Study Guide

The Portrait of a Lady Chapter 51

By Henry James

Chapter 51

  • Mrs. Touchett telegrams Isabel, notifying her of Ralph’s imminent death. She asks Isabel to come to Gardencourt.
  • Isabel goes to Osmond to let him know that she’s going. Osmond forbids her to go.
  • Osmond tells her that it would be an indecent thing to go against his wishes, as they are still a married couple, like it or not.
  • Isabel wonders if he would expect her to come back if she leaves.
  • Countess Gemini hears of Ralph’s condition, and her first thought is that Isabel will not give any more parties when she is mourning (oh, that Countess – what a saint). Of course, Countess Gemini has been waiting for Isabel to set Osmond off, so she is excited that going to England might be it. Lest you think she’s totally heartless, don’t worry – she’s also somewhat sympathetic to her sister-in-law.
  • After pondering her options, Countess Gemini decides to play her trump card: she tells Isabel the grim truth about her brother.
  • Countess Gemini tells Isabel that Pansy was not the child of Osmond’s first wife. And Isabel has a good idea who Pansy’s birth mother is: Madame Merle!
  • Countess Gemini tells Isabel that Osmond and Madame Merle were romantically involved for six or seven years.
  • Isabel, torn between revulsion and pity, actually feels bad for Madame Merle, who’s had to see another woman care for her daughter.
  • Countess Gemini claims that Madame Merle arranged Isabel’s marriage to Osmond so that Pansy would be financially supported, and could marry well.
  • Osmond and Madame Merle never married because she never had enough money for him.
  • Countess Gemini says that Madame Merle has done a lot for Osmond, but Osmond has done nothing for her.
  • Isabel, shocked and appalled, can only say that she must see Ralph.