The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James
Caspar Goodwood is the only character that we really have trouble getting to know; perhaps it’s because he’s always wearing invisible armor, as Isabel sees him. He does have the dashing air of a chivalrous knight about him, but not a romantic, mustachioed knight of Arthurian legend – rather, a kind of modern knight, equipped with machinery and innovative ideas. One of these ideas is that Isabel should be allowed all the freedom she desires, and that he is the one who can give it to her.
This seems incomprehensible at first – after all, as Isabel notes, how could marrying Caspar possibly make her more free? Then it begins to dawn on us… Caspar, like Ralph, loves to see Isabel spread her wings and fly, and he hopes that he can provide her with support in case she falls. As a married woman, she would be able to do anything she liked without anyone calling it a scandal; however, Isabel doesn’t see it that way, and refuses him.
A major part of Isabel’s consistent refusal of Caspar is her feeling that he overpowers her and renders her less independent. However, she never looks at things from his perspective – how powerful must her hold on him be? After all, he chases her all over the world like a man possessed – and that’s exactly what he is. Caspar is ruled by his love of Isabel, and, although she doesn’t realize it, she holds an equal power over his liberty. The sublime sense of possession she feels in their kiss at the end of the novel demonstrates a kind of love she didn’t know possible, a mutual possession that totally absorbs both parties.