The Portrait of a Lady

The Portrait of a Lady Summary and Analysis of Chapters 43-45

Chapter 43

Isabel takes Pansy to a dance, where she has been instructed by Osmond to keep watch over his daughter. While Pansy is dancing, Edward Rosier approaches Isabel in a determined manner. We learn that Pansy has refused to dance with him. He sees a bouquet of pansies that Isabel is holding, and realizing that it must belong to Pansy, he begs for one of the flowers. Pansy finishes a dance and is returning to Isabel, and Isabel bids Edward to leave. Upon her return, Pansy counts the flowers. (The suggestion is that she has feelings for Edward.)

Lord Warburton then approaches Isabel. Warburton has not yet asked Pansy to dance, because she is occupied with others. He then asks Isabel to dance, and she refuses. He says he prefers to talk to her anyway. Apparently Lord Warburton has written to Isabel telling her of his intention to offer marriage to Pansy, but he has not written to Osmond. The two then bump into Edward Rosier, who looks miserable. Lord Warburton notes how miserable he looks and asks Isabel why. Isabel tells him of Rosier's love for Pansy, and Warburton pities the man. Isabel notices that Warburton is not at all envious, and thinks that he is not in love with Pansy. Lord Warburton claims he has good reasons to love Pansy, and Isabel retorts that one never has good reasons to be in love. He wonders why Isabel is so skeptical of his intentions towards Pansy.

The two exchange a look. Deeper meanings are exchanged between them than they are conscious of. "Not for an instant should he suspect her of detecting in his proposal of marrying her stepdaughter an implication of increased nearness to herself, or of thinking it, on such a betrayal, ominous," the narrator tells us (392). (This sentence is intentionally vague. See analysis below.)

Chapter 44

Countess Gemini wishes she lived in Rome - she finds herself often very bored. She thought of society in Rome as very interesting; it had many celebrities, whereas in Florence, where she lives, there are none. She knew Isabel was having a beautiful time, and that she led a more brilliant life than herself.

The Countess did not feel envious of Isabel's personal merits though. She is constantly surprised by the fact that Isabel did not look down on her. Isabel in fact was somewhat scared of her, thinking of her as a "bright rare shell, with a polished surface" (395). The Countess is not often asked to come to Rome because of her brother. Isabel would have liked to have seen her more often. The Countess wishes to know how Isabel is faring against her brother.

One day Henrietta Stackpole comes to visit the Countess because the Countess is the only person she knows in Florence at the moment. Henrietta tells the Countess that she remembers the Countess once told her something useful about the position of women in the city of Florence. Henrietta has used this bit of information in a newspaper article.

Henrietta informs the Countess that Isabel's husband has tried to break her relations with her dearest friend. She is seeking the Countess's help. Henrietta is going to Rome to see if Isabel now hates her. She has noticed a change in Isabel's letters. The Countess tells Henrietta that Lord Warburton is trying to "make love" to Isabel (see glossary). Henrietta wants to find out if Isabel is unhappy, but she is afraid Isabel would not tell her. The Countess speculates that she can find out if Mr. Osmond is unhappy - and if he is unhappy, then that would show that Isabel is making him miserable, meaning that she has not allowed herself to be trampled upon by Mr. Osmond. Henrietta dislikes this line of thought. The Countess notes how devoted Isabel's friends are.

On her way back to her hotel, Henrietta leaves a card for Caspar Goodwood, who is in Florence. She requests to see him regarding an important matter. When she arrives at her hotel though, Goodwood is already there. She asks him if he will go to Rome. Goodwood says he has been considering it for the past few months. He does not believe it will matter for Isabel, but he wants to go and see him for himself. Henrietta notes that Caspar Goodwood has never cared for anyone but Isabel.

Caspar Goodwood wonders why Henrietta Stackpole thinks that Isabel is always foremost on his mind. He believes he is not always thinking of Isabel. He wished that Henrietta would leave him alone. But he realizes that he must offer to go on the same train with her to Rome, if only out of courtesy.

