The Portrait of a Lady

by

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 24 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Isabel accompanies Madame Merle to Gilbert Osmond’s house. Osmond, Pansy, and the Countess Gemini, Osmond’s sister, are all present. Isabel finds Pansy is innocent and sweet in nature, and judges the Countess to be a superficial character. The Countess Gemini announces that she has called in at the villa to meet Isabel rather than to spend time with her family.
The Countess seems in some ways similar to Mrs. Touchett, prioritizing her individual needs above family conventions.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
While Madame Merle and the Countess Gemini walk through the garden, Osmond draws Isabel into conversation with Pansy nearby. He asks her what she thinks of the Countess, stating that she is the subject of an unhappy marriage but deals with this through humor.
Madame Merle and Osmond are very cunning in furthering their plan for Osmond to court Isabel, managing to leave the two alone with only Pansy playing nearby. Osmond engages Isabel by confiding private family matters with her.
Themes
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Osmond and Isabel also discuss the topic of art, with Isabel impressed by Osmond’s cultured aesthetic tastes. In fact, she is quite spellbound by his character in general, for she has never met someone so sophisticated and “original.” She tries her best to avoid sounding ignorant when they speak on topics she feels unconfident in. She also tries to never disagree with Osmond’s learned opinions. Isabel discovers that it is hard work to try to live up to the description that she thinks Madame Merle has given to Osmond of her.
Isabel is duped by Osmond’s appearance of Old World knowledge and sophistication. She is certain that Madame Merle has told Osmond that Isabel is a unique and knowledgeable woman but is worried that she will not meet this description, especially on the topic of art in which Osmond seems so well-versed.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
Osmond asks Isabel is she will visit him at the villa again. She agrees to do so, but reflects on whether this will affect her plans to travel extensively. Osmond admits to Isabel that his life’s plan is to live a “quiet” life, and that he has no specific prospects before him. Osmond also makes the curious comment that “A woman’s natural mission is to be where she’s most appreciated.”
Osmond secures another social engagement with Isabel. His comment that a woman has a “natural” or innate purpose to please those around her is evidence of the patriarchal expectations he holds women accountable to, a view that is especially displayed in his regular treatment of Pansy as an object that exists to reflect well on him.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
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Osmond and Isabel wander outside to join Madame Merle and the Countess Gemini. Osmond reveals that his daughter, Pansy, is his greatest happiness in life. Overall, Isabel finds Osmond to be mysterious; he is a self-described private individual who has secluded himself away from society, yet he seems to happily share personal truths with Isabel having only just met her. Isabel compares Osmond to Ralph, noting their similar personal qualities, but decides that Osmond is more at ease in his environment.
Osmond’s claim that Pansy is his greatest joy is clearly a lie, as his previous actions have shown him to be a narcissistic individual. However, his lies attract Isabel’s interest as she finds herself drawn to learn more about the mysterious and unconventional Osmond. He likely appeals to Isabel because he does not fit into a conventional stereotype as previous suitors such as Lord Warburton and Caspar Goodwood did.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon