Study Guide

The Portrait of a Lady Chapter 23

By Henry James

Chapter 23

  • Madame Merle returns to Palazzo Crescentini, Mrs. Touchett’s home in Florence.
  • Madame Merle recommends Osmond to Isabel once more, telling her of his impressive traits. She ominously tells Isabel that she should interact with more men, so that she gets "used" to them – that is to say, so she learns which ones to despise. Uh… huh. Okay, Madame Merle.
  • Ralph takes Isabel out on the town; she’s delighted with Florence. Madame Merle has been there many times before (where hasn’t Madame Merle been?), and can converse with them about the city, although she does not go out with them.
  • Isabel loves Mrs. Touchett’s house, and thinks that it is so rich with history and tradition that it’s like living in the past.
  • Gilbert Osmond pays a visit to Madame Merle and Isabel.
  • Madame Merle and Osmond talk for most of the time and Isabel, for once, is mostly silent.
  • Osmond invites Madame Merle and Isabel to his house next week. He suggests that he would like Isabel to meet Pansy. Isabel accepts the invitation.
  • After Osmond leaves, Madame Merle commends Isabel for behaving just as she should have. Condescend much?
  • Isabel is duly annoyed by this comment, and Madame Merle sweet-talks her back into a good mood.
  • Isabel asks Ralph about Osmond, and Ralph confesses that he doesn’t know much. He suspects that there’s something shady about Osmond’s sister.
  • Ralph recommends that Isabel follows her own instincts, and doesn’t listen to people’s opinions about others.
  • Ralph says that, as long as Isabel is with Madame Merle, she’s in good hands.
  • Isabel detects the usual trace of sarcasm when Ralph talks about Madame Merle, and asks him about it.
  • Ralph says that Madame Merle is too perfect and too modest for how perfect she is. Right on the dot, Ralph.
  • However, despite his misgivings about Madame Merle’s creepy so-called perfection, he figures that Isabel can benefit from being friends with the older woman. We’ll see about that….