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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 41

That evening Osmond brings the matter of Lord Warburton and Pansy up with Isabel for the first time. She is sitting alone in the drawing room. She had been there earlier with Pansy and Lord Warburton.

Lord Warburton had come in earlier. Isabel says little to him because she wants to give him the chance to talk to Pansy. Isabel is wanting to please her husband. She knows he wants this marriage and she wants to act as the good wife in facilitating it. Sheís a little surprised that Lord Warburton is so interested in Pansy since there is "always a little of the doll about her," but Isabel decides that thereís no accounting for menís taste. She wonders about how Pansy will take the departure of Rosier. She thinks Pansy is too trained in submission to put up much of a fuss. She thinks Pansy will cling to anyone who is put before her. Isabel hears only good things in the intercourse between Warburton and Pansy. He doesnít condescend to her but talks to her of matters in the world that concern him. Isabel wonders if she should take the great step of leaving them alone for about thirty minutes. She wants to take her husbandís view and she thinks he would like this. However, something holds her back and she remains in the room. After Lord Warburton leaves, Pansy says nothing about him and Isabel remains silent as well.

When she is alone, Osmond comes in. Isabel watches his face covertly. She has gotten in the habit of looking at him when he isnít aware she is. She does so in order to gauge his mood and sentiments. She wants to have some warning of what heís going to say before he says it. She has so often in the past been taken by surprise. She wants to be able to respond with exactly the right words to whatever he says. After a while, he asks if Lord Warburton has been there and what the details of his visit were. In their conversation, there are several moments of near argument. Isabel tells him sheís trying to take his part in this. He thinks she is trying to quarrel with him. She tells him that on the contrary sheís trying to live in peace. He pushes the point and she doesnít take the bait. They discuss the fact that he has sent Rosier away and she asks him if he wants Pansy to marry Lord Warburton. She knows this question is perilous since it might make him feel humiliated. He has so often said that Pansy just has to sit quietly and any number of suitable men will come along. Now he has to admit that he wants a particular man for his daughter. He does so. Isabel tells him Warburton has already spoken to her. He canít imagine why she hasnít told him this information. She tells him that from the way they live, she hasnít had the opportunity. He implies that she should speak to Warburton to hurry him along in proposing to Pansy. He tells her she can bring this about since she once refused Warburton; because of that she has power over him. He leaves the room telling her heís counting on her.


Notes

Isabelís earnest desire to be a good wife is sad and touching here. Despite how she has suffered in her marriage, she wants to remove herself from the ugliness of it enough to retain a moral standing. This is the same moral attitude she had in theory before she was tested, before she was married. She thought that she had only had happiness and wanted to have some kind of difficulty or suffering so she could prove to herself that she would remain good and noble. Now the situation has come to her and she is trying to follow through on her idealism in her reality.

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