The Portrait of a Lady | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady | Chapters 42–43 | Summary



Chapter 42

Isabel Archer stays awake all night thinking about what Gilbert Osmond said and many other things. She wonders if Lord Warburton is still in love with her and what sort of a person it would make her if she used that to get him to propose to Pansy Osmond. She reflects on what went wrong in her marriage. She distrusts Osmond and has come to see his arrogance and controlling nature. She believes he hates her and would lock her in a room if he could. She recalls that he once told her "she had too many ideas" and that she needed to get rid of them. He disapproves of her visits to her sick cousin.

Chapter 43

Isabel and Pansy attend a dance. Edward Rosier is there and begs Isabel to change her mind and help his cause. Pansy obeys her father and will not dance with Rosier. Isabel allows Rosier to take a flower from Pansy's bouquet. Lord Warburton asks Isabel to dance, but she refuses, urging him to ask Pansy instead. She asks if he has forgotten about proposing to Pansy, and he says he has already written to Osmond about it but has yet to mail the letter. Lord Warburton feels pity for Rosier and doesn't consider him a rival, as he is sure of Osmond's preference for himself as a suitor to Pansy. Isabel thinks that Lord Warburton is really still in love with her, not Pansy. There is something in his eyes that tells her he still desires her. Isabel tells Rosier she will do what she can for him, but she also reminds Lord Warburton to send his letter.


Chapter 42 is something like stream of consciousness, containing only Isabel Archer's thoughts, from which there is much to be learned. Stream of consciousness is a literary technique that depicts the flow of thoughts of a character as they naturally occur, without editing or organizing them in any way. There is no dialogue, no real events in the chapter, simply Isabel thinking about her marriage, her influence on Lord Warburton, the real character of her husband, Gilbert Osmond, and her responsibility to Pansy Osmond and her role in any engagement. In these thoughts readers finally learn what has gone wrong in her marriage and what makes her life so miserable. She has come to see Osmond for what he really is, and realizes that her love for him clouded her understanding to begin with. Now she realizes that he limits her freedom and would lock her up if he could do so without causing a stir. She is a prisoner in her marriage. He even disapproves of her visiting Ralph Touchett as he is dying. She realizes Ralph had been right about Osmond all along.

In Chapter 43 Isabel confirms her worry that Lord Warburton still desires her and is not really in love with Pansy. He repeatedly asks Isabel to dance and wishes to speak to her. He only asks Pansy to dance once. There is something in his eyes as he speaks to Isabel that finally convinces her she is correct in her fear that he wishes to please her by pursuing Pansy, and that he is not really in love with her stepdaughter. He seems to feel sorry for Rosier rather than annoyed at his attentions to Pansy, and he seems startled when Isabel suggests the two are rivals.

In Chapter 43 Isabel seems to be of two minds about the men who want to marry Pansy. She first is cold to Rosier, but she allows him to pluck a flower from the bouquet. She tells him to leave, but then she says she will do what she can for his cause. She is sure Lord Warburton is really in love with her, not Pansy, but she tells him to send the letter to Osmond. Readers are just as confused as Isabel seems to be about what she is doing.

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