemently denying Ralph's assertion.

While Madame Merle comes back to Rome following her extended stays in England and Paris, Isabel's feelings towards her are unclear as they have not had much contact in recent years. Osmond declares that he has lost interest in Madame Merle and is indifferent to her visits. At the same time, Isabel and Pansy have developed a strong bond and spend a significant amount of time together.

Isabel unexpectedly encounters Madame Merle having a private conversation with Osmond. Madame Merle appeals to Isabel on behalf of Ned Rosier's romantic interest in Pansy. Isabel doesn't give Rosier much chance with Pansy and instead suggests that Lord Warburton would make a better match. Madame Merle readily agrees and promises to shut her door on Rosier if he asks for help with Pansy in the future.

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