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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 36

In the autumn of 1876, Edward Rosier calls on Madame Merle to ask her to put in a good word for him with Gilbert Osmond. He wants to marry Pansy Osmond. He tells Madame Merle that he wants to speak to Mrs. Isabel Osmond about it also and feels that Mrs. Osmond will be a help to him. Madame Merle advises against his speaking to Mrs. Osmond since the Osmonds take opposite views from each other in everything. She mentions that Mrs. Osmond had a son two years ago who died when he was six months old. She intimates that he canít expect any dowry money from Mrs. Osmond, who will probably save it all for her own future children. She warns Mr. Rosier again not to consult with Mrs. Osmond, because in "setting her going" he will certainly spoil his chances. She tells him he should be friendly to Mrs. Osmond, though, since she doesnít get along well with her new friends and therefore needs all the old ones she can find.

He leaves her house and fears that he has gone to the wrong person. He hadnít realized how naive he was being in thinking that just because she was charming with him when he met her in Paris, that Madame Merle would speak on his behalf to Mr. Osmond. He goes to Mrs. Osmondís "evening" which she has every Thursday evening. They live at the Palazzo Roccanera, the name of which reminds one of a fortress. He thinks of Pansy as being immured in this place as if it were a dungeon. When he first started coming here, he had noticed all the good things in the house. As a collector, he was extremely interested to see that the Osmonds have better Parisian things than the Parisians do. Tonight, though, he has realized that he must be serious since he has learned that he will encounter serious opposition to marrying Pansy.


Notes

This chapter is set three years later. The reader finds out about Isabel Archer and Gilbert Osmondís marriage through innuendo. During the conversation between Edward Rosier and Madame Merle, we find out that Isabel and Gilbert Osmond are not a happy couple and that they seem to have been conducting a sort of a war since they got married. We learn that Isabel had a baby boy two years ago who died when he was six months old. We learn also that Isabel is given no family status by virtue of her marriage. Madame Merle tells Rosier that Gilbert Osmondís "wife can scarcely be termed a member of [Pansyís] family." Last, we learn that they have moved to Rome and set up house where Isabel entertains every Thursday evening and Gilbert slowly acquires more art for the house.

In setting up the marriage in this way, that is, in retrospect, James steps past the need to describe Isabelís realization that she was fooled into the marriage and her gradual acceptance of her sad fate as serving as nothing more than a money maker and a social hostess for her husband. The next time we see Isabel, we will see her radically more mature, someone whose eyes have been sadly opened to the depravity of people who were supposedly trustworthy and who has been forced to continue to live amongst them.

In light of this insight on the readerís part, the actual subject of the chapter--Edward Rosierís attempt to win approval to marry Pansy--is thrown into light. The suit for Pansyís hand is doomed at the outset. Edward has an inkling of this when he suspects that he was impolitic to have gone to Madame Merle for help. In terms of plot development, this new twist seems to be here mainly to put Isabel into action. If she loves Pansy, perhaps she will do something to help her marry someone she loves. In doing so, she will have to stop submitting to her husbandís rule.

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