Portrait of a Lady Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Portrait o a Lady: Chapters 37-39

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Summary – Chapters Thirty Seven, Thirty Eight and Thirty Nine
When Rosier arrives at the Osmond home, he encounters Osmond and they discuss his Capo di Monte. Rosier forgets the delicacy of his position and asks if he is willing to part with a piece or two. Osmond says he is not thinking of parting ‘with anything at all’.
Rosier then talks to Isabel and he notices she now has more of the air of being able to wait. She tells him she wants to introduce him to a young lady and when this girl leaves he is left virtually alone with Pansy. He asks if he may see the yellow room and she offers to show it to him. He tells her he has come to see her.
Madame Merle arrives and she talks to Osmond. He says he was rude to Rosier on purpose as he is not what he dreamed of for Pansy. She advises him to keep him on hand as he might be useful and he has promised her he will not speak to Pansy. Pansy enters at this point and is followed by Rosier. Madame Merle notes that he has spoken to her after all and Osmond says he should be ‘horsewhipped’.
Madame Merle goes over to Rosier and expresses her disappointment. He instinctively goes to Isabel and she tells him Pansy is ‘all wrong’ and he is not rich enough for her (that is, for Osmond). Before he leaves, he apologizes to Isabel. She says that it is not that she does not want to help him, but that she ‘can’t’ and looks at him inscrutably.
In Chapter Thirty Eight, Rosier visits Madame Merle the next day and he is surprised that she lets him off rather easily. She tells him to be patient and advises him to go to the regular Thursday evenings at the Osmonds’ home, and he does this.
Here, Osmond is rude and Rosier tells him he has Pansy’s promise. Osmond says she has no recollection of having given it. They then become aware that a stranger has entered (a bearded Englishman) and Osmond recognizes him eventually.
In his search for Pansy, Rosier encounters Isabel and when he asks where she is, she points her out and says in a low tone that Pansy has not given him up. Osmond then brings Lord Warburton (the stranger) over and Lord Warburton talks of how he has not been back for four years. Osmond does his duty and talks to him and leaves once he thinks he has stayed long enough.
Lord Warburton explains to Isabel that he has brought Ralph to Rome. He is in his hotel room and is too tired to come out. She says immediately that she will visit him and he tells her Ralph is now ‘very far gone’ and his mother is in the United States. Isabel explains that she goes at fixed times and lets nothing deter her – even if Ralph had been dying. Lord Warburton says he sometimes thinks he is dying and Isabel springs up to go to see him now. He checks her and tells her to wait until tomorrow.
They continue talking and he says he supposes she is very happy and she agrees, but also implies that she would not tell him if she was not. He then comments on the ‘charming face’ of a young woman who is sitting nearby and Isabel tells him it is her husband’s daughter. He says he likes looking at her from here, but soon his eyes stray back to Isabel. He also says that he does want to marry.
At the same time, Rosier talks to Pansy and she says she has not forgotten him. She says papa has been severe, though, and has forbidden her to talk to him, or marry him. He says he feels sacrificed and she tells him she will ask Mrs. Osmond for help as she is not afraid of anyone. She also asks him to be patient and he drops his head into his hands. When he looks up, he sees her make a curtsey to the English lord.
Chapter Thirty Nine begins with the explanation that Ralph never mentions his thoughts about Osmond to Isabel again, but thinks that as his wife she can never be friends with him. Ralph now sees he was wrong to put Isabel on her guard and thinks he lost the game by playing the wrong card. He thinks that she now wears a mask that covers her whole face. He also considers how she used to be curious and is now indifferent, despite the exaggerated activity: ‘The free, keen girl had become quite another person; what he saw was the fine lady who was supposed to represent something. What did Isabel represent? Ralph asked himself; and he could only answer by saying that she represented Gilbert Osmond’. He sees Osmond as keeping all things ‘within limits’ and lives ‘exclusively’ for the world. Conversely, he thinks Osmond does not think of him as an enemy; he sees him just as Isabel’s cousin and ‘rather unpleasantly ill’.
Ralph had wanted to visit Sicily, but decides to stay in Rome and hints that he will have to defend Isabel from her husband arguing with her. He then asks Lord Warburton if he is getting closer to Pansy and wonders if one her merits is that he will be closer to her stepmother. Lord Warburton responds angrily to this.
Analysis – Chapters Thirty Seven, Thirty Eight and Thirty Nine
Osmond’s desire for control is seen to extend to his daughter in his bid for her to be married to somebody superior, and especially superior to Rosier. The cracks in his marriage become clearer as he and Isabel clearly differ over Pansy’s fate, but his power remains.
From Ralph’s perspective, it is possible to see that the marriage has altered Isabel, though, and he now thinks of her as wearing a mask that covers her whole face. It is telling, and relevant to the title, that he sees the change from the ‘free, keen girl’ to a ‘fine’ lady that only represents Osmond.


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