The Portrait of a Lady | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady | Chapters 36–37 | Summary



Chapter 36

Some three years later, Edward Rosier, who has met and fallen in love with now 19-year-old Pansy Osmond, goes to visit Madame Merle and asks her to use any influence she has with Pansy's father to win his good will. Rosier has some money and his own collection of fine objects, but Madame Merle doubts Gilbert Osmond will think Rosier good enough for his daughter. She tells Rosier that Osmond can offer no dowry for Pansy, and she does not think Isabel Archer will, either. She says Osmond and Isabel agree on nothing. Rosier likes Isabel and hopes she will help him. Madame Merle tells Rosier to tell no one else of his feelings for Pansy. Rosier goes to Osmond's home in Rome, a fortress-like ancient home set on the top of a hill. Rosier imagines damsels imprisoned in such a building.

Chapter 37

Rosier enters the home, which is full of other guests, hoping to find Pansy. He approaches Osmond who, by offering his left hand to Rosier and by his rudeness, shows that he knows of Rosier's feelings and does not approve of them. He tells Rosier that he doesn't want to get rid of any of his china nor match it to any new pieces. Rosier understand his meaning. Rosier finds himself alone with Pansy and, despite his promise to Madame Merle, cannot keep himself from telling her something of his feelings. She seems happy to know he cares for her, but she wants to tell her father before anything else is said.

Meanwhile, Osmond and Madame Merle speak of the young couple. Osmond confirms to Madame Merle his rejection of the young man as a suitor for his daughter, despite Madame Merle's claims that she knows Pansy cares for Rosier, too. That doesn't matter to Osmond. He says he educated Pansy so as to be certain she will obey him in such situations. Madame Merle can tell at once when the young couple enter the room that Rosier has spoken to Pansy, and she tells Rosier to come and see her the next day. Rosier speaks to Isabel who gives him no encouragement, claiming to have no control over Osmond.


A space of three years has elapsed between Chapters 34 and 35. During that time, readers learn from Chapter 35 that Edward Rosier has met and fallen in love with Pansy Osmond, who is now 19 and still innocent, having had no suitors. Rosier has become acquainted with Madame Merle and seen his old friend Isabel Archer, too. During those three years, Isabel has married Gilbert Osmond and given birth to and lost a baby, and Madame Merle says Isabel and her husband always want opposite things. Something has occurred in the intervening time to sour their relationship, although readers don't know what. Possible clues include the death of their child, as well as the suggestion that Isabel controls her own money and Osmond is still relatively poor and unable to offer a dowry for his daughter.

In Chapter 36 readers may sense a change in tone in the novel as they see Osmond's home in Rome. In contrast to the bright sightseeing scenes and sun-filled terraces of Mrs. Touchett's Italian home in earlier chapters, Osmond's home in Chapter 36 is described as a fortress on the top of a hill, unassailable and intimidating. Rosier imagines imprisoned damsels and dungeons when he sees it. When he enters the house he encounters both Pansy and Isabel, and readers may wonder if they are trapped in the home—both seem powerless against the will of Osmond. Pansy needs his blessing before speaking further to Rosier, and Isabel says she can't do anything to help Rosier because she knows Osmond has decided already against the young man. The story has noticeably shifted from following a happy, free, young Isabel exploring the world to a much smaller world, cluttered with people and things, controlled completely by Osmond.

Osmond is deliberately rude to Rosier to show his distaste for the young man who wants to marry his precious, perfect daughter. Offering the left hand as greeting is rude, and Osmond further makes his rejection of Rosier unmistakable in his assertion he doesn't want to part with anything in his collection nor match it with any new pieces. Rosier knows Osmond means to say he is not going to let Rosier take his prized daughter or join the family as a son. Pansy, like Isabel, is a fine piece, an object Osmond owns, and he doesn't believe Rosier is worthy of her or good enough to be included in Osmond's collection.

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