English 325, Fischer
Short Paper 5
As far as plot twists within endings of novels go, The Portrait of a Lady has one of the most disappointing ones in classic literature. The novel’s heroine, Isabel Archer, is said to have returned to Rome. This suggests that her intense kiss with Caspar Goodwood would not lead to anything permanent, like escaping the clutches of her controlling husband, Gilbert Osmond. However, the ending is slightly ambiguous. Because we learn that Isabel has fled back to Rome from Henrietta Stackpole and Caspar Goodwood’s conversation and not through Isabel herself, James left a semi-open ending for the reader’s interpretation. Unfortunately, scholars and almost every analysis of the ending arrive at the conclusion that Isabel will stay in the loveless marriage with Osmond. Many people aren’t satisfied with this ending, but it was the only way James could have the character of Isabel Archer fully develop. She chose the European lifestyle over the American lifestyle; therefore, she chose nobility over personal freedom and independence. By remaining married to Osmond, she ensured reader’s that she is more concerned with sticking to her guns and dealing with the consequences of her own choices than guarantying her own happiness. It is by this selfless choice that she keeps a piece of her individuality, making it hard for the audience to be angered at the character.
Another way to read the ending, which one might prefer, is that Isabel went back to Rome to end things with Osmond and confront him, in the American fashion, about his scheming for her dowry with Madame Merle. Perhaps she realized her true feelings and connection with Caspar Goodwood after their passionate kiss. James hints at this being the alternate ending by having Henrietta Stackpole give Goodwood hope that Isabel is coming back to him: “Look here Mr. Goodwood,” she said; “just you wait!” On which he looked up at her (James, 605). Isabel’s epiphany on page 604 could suggest that she is going to…