Study Guide

The Portrait of a Lady Chapter 19

By Henry James

Chapter 19

  • Madame Merle and Isabel, as the two guests in the house, spend a lot of time together.
  • Isabel looks up to Madame Merle in almost every way. She is talented, smart, sensitive, and almost impossibly modest.
  • Isabel and Madame Merle go out to stroll in the park, despite the bad weather. Ralph’s illness prevents him from joining them, so they get a lot of intimate time together.
  • Isabel reflects on how much she’d like to be like Madame Merle.
  • Madame Merle is a talented writer, painter, musician, and embroiderer.
  • Madame Merle admits that she has not always been happy. Madame Merle says that she will let Isabel in on a secret story one day.
  • Mrs. Touchett says that Serena Merle is incapable of doing wrong. Isabel tells Madame Merle this, and the lady in question says that this is completely based on Mrs. Touchett’s standards of wrong.
  • Madame Merle mostly asks Isabel about her life. She enjoys listening to Isabel’s thoughts, and finds the girl altogether delightful.
  • Madame Merle comments on Ralph’s idleness, and says it’s a good thing his illness excuses him. She says she knows a man who lives in Italy who’s even more indolent and delightful than Ralph: Gilbert Osmond.
  • Madame Merle predicts Mr. Touchett’s imminent death. She speaks of Ralph in a less than delicate way.
  • Madame Merle demonstrates bitterness at not having Isabel’s youth, but Isabel claims that Madame Merle has achieved success.
  • Madame Merle puts a great deal of importance on the exterior and possession of things, such as the outward appearance of a house or what someone wears. Isabel disagrees, saying that her clothes should say nothing about her.
  • The narrator tells us that Isabel has not specifically discussed Lord Warburton or Caspar Goodwood with Madame Merle, although she did tell her that men have proposed to her.
  • Madame Merle leaves to stay with other friends who long anticipate her.
  • Mrs. Touchett apologizes to Isabel for inviting her to Gardencourt at such a somber time. Isabel won’t hear it, because she’s happy to have known her uncle.
  • Henrietta Stackpole writes to say that she never received word from Lady Pensil, and that she will wait in Paris for Isabel to arrive. She’s still traveling with Mr. Bantling.
  • Ralph claims that he can read Henrietta like the back of his hand.
  • Isabel sits in the library, watching the doctor outside the window. Ralph enters and announces Mr. Touchett’s death an hour past.