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A Note on "Goodwood's Lie" in The Portrait of a Lady George McFadden, Southold, New York The earUest of James's great novels is perhaps the most intricately plotted and intrigued of them aU, so much so that it is just about impossible to retell any event in it without some misrepresentation. Gordon Hutner's phrase "their last conversation" ("Goodwood's Lie in The Portrait of a Lady" HJR 8 [1987]: 14244 ), for example, is not justified by what Caspar (our only informant) says about it, for he omits Caspar's "he left you—so long as you should be in England— to my care." In these words Ralph on his deathbed is not conversing, but is merely putting the other in mind of a gentlemanly duty to a lady. So far, Caspar is not lying and James's earlier comment is not contradicted. A reader need not assume that Goodwood's other ascription to Ralph, the words "It's awful, what she'U have to pay for it!" is part of the same deathbed injunction. Mr. Hutner, nonetheless, was right to mark it as a probable lie, and for reasons he does not allude to. Ralph detested GUbert Osmond; he warned Isabel against marrying him in such deadly earnest that Isabel became very angry. He never repeated that blunder. Later Isabel humbled herself and appealed to Ralph for help in accelerating Warburton's departure from Rome as one element in her grand orchestration involving Ralph, Warburton, Henrietta, and Caspar. It proves Isabel has matured in Rome to the point where she is capable of "arranging her life," so far as these old friends are concerned. Mr. Hutner's probing of what he calls the "notoriously unsatisfactory conclusion " is productive, though it flouts the current dislike of closure (which was anticipated by James when he removed "The End" from the last page of the novel in the New York Edition; James wanted to leave a quandary for the imagination of the reader to expatiate in). Under Hutner's stimulus, however, I now see the image-structure Isabel uses to shape the final pages and her role in them. She teUs Henrietta she wants to be alone in Rome with those only who are "part of the comedy" (PL 417). "You others are spectators." In the last act the players are to be Merle, Osmond, Ned, Pansy, and Amy Gemini, with Isabel, on home ground, already showing signs she wiU puU them through to a comic, if not conventionaUy "happy" final curtain. In the play, Goodwood's role is that of "a gentleman from Boston, rich and successful in business, in love with Isabel," as the playbiU of an old humours comedy might have listed him. As a Boston gentleman he could not kiss her without the intention to make her his own for ever. It is part of the comedy A Note on "Goodwood's Lie" 213 to contrast him with the European gentleman, Warburton, who in order to kiss Isabel feels he might marry her stepdaughter, and with Ralph, the heroine's "best friend," who behaves luce a devü to make her accuse her husband, to whom she has pledged herself for ever in the only "sacred act" of her Ufe. Ralph, it seems to me, might weU be characterized in the dramatis personae of Isabel's metaphorical comedy as "An Oxford man and presumptive EngUshman , a confirmed invalid, who devotes himself to reading mankind as if they were persons in a book, and the world as if he were but a spectator in it." Isabel 's orchestration is aimed mainly at his removal from Rome because he is so much the spectator, watching her. The fact that he sees her misery but has never mentioned it again to her is part of her feeling he is her best friend, but he's no help in her biggest task of "arranging her life" because he hates Osmond so. A far less sensitive person than Osmond would have divined Ralph's hatred, and Henrietta Stackpole's too. Most of aU Isabel needs to clear her field of these two in order to arrange her Ufe with Osmond. She pays...


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pp. 212-214
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