The Portrait of a Lady

by

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 55 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, Isabel senses a ghostly spirit beside her bed. The incident reminds her of Ralph’s assertion upon their meeting that only those individuals who have suffered greatly can see ghosts at historic estates such as Gardencourt.
James insinuates that the ghost is that of Ralph, whom readers are soon to learn has recently passed away. The ghost’s presence represents Isabel’s current situation in being haunted by her past mistakes and missed opportunities.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Isabel goes to visit Ralph in his room, pausing significantly before she opens his door. She finds Mrs. Touchett at his bedside alongside a doctor and two nurses; everyone is very grave, and there is a stillness on the air. Ralph has just died.
Ralph’s death is particularly significant because he was the family member whom Isabel adored most. She likely feels adrift without his comfortable presence in her life.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Three days later, mourners gather at a small church to pay their respects to Ralph. The funeral party includes Mrs. Touchett, Isabel, Henrietta Stackpole, Mr. Bantling, and Caspar Goodwood, with Isabel feeling distracted by the latter’s forceful presence.
Even in utter grief, Caspar Goodwood’s presence affects Isabel’s emotions greatly. She is clearly still attracted to the charismatic businessman.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Isabel remains at Gardencourt for a few days. She is greatly distracted and cannot focus on the daily events of life, for she is torn by her desire to remain there permanently and her obligation to return to Osmond and Pansy in Rome. During this time, Mrs. Touchett informs Isabel that Ralph has left her nothing in his will. The older woman is, however, quite confused by Ralph’s decision to leave his library to Henrietta Stackpole.
Isabel’s thoughts are consumed by the significant choice before her: to pursue personal happiness by leaving Osmond, or to return to her marital cage.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
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One afternoon, Isabel notices Lord Warburton is sitting in Gardencourt’s library. She presumes he is there to visit Mrs. Touchett and escapes his company by walking in the garden. However, Mrs. Touchett later leads him out to see Isabel in the garden. Isabel imagines she can feel her aunt’s reproach directed at Isabel for having failed to marry such an excellent man.
Isabel would prefer to ignore her old suitor, but as usual, she cannot escape Lord Warburton’s presence. His appearance during Isabel’s meditations emphasizes the foolishness of her decision to marry Osmond.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
With Mrs. Touchett hovering nearby, Lord Warburton explains that he no idea that Isabel was still at Gardencourt. He suggests that the Misses Molyneux would be delighted to see Isabel again, inviting her somewhat awkwardly to visit them at Lockleigh. Warburton continues a slightly strained conversation with Isabel, but refrains from mentioning his engagement. Despite his awkwardness, Isabel recognizes his sincere depth of emotion at Ralph’s loss and his kindness in trying to comfort Mrs. Touchett and Isabel.
Like Ralph, Warburton represents the Old World values of chivalry and compassion. James’s novel focuses on romantic relationships and female friendships, having notably lacked detail on the firm friendship hinted at between Ralph and Warburton.
Themes
The European Old World vs. the American New World Theme Icon
After Lord Warburton takes his leave of the women, Mrs. Touchett retreats inside, and Isabel takes a seat in the garden. She recollects that she sat on the very same bench where she received Caspar Goodwood’s letter detailing his pursuit of Isabel to England, followed by Lord Warburton’s face-to-face encounter with Isabel in which he revealed his desire to marry her.
Isabel continues to fixate on distant memories and nostalgic dreams of what could have been. Since learning the entirety of Osmond and Madame Merle’s deception, she seems to have been lost in a daze and unable to make decisions about her future.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Isabel sits there in the garden for some time. Twilight is well upon her when she suddenly realizes that Caspar Goodwood is standing near her. She rises abruptly, but he grabs her hand and sits her back down, also taking a seat on the garden bench. Isabel recognizes a dangerous determination in his presence.
The story again comes full circle, with Goodwood approaching Isabel in the very same place she received previous letter of commitment to her. Goodwood treats Isabel with familiarity when he physically pushes her back down in her seat. His intense physicality is perhaps one of the reasons Isabel finds herself so attracted to him.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Goodwood tells her that he knows that Isabel is unhappy in her marriage to Gilbert Osmond, as he had spoken with Ralph on the matter. Goodwood despises the vile Osmond, calling him “the deadliest of fiends,” but Isabel calmly responds that her marriage is none of his business. Goodwood is undeterred, having promised Ralph that he will take care of Isabel.
Isabel tries to mimic her earlier successes in diverting Goodwood’s attentions by declaring that her marriage is none of his business. However, Goodwood is aware of Osmond’s dangerous, even “fiendish” behavior. He wants to act on his desire to save Isabel from her miserable marriage and also carry out his promise to Ralph to protect her.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Goodwood reiterates his life-long love for Isabel and scandalously suggests that he can offer her an escape from Osmond—they can start a new life together overseas. He tells Isabel that nothing is stopping her from leaving with him, for she is without children and can ignore social convention. Isabel begs Goodwood to do her the kindness of leaving her, to which he cries out, “don’t say that. Don’t kill me!”
Goodwood offers Isabel an escape to a happier lifestyle, but it comes at the expense of her moral integrity. Goodwood’s devotion to Isabel is evident in his claim that her rejection of him once again would “kill” him.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Crying, Isabel repeats her plea for Goodwood to leave. Instead, he glares at Isabel before embracing her in a passionate kiss. The narrator compares the kiss to “white lightning, a flash that spread, and spread again, and stayed.” However, Isabel breaks from the extraordinary kiss and escapes from Goodwood into the garden.
James again suggests that Isabel and Goodwood’s relationship involves intense sexual desire, evident in the heated kiss that Goodwood initiates. Falling into old patterns, though, Isabel leaves Goodwood, knowing that she is causing him immense emotional pain.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Two days later, Goodwood visits Henrietta Stackpole’s residence in London. The servants at Gardencourt have advised him that Isabel is in London. Goodwood is upset to learn that Isabel is no longer there; Henrietta tells him that Isabel departed for Rome earlier that morning. Goodwood is devastated at this news, frozen in his shock. Henrietta takes him arm, advising Goodwood to “wait” and walking away with him “as if she had given him now the key to patience.”
Isabel’s departure for Rome suggests that she has decided she must adhere to her marital responsibilities and social convention, despite the great personal costs this will bring. Pansy’s vulnerable state may also be a factor that has persuaded her to return to Osmond. Goodwood is understandably devastated that Isabel has left him permanently once more. Henrietta’s advice, however, suggests that there could more to the story concerning Isabel and Goodwood. However, James ends his novel here.
Themes
Female Independence vs. Marriage Theme Icon
Art and Morality Theme Icon