Caspar Goodwood: Character Analysis - The Portrait of a Lady

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      Caspar Goodwood is the second person who has to accept the bitter cup of rejection, served by Isabel. Lord Warburton is the English gentleman. Caspar Goodwood is the American gentleman and Isabel rejects both. Is there a possibility that somebody representing the golden mean between the English gentleman and the American gentleman could be the best choice Isabel could make?

      Caspar Goodwood is a tall, strong, blue-eyed, handsome American gentleman. He is a fresh rendering of the American type like Christopher Newman in The Americans. He is “the son of a proprietor of well-known cotton mills in Massachusetts—a gentleman who had accumulated a considerable fortune in the exercise of this industry. Caspar at present managed the works, and with a judgment and temper which, in spite of keen competition and languid years, had kept their prosperity from dwelling. He had received the better part of his education at Harvard College.

      He had thus discovered in himself a sharp eye for the mystery of mechanics, and had invented an improvement in the cotton spinning process which was now largely used and was known by his name. There were intricate, bristling things he rejoiced in; he liked to organize, to contend, to adminster; he could make people work his will, believe in him, march before him and justify him. Caspar Goodwood had never corresponded to her (Isabel’s) idea of a delightful person, and she supposed that this was why he left her so harshly critical. When, however, Lord Warburton, who not only did correspond with it, but gave an extension to the term, appealed to her approval, she found herself still unsatisfied. It was certainly strange.”

      In the above-quoted lines Caspar Goodwood is revealed to us through Isabel’s consciousness. This description also helps us in ascertaining Isabel’s depth in her approaches and attitudes.

      Isabel has already refused him before coming to Europe. He pursues her to Europe and begs for her hand. In some encounters between Isabel and Goodwood we find Isabel treating him quite cruelly. But he always tells her that his love will never die, eternal fidelity will always be there from his side no matter how Isabel behaves. In chapter forty-eight Caspar Goodwood comes near the truth that Isabel’s marriage is a complete disaster. Isabel too admits it. He asks her if he may pity her - he would spend his life doing that and the regret that his life had been a complete blank won’t be there. Isabel replied : “Don’t give your life to it, but give a thought to it every now and then.” After the final encounter between Isabel and Goodwood, he calls at the Wimpole street house of Henrietta. His belief that Isabel will go with him even after she had run away from him has not weakened as yet.

      The last encounter between Isabel and Goodwood deserves more discussion. Those who talk a lot about the sex theme in The Portrait of a Lady base their arguments on this very scene. Besides this the fact that 'fear’ is one of the strongest emotions Isabel feels can not be separated from this scene. In this scene Goodwood appeals to Isabel to leave everything behind and start all afresh—“The world is all before us—and the world is very big. I know something about that.” But Isabel says : “The world is very small”. At this point Isabel is both afraid of and attracted by Caspar’s masculinity. Caspar Goodwood has been regarded as a rude and an aggressive symbol of “New World Vitality”. He is a kind of early D. H. Lawrence character. His farewell kiss to Isabel illustrates this—“He glared at her a moment through the dusk and the next instant she felt his arms about her and his lips on her own lips. His kiss was like white lightning a flash that spread again, and stayed; and it was extraordinarily, as if, while she took it, she felt each thing in his hard manhood that had least pleased her, each aggressive fact of his face, his figure, his presence, justified as its intense identity and made one with this act of possession”. Thus he is a symbol of the phallic man in the novel, represents all that was most energetic and creative in the American commercial myth.

      Gilbert Osmond has ‘renounced’ the world, though in actuality he is its (the world’s) “humble slave”. Goodwood too is a man of the world but the accomplishments of Osmond which ensnares Isabel do not figure even as remote possibilities with Goodwood. Isabel’s aesthetic sense would have received nourishment in case she had married Goodwood. The wisdom and maturity which Lord Warburton possesses is also lacking in Goodwood. It is quite simple to understand that Isabel feels a sense of constriction in his presence. His limitations are the limitations of the provincial American culture of the 19th century.

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