Study Guide

The Portrait of a Lady Chapter 22

By Henry James

Chapter 22

  • The narrator introduces us to a new scene near Florence, now six months after Mr. Touchett’s death. The narrator describes the façade of this house as an impenetrable mask, not a face.
  • Two nuns, Gilbert Osmond, and his fifteen-year-old daughter Pansy are sitting in Mr. Osmond’s house. Pansy has just returned from a convent school, and the nuns are sad to see her go. Apparently, she was a model pupil.
  • Gilbert Osmond has been showing them his painting.
  • Pansy has not seen her father in a while. He is surprised by her growth and her beauty.
  • Pansy and Gilbert Osmond are multi-lingual and pan-European – they speak French, Italian, and English.
  • Gilbert Osmond asks Pansy to collect flowers for the nuns outside. Pansy happily obeys, which seems to be her general modus operandi.
  • Gilbert Osmond hasn’t decided whether Pansy will return to the convent or not. The understanding is that she is made for the world, not for the nunnery.
  • Pansy comes back with bouquets of white and red flowers.
  • Osmond is about to show the nuns out when he sees someone entering the grounds: a familiar character, Madame Merle.
  • Pansy is happy to see Madame Merle. She remembers how Madame Merle visited her while she was in the convent.
  • Madame Merle asks Osmond why he did not visit her in Florence.
  • Osmond walks the nuns out, and Madame Merle asks that Pansy stay with her instead of seeing her surrogate mothers off. Pansy obeys.
  • Madame Merle compliments Pansy on being obedient and for wearing gloves. She promises to buy Pansy a dozen multicolored pairs of gloves.
  • Pansy says that she is fond of pretty things, but, sensibly, not too fond.
  • Madame Merle and Osmond talk as though Pansy was not in the room. Osmond finally asks her to go outside to pick flowers for Madame Merle.
  • Madame Merle tells Osmond that she wants to introduce him to Isabel Archer. She wants Osmond to visit her at Mrs. Touchett’s in Florence, where he will be able to meet Isabel.
  • Osmond seems unmoved to do any such thing. He is lazy, and content with his life as it is.
  • It’s been a while since Osmond has made any new friends. He doesn’t get out much.
  • Madame Merle convinces Osmond that Isabel is better than even Madame Merle, since she is clever, beautiful, and rich.
  • Madame Merle wants Osmond to marry Isabel.
  • Osmond says that Madame Merle is looking well, so she must have a good idea – that’s when she looks her best.
  • It slowly becomes clear that Madame Merle wants Osmond to meet Isabel purely for Osmond’s benefit. She does not seem to have Isabel’s best intentions in mind.
  • Madame Merle accuses Osmond of being heartless, which he denies.
  • Osmond brags about his painting, but Madame Merle is unimpressed. She concedes that he has good taste, though.
  • Osmond can tolerate Mrs. Touchett, though he doesn’t like Ralph.
  • Madame Merle thinks that Pansy should not go back to the convent. Osmond still is not convinced.
  • Pansy still has not returned with the flowers, and Madame Merle laments the fact that Pansy does not like her much.