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The Portrait of a Lady | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady | Chapters 16–17 | Summary



Chapter 16

Back at Isabel Archer's hotel, Caspar Goodwood unexpectedly arrives to see her. He says Henrietta Stackpole let him know of Isabel's stay in London, which displeases Isabel. He asks why she never replied to his letter, and she says she was silent on purpose. She thinks if he could stop thinking about her for a time, he would eventually forget about her, something he denies is possible because he is "infernally in love" with her. He keeps pressing her to agree to marry him, even if it is in a few years. She insists she doesn't want to marry anyone. He thinks she will marry someone else, and she tells him she has only recently refused a very eligible suitor.

Caspar Goodwood tells Isabel that he was invited to Gardencourt by Ralph Touchett who was urged to do so by Henrietta, to Isabel's surprise and irritation. She tells him of her plans to go to Florence with her aunt. She is looking forward to enjoying her liberty and "personal independence," which she can only have if she is out of his sight. He says he will wait two years for her and that he has no desire to make her be conventional. She promises him nothing.

Chapter 17

Henrietta returns from dinner to find Isabel upset by her visit with Caspar. Henrietta is dismayed to learn Isabel has sent Caspar away, and she worries Isabel will marry a European. Isabel doesn't tell her about Lord Warburton's proposal because she doesn't trust Henrietta. Isabel wants Henrietta, like Caspar, to leave her alone to make her own choices.

Henrietta tells Ralph of her interactions with Mr. Bantling, who has told her all about the royal family and is planning to take her to Buckingham Palace. She believes her stay at Lady Pensil's and the impressions she will gather there may be the opportunity that will make her "the Queen of American Journalism." She also tells Ralph she is worried about Isabel because of the way her meeting with Caspar ended. Ralph jumps to the conclusion that Isabel lied to him about not having any plans the night before, and he is hurt. A telegram to Ralph alerts him of his father's declining health. After securing the services of a London doctor for Mr. Touchett, Ralph and Isabel will return to Gardencourt.


In an echo of previous chapters, Isabel Archer must yet again defend her choice to turn down a marriage proposal. Again, too, she is pressed to change her mind. Caspar Goodwood shows up unexpectedly to demand to know why Isabel hasn't responded to his letter. She was hoping silence would communicate her feelings. Instead, she has to explain what she has told several people already, that she wants to be free. Caspar, like Lord Warburton before him, tries to convince her to change her mind and says he's willing to wait, if all she needs is time. She doesn't want to cause him pain, but because he keeps trying to convince her, she has to keep repeating her refusal. She also has to defend her choice to Henrietta Stackpole who is worried she will go and marry a European instead of Caspar, a fear Caspar shares. No one seems to believe Isabel doesn't wish to marry anyone at all for the time being.

Readers learn more about Caspar's feelings for Isabel in Chapter 16. He is completely in love with her, and he has no desire to curtail her freedom, suggesting she would have more liberty married than unmarried. He is willing to wait for her until her travels are over. When Isabel continually rebuffs him, he is unable or unwilling to accept defeat in love. He's certainly persistent, although some readers may find he is persistent to the point of harassment.

In Chapter 17 readers see Henrietta's career ambitions about to be realized. Her goal is to be "the Queen of American Journalism," and she has found sources that are exactly what she hoped to find in her travels to Europe. She will be able to write about the human side of Europe, with explanations of the nobility from a well-connected Briton himself, and a chance to stay in the country home of a British baron. She has a scoop; she is on the verge of achieving her goal.

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