The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James
Character Role Analysis
Pansy, Gilbert Osmond’s most precious possession, is in a similar position to Isabel with regards to Osmond, but responds in a totally different fashion. Instead of resisting her father’s will and trying to maintain a hold on her own identity, Pansy’s own thoughts and desires are almost completely obliterated. Although she loves Edward Rosier (or, at least, thinks she does), she always puts Osmond’s wishes before her own. Unlike Isabel, she doesn’t ever question the idea that Osmond knows best. While Pansy shows signs of being an intelligent, perceptive, and utterly lovely person, it’s impossible for us to see her clearly through the veil of Osmond’s demands and expectations. It is largely for Pansy’s sake that Isabel returns to Rome at the end of the novel. We, like Isabel, hold on to the futile hope that it’s not too late for Pansy to stand up for herself and strike out as an individual, but, frankly, we’re not holding our collective breath.
Next to Isabel, Henrietta Stackpole looks like a truly odd duck. We can see why the two are such good friends – they each have a certain mutual admiration for the other’s creativity and intelligence, and they are both independent, interesting, and determined young females in a society that doesn’t yet know the meaning of women’s lib. However, Isabel manages to do all of this in a charming, natural fashion, while Henrietta plows her way forcefully through life, certain that her way is the right way. She needs Isabel – a friend whose intelligence and will are as strong as her own, whose opinions she respects – and, for the same reasons, Isabel needs Henrietta. Although they’re something of an odd couple, they work well together and understand each other.