Study Guide

The Portrait of a Lady Chapter 26

By Henry James

Chapter 26

  • Osmond goes to see Isabel at Palazzo Crescentini five times in a period of two weeks, which is quite unusual for him – in normal, non-wooing life, he only visits Mrs. Touchett twice a year at best, usually only when Madame Merle is around.
  • Mrs. Touchett and Ralph discuss Osmond’s intentions with Isabel. Ralph is still happily convinced that Isabel will have lots of suitors in her life, and she will not accept any of them.
  • Mrs. Touchett hopes Isabel has the good sense not to fall for Osmond, who is very clearly socially inferior to Lord Warburton.
  • Mrs. Touchett figures that if Isabel does want to marry Osmond, then no one could do anything about it, not even Ralph.
  • Mrs. Touchett asks Madame Merle whether Osmond is courting Isabel. Madame Merle feigns innocence, and acts as though it’s a foolish idea. What a snake.
  • Madame Merle convinces Mrs. Touchett not to talk to Osmond or Isabel about it. Madame Merle volunteers to talk to Osmond.
  • Mrs. Touchett seems appalled at the idea of Isabel being a step-mother, but Madame Merle seems to think Isabel would be a fine step-mother to Pansy.
  • Osmond continues to visit, and even brings Pansy once, who enchants Isabel with her doll-like perfection.
  • Countess Gemini tries to visit Mrs. Touchett’s house, but she already has a bad reputation and Mrs. Touchett keeps her away.
  • Madame Merle describes Countess Gemini to Isabel as an extravagant woman. She gives Isabel some family history on the Osmonds, including the fact that they were raised by their batty, pretentious, Europhile mother.
  • Henrietta Stackpole arrives and Madame Merle decides, with some effort, to like her. In so doing, she renders Henrietta defenseless, and therefore harmless.
  • Mr. Bantling will take Henrietta to Rome, and Ralph volunteers to go with Isabel.
  • Osmond expresses his wish to go with them to Rome. Isabel encourages the idea.
  • Osmond meets with Madame Merle at Countess Gemini’s. He tells her about his imminent trip to Rome. Madame Merle volunteers to look after Pansy.
  • Osmond concedes that Isabel is everything Madame Merle has talked her up to be. He says that she is "not disagreeable" (26.18), but that she has too many ideas, most of them bad, in his view. We’re worried – what would Isabel be without her ideas?