Chapter 45

Isabel knows that her husband dislikes her visiting Ralph. She thinks of Ralph though as an "apostle of freedom" (406) who allows her to refresh her own mind. However Isabel is very much aware of how her visiting Ralph against the wishes of her husband would not fit the definition of a conventional marriage, and she cowers at the idea that she might end up meeting her husband in open opposition. Sometimes she even Ralph would leave because she is afraid of seeming to repudiate her husband in her defiance.

Isabel visits Ralph one day and asks him if Lord Warburton is really in love with Pansy, and Ralph responds that he is not in love with Pansy, implying that he is in love with Isabel. When Ralph treats the matter lightly, Isabel sighs that Ralph gives her no help. Ralph compassionately declares, "How unhappy you must be!" since it is the first time she has ever asked for help. Isabel however quickly recovers and brushes the matter off as a "domestic embarrassment." (409)

Isabel's mask has only dropped for an instant, and Ralph feels disappointed. He tries again and again to make her betray her husband in words. He feels he hears her cry for help in the fact that she is contradicting herself in matters of domestic embarrassments. Ralph then suggests that Osmond will think Isabel is jealous of Pansy. Isabel blushes at the idea.

Later that day, Isabel decides to speak to Pansy. She wants to know how Pansy feels about Lord Warburton. She knows that Osmond would have thought this an act of treachery. Isabel tells Pansy that she wants to know what Pansy desires so that Isabel herself may act accordingly. Pansy tells her that all she wants is to marry Mr. Rosier. Isabel says it is impossible, and that she must think of something else. Isabel explains to Pansy the consequences of disobeying her father, and she also tells him that Edward Rosier does not have enough money to marry her. As she explains this, she feels incredibly insincere. She suggests that Osmond might propose another suitor for marriage, Lord Warburton.

Pansy smiles with bright assurance: she is sure that Lord Warburton will not ask. Isabel feels awkward at Pansy's assurance, because she feels like she is being accused of dishonesty. Pansy explains that Warburton is kind enough not to ask.


In Chapter 43, Isabel guesses that Warburton may act or abstain from acting on the basis of her own desires: and it is this that makes her refuse to force him to do so. They exchange a look that is very significant for indicating how psychological motivation of two people with good intentions can play off of each other. The narrator tells us that Isabel sees the gleam of an idea in Warburton's eye that Isabel herself is uneasy. This is a very difficult construction: Isabel knows that Warburton is thinking about Isabel's thoughts and desires. The next sentence is attributed neither to Warburton, nor to Isabel - it is simply a statement that "not for an instant should he suspect her of detecting in his proposal… an implication of increased nearness to herself" (392). It could either mean that Warburton is trying to prevent Isabel from knowing that he is acting all out of his love for Isabel, or it could mean that Isabel notices Warburton is trying to prevent her from knowing his true motivation. Two people with good intentions, in other words, want to act only when they understand other people's desires and motivations, rather than acting purely out of their own self-interest. This seems to be the version of morality that James is propagating: one must understand oneself within a network of social relations and amidst the motivations of others in order to act in a moral way.

The conversation between Countess Gemini and Henrietta Stackpole is one of the few conversations we get between two characters of minor importance. It is comical that these two characters get along: Countess Gemini has been described as a frivolous fabulist, and Henrietta Stackpole is very straightforward and honest. Henrietta Stackpole represents the New World and the possibilities open to modern women, insofar as she has an occupation that enables her to travel, think, observe, and be financially independent. Countess Gemini represents the decadence of the Old World, having married for position and money, she is left without any real values.

Ralph and Isabel's conversation in Chapter 45 is significant because it shows Isabel finally beginning to move about the cage which Osmond has built for her: she finally starts to assert her own idea of how one should behave in life, rather than following Osmond's conventional way. Convention dictates that a woman should not oppose her husband's will. Isabel here feels that a heavy obligation. However, she realizes that if she convinces Lord Warburton to propose marriage to Pansy, he will only be doing it out of his love for Isabel. In Isabel's conversation with Pansy, in Chapter 46 then, Isabel seems to realize what more concretely what her morality is: she believes that people should act only from their own ideas and desires, and do so in an open and honest way.