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The Portrait of a Lady

The Portrait of a Lady


by Henry James

Pansy Osmond

Character Analysis

We go back and forth on Pansy – we can’t decide if she’s adorable or eerie, or perhaps both. Since birth, she is totally manipulated by Osmond and is raised under various false circumstances. First of all, she doesn’t even know her real identity – the illegitimate daughter of Madame Merle and Osmond.

After the cover-up of her birth, Osmond sends her away to be raised in the totally contrived conditions of the convent school, which doesn’t exactly prepare its students for the real world. Pansy emerges from this careful cultivation as the supreme success of Osmond’s life – a perfect work of art, uninfluenced by anyone but him – innocent, beautiful, and shockingly mindless.

However, contact with the real world starts to give little Pansy a mind of her own. She falls in love with Edward Rosier (a perfect match, considering the fact that he’s almost as cultivated and adorably/infuriatingly innocent as she is). She even starts to observe quietly the ways of the people around her, and develops quite a perceptive point of view, which shocks even Isabel.

Unfortunately, the real life wear-and-tear that most of us just call "experience" is too much for Osmond to cope with – he only likes his daughter when she’s unmarked, inexperienced, and basically barely even alive. He shows his utter disregard for her feelings and lack of respect for her when he sends her back to the convent to think about what she’s done. After a just a short time of imprisonment, Pansy’s character is already set back to autopilot, and she renounces her hope of being with her lover, Rosier.

Pansy Osmond Timeline