Summary and Analysis
Isabel decides that no harm can come to her from a simple social visit to Gilbert Osmond's house. There, she meets his sister the Countess Gemini and his daughter Pansy. Osmond is very gracious and discusses his collection of art objects and his daughter with quiet admiration. Alone with Osmond, Isabel is asked her opinion of the Countess Gemini. Isabel does not, however, believe that she knows the lady well enough to express an opinion, but she has noted that there is no rapport between the brother and sister.
Isabel has difficulty placing Osmond in a class. He is unlike any person she has ever known. His kindness and charm almost overwhelm Isabel. He gives her a rather unflattering picture of himself, but Isabel's imagination fancies many missing elements.
While Isabel and Osmond are talking, Madame Merle is being reproached by the Countess Gemini for the little conspiracy she is executing. Madame Merle at first pretends ignorance of the Countess' meaning. The Countess, however, will not drop the subject and tells Madame Merle that the plan in operation would be bad for Isabel and that she might oppose it. Madame Merle warns the Countess not to interfere because both of them want Pansy to marry well, and in this aim, Isabel will be of immense value.
The reader observes in these chapters how Isabel is slowly being trapped and deceived by the machinations of Osmond and Madame Merle. His discriminating taste and exquisite collection of art objects make Isabel think that Osmond is a superior person. "He resembled no one she had ever seen: most of the people she knew might be divided into groups of half a dozen specimens." But Osmond fits into no classification. Thus, Isabel's inability to classify him makes her see him in a different light. The reader knows that he is an evil type of person that Isabel has never confronted before.
Pansy is seen in this chapter as a perfect little person. She is like Osmond's collection of art objects. She fits into his life, not as an individual, but as something that will demonstrate his good taste.
Osmond has one effect on Isabel that convinces her that he is a superior person. No other person has ever made her think so precisely; no one has ever made her perception so refined. In his presence, Isabel feels that she is functioning as a superior person. Thus she allows her imagination to roam freely. When Osmond tells her that his life has been rather dull and useless, she assumes additional events and material, thus making him in her imagination much greater than he is in reality. Consequently, Isabel's own inventive faculty contributes to her tragic mistake in evaluating Osmond.
In the conversation between Madame Merle and the Countess Gemini, we see that there is a definite plan to trap Isabel. For all of her simplicity, the Countess Gemini is a more real and human person than either her brother or Madame Merle. It is ironic that the person with the tarnished reputation is the person who has the most human and sympathetic understanding of Isabel's predicament.