The Portrait of a Lady: Chapter 55 - Summary & Analysis

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Chapter LV


      The next morning Isabel has a premonition and when she goes to Ralph’s room, she finds that he has just died. Isabel stays with her aunt for a time. Thoughts of Rome give her a spiritual shudder. Ralph had left his mother the possession of Gardencourt. The rest of his property was bequeathed upon his various cousins. He also left some legacies to people unknown to Mrs. Touchett. He had left his library to Henrietta Stackpole. He had left Isabel nothing.

      One afternoon Goodwood comes to see her while she is musing midst the associations surrounding the Gardencourt. No sooner does she see him, than she instantly rises to go out but Goodwood holds her hands in his. Goodwood tells her that he had come from London and that he had been looking for her. He says: “The world’s all before us—and the world very big”. Isabel’s rejoinder is ‘‘the world’s very small”. She requests him to go away. He glares at her for a moment, and the next instant she feels his arms about her and his lips are on her lips. His kiss is like “white lightning, a flash that spread, and spread again and stayed”. She runs away to the house. “She had never known where to turn : but she knew now. There was a very straight path.”

      Two days afterward Caspar Goodwood visits Henrietta Stackpole. She tells him that Isabel had left for Rome that morning and she says : “Look here, Mr. Goodwood, just you wait and it added, on the spot, thirty years to his life.” He walks down the street with her, as if she had given him now the key to patience.

Critical Analysis

      The most intriguing question about the ending of the book is : Why does Isabel return to Rome ? The number of views on this topic is unlimited. It also raises the question: Has Isabel changed ? Or is there any growth, spiritual, psychological, mental, in Isabel ? It is clear that now Gaspar Goodwood’s pleadings for freedom fall on a deeper soul than that young fresh girl who arrived at Gardencourt six years earlier.

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