The Portrait of a Lady

by

Henry James

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Portrait of a Lady can help.

The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Despite wanting to spend the evening in solitude, Isabel is surprised to receive a servant’s notice that Caspar Goodwood is waiting to see her at the inn. She instructs the waiter to let him up to her rooms.
Ralph’s suspicions about Goodwood meeting Isabel are correct, although Isabel had no prior knowledge of the meeting. Once again, she is subject to a man intruding on her life in an unwanted manner.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Upon their meeting, Isabel asks how Goodwood knew where to find he in London. He replies that Henrietta informed him of their whereabouts. Isabel is frustrated by her friend’s betrayal and by Goodwood’s unexpected visit.
Isabel has not realized the extent of Henrietta’s designs to match Isabel up with the ideal American businessman.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
Isabel asks Goodwood why he is here, and he replies that he is intent upon their union, for he does not want to lose Isabel, although she tartly responds that he has “no right to lose what’s not yours.” She thinks about the reason for her lack of delight at seeing him, identifying Goodwood as a man who is “naturally plated and steeled, armed essentially for aggression.”
Isabel verbally rejects Goodwood’s suggested claim of ownership over her. James describes Goodwood as a man who wears armor in preparation for battle, indicating his forceful and commanding personality.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
Goodwood reiterates that he is “infernally in love” with Isabel. He strength of character means that he loves Isabel even more “strongly” than an ordinary man. Isabel feels the force of his declarations, but insists that Goodwood leave her alone. When he asks how long he must stay away, she states that it needs to be two years. She becomes quite sharp with Goodwood, and he finally flushes in embarrassment. Isabel notes that she does not want to treat him in such a way, but he forces her to do so; she does not like to cause others pain.
Despite Goodwood’s almost aggressive pursuit of Isabel’s affections, Isabel rises to the occasion and just as forcefully denies him. For the first time in the novel, Goodwood is embarrassed by his actions, indicating the blunt certainty with which Isabel rejects him. Isabel once again justifies her behavior in rejecting an appealing marital offer by viewing it as the only path that preserves her independence.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon
Get the entire The Portrait of a Lady LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Portrait of a Lady PDF
Isabel also reveals that she has rejected a “dazzling” marriage proposal last week from an English nobleman, trying to demonstrate that she is not being fickle in her treatment of Goodwood. She values her personal freedoms greatly and is going to travel Europe. Goodwood states that he has no wish to restrict her liberties.
Like Lord Warburton, Goodwood claims Isabel’s marriage will not limit her personal freedom. As with Warburton, Isabel does not agree with the logic; she recognizes that marriage will reduce her opportunities to develop and celebrate her identity, for she would be subject to her husband’s desires before her own. 
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Isabel is also shocked when Goodwood reveals that, at Henrietta’s urging, Ralph previously invited him to visit Gardencourt. Isabel is appalled when she considers the awkward possibility that Goodward and Lord Warburton could have crossed paths there.
Ralph joins the list of people who have schemed to manage Isabel’s love life. It is unclear why Isabel is so terrified at the possibility of her two suitors, Lord Warburton and Caspar Goodwood, meeting one another. Perhaps she recognizes that their opposing values would cause social discomfort, while their romantic competition might overwhelm Isabel.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
Caspar Goodwood takes his leave, refusing to give in to despair by convincingly affirming that he will seek Isabel out in two year’s time. He believes that she will be truly fed up with her independence by then. Isabel reminds him that she has promised him nothing. They have an intimate moment of clasping hands, where Isabel feels great respect and admiration for him, although she does not return his depth of feeling. Upon Goodwood’s exit from her rooms, Isabel stands for a moment, before dropping to her knees and buries her face in her arms.
Goodwood shows remarkable resilience in his dedication to pursuing Isabel’s affections. Isabel’s collapse upon Goodwood’s exit is even more remarkable, as it contrasts her previously calm manner. The reader learns that Isabel is far more affected by Goodwood’s presence than she showed, perhaps due to feelings of desire for the magnetic businessman. However, she has once again prioritized her ideals over her needs.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
The Dangers of Wealth Theme Icon