The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James
The Portrait of a Lady Independence Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
He had never supposed she hadn't wings and the need of beautiful free movements--he wasn't, with his own long arms and strides, afraid of any force in her. Isabel's words, if they had been meant to shock him, failed of the mark and only made him smile with the sense that here was common ground. "Who would wish less to curtail your liberty than I? What can give me greater pleasure than to see you perfectly independent – doing whatever you like? It's to make you independent that I want to marry you."
"That's a beautiful sophism," said the girl with a smile more beautiful still.
"An unmarried woman – a girl of your age – isn't independent. There are all sorts of things she can't do. She's hampered at every step." (16.25)
Caspar actually values Isabel’s freedom and independence as much as she does – we get the feeling that it’s what makes him love her so much. He has a similar ardent curiosity and fascination towards Isabel that Ralph does – and loving her in this way doesn’t mean possession, it means giving her the freedom to do even more.
"I'm not in my first youth – I can do what I choose – I belong quite to the independent class. I've neither father nor mother; I'm poor and of a serious disposition; I'm not pretty. I therefore am not bound to be timid and conventional; indeed I can't afford such luxuries. Besides, I try to judge things for myself; to judge wrong, I think, is more honourable than not to judge at all. I don't wish to be a mere sheep in the flock; I wish to choose my fate and know something of human affairs beyond what other people think it compatible with propriety to tell me." (16.25)
Isabel sees her situation, pre-inheritance, in a glowingly positive light; with nothing in particular to make her exceptional, except for her own sense of adventure, she thinks she is free to do anything, whether or not it’s appropriate.
That love of liberty of which she had given Caspar Goodwood so bold a sketch was as yet almost exclusively theoretic; she had not been able to indulge it on a large scale. But it appeared to her she had done something; she had tasted of the delight, if not of battle, at least of victory; she had done what was truest to her plan. (17.1)
Isabel, though shaken by her altercation with Caspar, is proud of herself for sticking to her guns – in refusing his proposal, she has proven her point: she is independent, liberated, and doesn’t need a husband to support her.