History of Literature

Henry James


Henry James


Henry James

American writer

born April 15, 1843, New York, N.Y., U.S.
died Feb. 28, 1916, London, Eng.

American novelist and, as a naturalized English citizen from 1915, a great figure in the transatlantic culture. His fundamental theme was the innocence and exuberance of the New World in clash with the corruption and wisdom of the Old, as illustrated in such works as Daisy Miller (1879), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Bostonians (1886), and The Ambassadors (1903).

Early life and works.
Henry James was named for his father, a prominent social theorist and lecturer, and was the younger brother of the pragmatist philosopher William James. The young Henry was a shy, book-addicted boy who assumed the role of quiet observer beside his active elder brother. They were taken abroad as infants, were schooled by tutors and governesses, and spent their preadolescent years in Manhattan. Returned to Geneva, Paris, and London during their teens, the James children acquired languages and an awareness of Europe vouchsafed to few Americans in their times. On the eve of the American Civil War, the James family settled at Newport, R.I., and there, and later in Boston, Henry came to know New England intimately. When he was 19 years of age he enrolled at the Harvard Law School, but he devoted his study time to reading Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Honoré de Balzac, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. His first story appeared anonymously two years later in the New York Continental Monthly and his first book reviews in the North American Review. When William Dean Howells became editor of The Atlantic Monthly, James found in him a friend and mentor who published him regularly. Between them, James and Howells inaugurated the era of American “realism.”

By his mid-20s James was regarded as one of the most skillful writers of short stories in America. Critics, however, deplored his tendency to write of the life of the mind, rather than of action. The stories of these early years show the leisurely existence of the well-to-do at Newport and Saratoga. James’s apprenticeship was thorough. He wrote stories, reviews, and articles for almost a decade before he attempted a full-length novel. There had to be also the traditional “grand tour,” and James went abroad for his first adult encounter with Europe in 1869. His year’s wandering in England, France, and Italy set the stage for a lifetime of travel in those countries. James never married. By nature he was friendly and even gregarious, but while he was an active observer and participant in society, he tended, until late middle age, to be “distant” in his relations with people and was careful to avoid “involvement.”

Career—first phase.
Recognizing the appeal of Europe, given his cosmopolitan upbringing, James made a deliberate effort to discover whether he could live and work in the United States. Two years in Boston, two years in Europe, mainly in Rome, and a winter of unremitting hackwork in New York City convinced him that he could write better and live more cheaply abroad. Thus began his long expatriation—heralded by publication in 1875 of the novel Roderick Hudson, the story of an American sculptor’s struggle by the banks of the Tiber between his art and his passions; Transatlantic Sketches, his first collection of travel writings; and a collection of tales. With these three substantial books, he inaugurated a career that saw about 100 volumes through the press during the next 40 years.

During 1875–76 James lived in Paris, writing literary and topical letters for the New York Tribune and working on his novel The American (1877), the story of a self-made American millionaire whose guileless and forthright character contrasts with that of the arrogant and cunning family of French aristocrats whose daughter he unsuccessfully attempts to marry. In Paris James sought out the Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, whose work appealed to him, and through Turgenev was brought into Gustave Flaubert’s coterie, where he got to know Edmond de Goncourt, Émile Zola, Alphonse Daudet, and Guy de Maupassant. From Turgenev he received confirmation of his own view that a novelist need not worry about “story” and that, in focusing on character, he would arrive at the life experience of his protagonist.

Much as he liked France, James felt that he would be an eternal outsider there, and late in 1876 he crossed to London. There, in small rooms in Bolton Street off Piccadilly, he wrote the major fiction of his middle years. In 1878 he achieved international renown with his story of an American flirt in Rome, Daisy Miller, and further advanced his reputation with The Europeans that same year. In England he was promptly taken up by the leading Victorians and became a regular at Lord Houghton’s breakfasts, where he consorted with Alfred Tennyson, William Gladstone, Robert Browning, and others. A great social lion, James dined out 140 times during 1878 and 1879 and visited in many of the great Victorian houses and country seats. He was elected to London clubs, published his stories simultaneously in English and American periodicals, and mingled with George Meredith, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edmund Gosse, and other writers, thus establishing himself as a significant figure in Anglo-American literary and artistic relations.

James’s reputation was founded on his versatile studies of “the American girl.” In a series of witty tales, he pictured the “self-made” young woman, the bold and brash American innocent who insists upon American standards in European society. James ended this first phase of his career by producing his masterpiece, The Portrait of a Lady (1881), a study of a young woman from Albany who brings to Europe her narrow provincialism and pretensions but also her sense of her own sovereignty, her “free spirit,” her refusal to be treated, in the Victorian world, merely as a marriageable object. As a picture of Americans moving in the expatriate society of England and of Italy, this novel has no equal in the history of modern fiction. It is a remarkable study of a band of egotists while at the same time offering a shrewd appraisal of the American character. James’s understanding of power in personal relations was profound, as evinced in Washington Square (1881), the story of a young American heroine whose hopes for love and marriage are thwarted by her father’s callous rejection of a somewhat opportunistic suitor.

