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 41-45 Summary

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Last Updated April 19, 2023.

Isabel thinks that Warburton would be a suitable partner for Pansy, and that if they got married, it would bring happiness to Osmond. Even though Isabel is not content in her own marriage with Osmond, she wants to make sure she has done everything possible to make him happy.

Isabel talks to Osmond about the issue, and he concurs that Warburton is the suitable candidate for Pansy. However, Osmond is displeased with Isabel because he believes that she still has feelings for Warburton. Nonetheless, Osmond desires that Isabel will exert her influence to persuade Warburton to ask Pansy to marry him.

Isabel is sitting by herself, contemplating her recent conversation with Osmond, and pondering whether Lord Warburton still has feelings for her. She also reflects on the disappointing outcome of her marriage, realizing that she and Osmond have developed a deep dislike for each other. Isabel is highly critical of Osmond's false claims and his eagerness to conform to the high-society standards.

Osmond is upset with Isabel due to her independent nature, her numerous frustrating thoughts, and her loyalty to her cousin Ralph. Isabel comprehends this and has even attempted to modify her behavior to satisfy her husband, but she won't surrender to all of his wishes. Isabel has accepted her situation and believes that she will always be dissatisfied; she feels that she made a mistake by marrying Gilbert Osmond and has wasted her life.

Isabel and Pansy go to a fancy event. Osmond, who doesn't enjoy parties or dancing, stays at home as usual. At the party, Ned Rosier, who is still in love with Pansy, meets the two ladies and hopes to dance with Pansy. Unfortunately, Osmond has forbidden Pansy from dancing with Ned, so she dances with other enthusiastic young men instead. While watching Pansy dance, Ned pleads with Isabel to assist him once again. Despite feeling sympathetic towards him, Isabel informs Ned that she cannot help him.

Upon Lord Warburton's arrival at the party, he decides to have a conversation with Isabel instead of dancing with Pansy. Isabel inquires if he genuinely desires to wed her stepdaughter, to which Warburton affirms his intention and discloses that he is presently composing a letter to Osmond indicating his interest. While strolling outside, Isabel and Warburton run into Ned, who is dejectedly observing Pansy's dance performance.

Warburton expresses sympathy for Ned and offers to assist him, but Isabel questions why he would feel that way given that Ned is his rival. Warburton does not view Ned as a significant threat. Isabel subtly implies that Ned has feelings for Pansy, but Warburton does not seem particularly bothered. Isabel privately assures Ned that she will try to help him with Pansy. As Lord Warburton leaves, Isabel jokingly reminds him to send his letter about Pansy to Osmond.

Henrietta visits Countess Gemini in Florence before traveling to Rome to see her friend Isabel. During her visit, the Countess tells Henrietta that Lord Warburton has been spending time with Isabel and suggests that he may be interested in her romantically again. Henrietta later meets with Caspar Goodwood, who is also in Florence, and hints that Isabel is going through a tough time in her marriage and seems unhappy. She encourages Caspar to visit Isabel in Rome.

Isabel has been visiting Ralph in Rome despite Osmond's objections because he is afraid that Ralph will influence her independent thinking. While she was there, Isabel and Ralph talked about Pansy and Lord Warburton. They both agreed that Osmond would be happy if Warburton proposed to Pansy, but Ralph does not think they were in love....

(This entire section contains 704 words.)

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Ralph suggests that Warburton might still have feelings for Isabel. Ralph believes that Warburton would be a good match for Pansy, but not because they are in love with each other.

Afterward, Isabel tries to uncover Pansy's genuine emotions, and Pansy confesses her affection for Ned Rosier. Although she has reservations about Warburton's intentions to marry her, Pansy vows not to wed Ned without her father's consent. Isabel feels remorseful for supporting Osmond and counsels Pansy to obey her father. Pansy agrees to do so but admits that she will most likely remain single if she cannot be with the man she truly loves.

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