Hermits Rock

Go to content Go to navigation

At a Window, Receiving

I’ve mentioned before that the narrator of The Portrait of a Lady is curious, capriciously limited omniscience endowed with subjectivity and awareness. It’s a curiousness that shows in the following passage, which continues a scene that began a chapter previously: Isabel Archer stands at a window, nervously looking out at a garden. The previous chapter began with her at the same window, but it interrupted her reverie to relay the story of her previous year’s travels. At the window she is waiting for someone:

It was not of him [her cousin], nevertheless, that she was thinking while she stood at the window near which we found her a while ago, and it was not of any of the matters I have rapidly sketched. She was not turned to the past, but to the immediate, impending hour. She had reason to expect a scene, and she was not fond of scenes. She was not asking herself what she should say to her visitor; this question had already been answered. What he would say to her—that was the interesting issue. It could be nothing in the least soothing—she had warrant for this, and the conviction doubtless showed in the cloud on her brow. For the rest, however, all clearness reigned in her; she had put away her mourning and she walked in no small shimmering splendour. She only felt older—ever so much, and as if she were “worth more” for it, like some curious piece in an antiquary’s collection. She was not at any rate left indefinitely to her apprehensions, for a servant at last stood before her with a card on his tray. “Let the gentleman come in,” she said, and continued to gaze out of the window after the footman had retired. It was only when she had heard the door close behind the person who presently entered that she looked round.

Caspar Goodwood stood there—stood and received a moment, from head to foot, the bright, dry gaze with which she rather withheld than offered a greeting. Whether his sense of maturity had kept pace with Isabel’s we shall perhaps presently ascertain; let me say meanwhile that to her critical glance he showed nothing of the injury of time. Straight, strong and hard, there was nothing in his appearance that spoke positively either of youth or of age; if he had neither innocence nor weakness, so he had no practical philosophy. His jaw showed the same voluntary cast as in earlier days; but a crisis like the present had in it of course something grim. He had the air of a man who had travelled hard; he said nothing at first, as if he had been out of breath. This gave Isabel time to make a reflexion: “Poor fellow, what great things he’s capable of, and what a pity he should waste so dreadfully his splendid force! What a pity too that one can’t satisfy everybody!” It gave her time to do more—to say at the end of a minute: “I can’t tell you how I hoped you wouldn’t come!”

I’m never bored of soliloquizing what I see, obviously, but I want to see what you make of it. Just so, two questions:

  1. What (or whom) does the narrator invoke in the first sentence, “It was not of him, nevertheless, that she was thinking while she stood at the window near which we found her a while ago”?
  2. What nationality is Caspar Goodwood, and how could you tell?


So much for this. I’ll revise above presently and dismiss my lame invitations from the room.

Meanwhile, it’s really an amazing book. Osmond’s villainy is in his self-regard—Touchett describes him as a man too much of the world, an impotent personification of taste—in that he regards no one but himself. He has turned Isabel Archer into a statue (“You have too many ideas,” he says, “You should be free of them”), or tried to do so anyway. He’s quite cruel. I’m about 100 pps. from the end. Its climax will come when his wife decides to disobey him (she still has an option to obey, but this is a tragedy, and she is proud) and thereby consign herself to rich unhappiness.