The Portrait of a Lady

by

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 36 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Skipping forward some time, it is now the autumn of 1876. Edward Rosier, the art collector who is also Isabel’s childhood friend, arrives to visit Madame Merle in Rome. Over the summer he met Pansy and fell in love with her immediately. He views her as a “consummate piece” and hopes that Merle will advocate on his behalf with Gilbert Osmond for Pansy’s hand in marriage, knowing that Merle has influence over Osmond as a family friend.
Edward Rosier falls into the novel’s pattern of men treating women as desirable objects for their collections. Like Osmond and Ralph, Rosier is an art collector himself, which gives the analogy more weight. He thinks of Pansy as the “consummate” or perfect piece that he must add to his collection. His opinion of Pansy as the perfect woman and art piece echoes Osmond’s previous descriptions of Pansy as the perfect daughter.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Madame Merle questions Rosier about his financial means and prospects. At times she ridicules his naïve grasp on financial matters. He earns 40,000 francs a year, which Merle doesn’t seem to think he could live on comfortably with a wife. She suggests that although Isabel has wealth, she may keep it for her own children rather than sharing it with Pansy. Merle reveals that Isabel had a son with Osmond two years ago, but the child died at the young age of six months. She also hints at trouble in Osmond and Isabel’s relationship, suggesting that they disagree on everything.
Madame Merle gives some detail as to Isabel’s current state; readers are not surprised to learn that there is tension with her husband, Osmond. Merle’s protectiveness over her daughter Pansy (the relationship still a secret to Pansy and society at large) sees her ascertain Rosier’s value as a potential husband able to provide for his family. She finds his financial status lacking, but nevertheless seems to encourage Rosier’s interest in Pansy.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Next, Rosier goes to visit the Osmonds at their house in Rome. Mrs. Osmond (Isabel) regularly hosts Thursday night social gatherings, which create an opportunity for Rosier to mingle with Pansy. He is fairly certain that Isabel will be more sympathetic than Madame Merle to his cause in pursuing Pansy’s hand in marriage.
Rosier believes that Isabel’s kindness and their long-time friendship will help him win Pansy’s affections. Interestingly, Isabel has started to host regular parties reminiscent of Mrs. Luce’s social events in Paris; Isabel previously scorned the ridiculous wealth of such parties. That was before she inherited a small fortune, which has clearly influenced her personal values.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Rosier describes the Osmonds’ house in Rome. It is “a dark and massive structure” whose architecture reminds him of “a kind of domestic fortress.” Rosier supposes that this doesn’t bode well for his beloved Pansy to be living there. He knows that Osmond and Isabel purchased the house because of its “local character,” and that Mr. Osmond has been able to add greatly to his art collection since his marriage to Isabel. Rosier ends his musings by entering the house, eagerly looking for Pansy.
Isabel and Osmond live in a new house in Rome. Like Osmond’s previous villa in Florence, the building’s architecture reflects its owners—it is “dark” and overbearing like Osmond, and seems to Rosier a “domestic fortress,” a term that could be used to describe Isabel’s entrapment in an unhappy marriage. Osmond’s increased art collection suggests that he has used Isabel’s money to finance his own passions.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
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