The Portrait of a Lady By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapters 40-41

Summary

Since her marriage Madame Merle comes only seldom to Isabel's house. She has candidly explained that, since she had known Osmond before Isabel married him, she thought it best not to come too often. About a month after Lord Warburton's arrival, Isabel returns from a ride with Pansy to discover Madame Merle in private conversation with Osmond. What disturbs Isabel is that Madame Merle is standing and discussing something of an intimate nature with Osmond, who remains seated. When they see Isabel, both flush and Osmond leaves for a walk.

Madame Merle tells Isabel that Mr. Rosier comes to her often and talks about Pansy. Isabel knows that "poor Mr. Rosier" is in love with Pansy. Madame Merle explains that she washes her hands of the whole affair, but Isabel retorts that she can't because she is too interested. Madame Merle then questions Isabel about Lord Warburton's intentions. She learns that Lord Warburton is charmed with Pansy and wonders why Isabel has not told Osmond this. Isabel responds that she does not interfere. Madame Merle suggests that Lord Warburton will easily propose if Isabel will use her influence. Isabel is surprised to discover that Madame Merle knows of her earlier relationship with Lord Warburton.

That evening, Osmond discusses the same subject with Isabel. He finds out the Lord Warburton comes often to see Pansy. He wonders what Isabel thinks of it, and Isabel tells him that she is waiting to see what Osmond thinks because for once she wants to do something that will please her husband. Like Madame Merle, he lets her know that she can bring about the marriage at any time she desires it. Isabel discovers that he wants this marriage to take place and he desires it immensely. He tells her that he is depending on her to bring it about.

Analysis

There is a bit of irony working here. Isabel had herself rejected Lord Warburton in favor of Osmond. Now Osmond is showing how mean he is by demanding that Isabel use her influence with her former suitor in order to get him to marry Pansy. That both Madame Merle and Osmond desire this marriage so strongly and that Isabel had felt free to reject Lord Warburton's proposal is an ironic contrast to the values possessed by each person.

The fact that Osmond thinks that Isabel could bring about the marriage by using her influence puts Isabel in an awkward position. She is more interested in the desires of individuals such as Pansy and she will soon know that Pansy wants to marry only Mr. Rosier. Thus, Isabel will have to help Pansy or will have to fulfill the perverted desires of her husband.

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