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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 22

In May of the same year, six months after Mr. Touchett died, a man, his fifteen year old daughter, and two nuns are in one of the rooms of an Italian villa outside the gate of Florence. The house is like many of the ancient villas in Florence. It seems to wear a mask, so one can’t see what it is like from the outside. The room where the group are talking is exquisitely graceful. The man is forty years old and of indeterminable nationality. His eyes are "at once vague and penetrating, intelligent and hard, expressive of the observer as well as the dreamer." He asks his daughter what she thinks of the water color that hangs on the easel. She answers obediently that she likes it. He asks the nuns about his daughter’s education. The tell him of their policy of having nuns from many nationalities speaking their own languages. They discuss her size. They discuss her perfection. The nuns have had her in their care since she was young. They are sad at the prospect that she is to be taken from them. He tells them it is not certain that she will. They tell him, though, that she is "made for the world."

At a knock at the door, the man answers it and in the ante- chamber, he and the woman who enters don’t say anything to each other. She asks him if anyone is there before she enters the room. It is Madame Merle. The nuns know her well since she visits the girl in Rome often. The girl’s name is Pansy. The man and Madame Merle have a brief discussion about what Madame Merle has told Pansy about this visit. When they speak, they speak in lowered tones as if from habit.


The nuns prepare to take their leave. Pansy wants to see them out, but Madame Merle tells her she would prefer that Pansy stay with her inside. Pansy is disappointed, but obeys readily. Madame Merle tells her she is glad Pansy is so obedient. Pansy agrees that she is very obedient. Madame Merle asks Pansy if she’d miss Mother Catherine, one of the nuns. Pansy says she will and Madame Merle tells her she might soon have another mother. The man, Gilbert Osmond, returns to the room.

He and Madame Merle begin a discussion and keep Pansy in the room with them, saying she won’t understand what they’re saying. They discuss Madame Merle’s travels. He tells her that he thinks of her life as her ambitions. She wonders if Pansy can understand this and he tells Pansy to go out into the garden. Then she tells him her ambitions in life are principally for him. She tells him that if he can shake himself free of his usually indolence, he might find a great reward. She tells him about Isabel Archer, who is 23 years old and quite rich, as well as being attractive and clever. She says she will put Isabel Archer in his way. He wonders if Isabel Archer isn’t meant for something better. She answers, "I don’t pretend to know what people are meant for. I only know what I can do with them." He says he is sorry for Isabel Archer. The narrator notes the fact that in their manner, these two people know each other deeply intimately. Gilbert Osmond tells Madame Merle that she is the most remarkable of women. She tells him she has already spoken to Isabel about him. Then they begin to discuss the Touchetts. Gilbert also doesn’t like Ralph Touchett. He calls him a donkey. Madame Merle tells him she wants him to marry Isabel Archer. They get up and watch Pansy in the garden. Madame Merle says Pansy doesn’t like her.

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