It turns out that Cyndi Lauper’s claim that girls just wanna have fun is totally wrong. What girls – rather, women – just want in this novel is actually independence and the freedom to make their own choices. The many women that Henry James depicts in The Portrait of a Lady have hopes, dreams, and even schemes, but not all of them come true. The novel examines the various obstacles (men, social pressure…you know, the usual) that stand between these characters and true, unrestricted independence.
Isabel’s decision to turn down both Lord Warburton and Caspar Goodwood springs directly from her rebellious need to prove her independence, both to the world at large, and to herself.
The greatest freedom is the opportunity to make mistakes.