The Portrait of a Lady By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapters 15-16

Summary

Mrs. Touchett questions the propriety of Isabel's going to London with Henrietta and Ralph. But she implies that a girl who has refused a great proposal can perhaps afford to be unconventional.

In London, Ralph introduces Isabel and Henrietta to an old acquaintance, Mr. Bantling, who finds Henrietta amusing and delights in accompanying her. Left alone with Isabel, Ralph tells her that he has been informed of Lord Warburton's proposal. Ralph questions Isabel about her intentions and is fascinated with the idea of what Isabel could do with her life now that she has shown the independence to refuse such a magnificent proposal. Isabel justifies her refusal by saying that she loves the unexpected in life, and a marriage with Lord Warburton would have been too determined and definitely marked out in advance. She further explains that she wants to have more experience before resigning herself to marriage. She then refuses to dine with Ralph, on the grounds that she wants to be alone.

Alone in her room, she receives Caspar Goodwood's card and she consents to see him. She is greatly surprised and somewhat disappointed. She tells him that he should know when a person wants to be left alone. Goodwood reasserts his love for Isabel and expresses his fear that she will end up marrying some European. She tells him that she has already had that opportunity, and at present, she wants nothing but her own liberty and freedom. He assures her that in marrying him she would lose none of her independence. In fact, he wants to make her more independent. She tells him to leave her alone for two years and then perhaps she will again discuss the matter with him, but she refuses to make any definite commitments. She warns him that she "shall not be an easy victim" and that her love of her own liberty should be proof enough for him.

Analysis

In this chapter James continues to plumb the depths pertaining to Isabel's reasons for refusing Lord Warburton. Some readers think that James goes too — that enough has been said about the subject. However, James' technique is to continue to refine any situation.

Ralph's conversation with Isabel is more disinterested than some of the other comments. He is delighted to sit back and watch just how far a person who has refused Lord Warburton can go. But then, in his interest to see how far — or in his desire to be amused at how far Isabel will go — he ceases to be the disinterested personality. He becomes involved in Isabel's destiny. It is, accordingly, Isabel's refusal of such a high honor that prompts Ralph to instigate the proceedings that lead to Isabel's becoming an heiress. As he says: "I shall have the thrill of seeing what a young lady does who won't marry Lord Warburton."

The appearance of Caspar Goodwood and his desire to marry Isabel help to round out our picture of Isabel. We see that she is not just a person who attracts one admirer. She is rapidly taking on the role of a woman to be universally admired.

Again, Isabel's refusal of Caspar Goodwood is based upon her ,desire for freedom and liberty. "It's my personal independence." Caspar, however, maintains that Isabel will gain freedom by marrying him. "It's to make you independent that I want to marry you." She then reminds Caspar to "remember what I have told you about my love of liberty." It is on this note that Caspar is willing to wait. Consequently, he is justifiably surprised to find out that Isabel is engaged to Gilbert Osmond. It is a point of irony that in her marriage to Gilbert she loses all of her freedom and if she had married Caspar, she might have retained it.

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