Career—middle phase.
In the 1880s James wrote two novels dealing with social reformers and revolutionaries, The Bostonians (1886) and The Princess Casamassima (1886). In the novel of Boston life, James analyzed the struggle between conservative masculinity embodied in a Southerner living in the North and an embittered man-hating suffragist. The Bostonians remains the fullest and most rounded American social novel of its time in its study of cranks, faddists, and “do-gooders.” In The Princess Casamassima James exploited the anarchist violence of the decade and depicted the struggle of a man who toys with revolution and is destroyed by it. These novels were followed by The Tragic Muse (1890), in which James projected a study of the London and Paris art studios and the stage, the conflict between art and “the world.”

The latter novel raised the curtain on his own “dramatic years,” 1890–95, during which he tried to win success writing for the stage. His dramatization of The American in 1891 was a modest success, but an original play, Guy Domville, produced in 1895, was a failure, and James was booed at the end of the first performance. Crushed and feeling that he had lost his public, he spent several years seeking to adapt his dramatic experience to his fiction. The result was a complete change in his storytelling methods. In The Spoils of Poynton (1897), What Maisie Knew (1897), The Turn of the Screw and In the Cage (1898), and The Awkward Age (1899), James began to use the methods of alternating “picture” and dramatic scene, close adherence to a given angle of vision, a withholding of information from the reader, making available to him only that which the characters see. The subjects of this period are the developing consciousness and moral education of children—in reality James’s old international theme of innocence in a corrupting world, transferred to the English setting.

Career—final phase.
The experiments of this “transition” phase led James to the writing of three grandiose novels at the beginning of the new century, which represent his final—his “major”—phase, as it has been called. In these novels James pointed the way for the 20th-century novel. He had begun as a realist who describes minutely his crowded stage. He ended by leaving his stage comparatively bare, and showing a small group of characters in a tense situation, with a retrospective working out, through multiple angles of vision, of their drama. In addition to these technical devices he resorted to an increasingly allusive prose style, which became dense and charged with symbolic imagery. His late “manner” derived in part from his dictating directly to a typist and in part from his unremitting search for ways of projecting subjective experience in a flexible prose.

The first of the three novels was The Ambassadors (1903). This is a high comedy of manners, of a middle-aged American who goes to Paris to bring back to a Massachusetts industrial town a wealthy young man who, in the view of his affluent family, has lingered too long abroad. The “ambassador” in the end is captivated by civilized Parisian life. The novel is a study in the growth of perception and awareness in the elderly hero, and it balances the relaxed moral standards of the European continent against the parochial rigidities of New England. The second of this series of novels was The Wings of the Dove, published in 1902, before The Ambassadors, although written after it. This novel, dealing with a melodramatic subject of great pathos, that of an heiress doomed by illness to die, avoids its cliche subject by focusing upon the characters surrounding the unfortunate young woman. They intrigue to inherit her millions. Told in this way, and set in London and Venice, it becomes a powerful study of well-intentioned humans who, with dignity and reason, are at the same time also birds of prey. In its shifting points of view and avoidance of scenes that would end in melodrama, The Wings of the Dove demonstrated the mastery with which James could take a tawdry subject and invest it with grandeur. His final novel was The Golden Bowl (1904), a study of adultery, with four principal characters. The first part of the story is seen through the eyes of the aristocratic husband and the second through the developing awareness of the wife.

While many of James’s short stories were potboilers written for the current magazines, he achieved high mastery in the ghostly form, notably in The Turn of the Screw (1898), and in such remarkable narratives as “The Aspern Papers” (1888) and “The Beast in the Jungle” (1903)—his prophetic picture of dissociated 20th-century man lost in an urban agglomeration. As a critic James tended to explore the character and personality of writers as revealed in their creations; his essays are a brilliant series of studies, moral portraits, of the most famous novelists of his century, from Balzac to the Edwardian realists. His travel writings, English Hours (1905), Italian Hours (1909), and A Little Tour in France (1884), portray the backgrounds James used for his fictions.

In his later years, James lived in retirement in an 18th-century house at Rye in Sussex, though on completion of The Golden Bowl he revisited the United States in 1904–05. James had lived abroad for 20 years, and in the interval America had become a great industrial and political power. His observation of the land and its people led him to write, on his return to England, a poetic volume of rediscovery and discovery, The American Scene (1907), prophetic in its vision of urban doom, spoliation, and pollution of resources and filled with misgivings over the anomalies of a “melting pot” civilization. The materialism of American life deeply troubled James, and on his return to England he set to work to shore up his own writings, and his own career, against this ephemeral world. He devoted three years to rewriting and revising his principal novels and tales for the highly selective “New York Edition,” published in 24 volumes. For this edition James wrote 18 significant prefaces, which contain both reminiscence and exposition of his theories of fiction.

Throwing his moral weight into Britain’s struggle in World War I, James became a British subject in 1915 and received the Order of Merit from King George V.

Henry James’s career was one of the longest and most productive—and most influential—in American letters. A master of prose fiction from the first, he practiced it as a fertile innovator, enlarged the form, and placed upon it the stamp of a highly individual method and style. He wrote for 51 years—20 novels, 112 tales, 12 plays, several volumes of travel and criticism, and a great deal of literary journalism. He recognized and helped to fashion the myth of the American abroad and incorporated this myth in the “international novel,” of which he was the acknowledged master. His fundamental theme was that of an innocent, exuberant, and democratic America confronting the worldly wisdom and corruption of Europe’s older, aristocratic culture. In both his light comedies and his tragedies, James’s sense of the human scene was sure and vivid; and, in spite of the mannerisms of his later style, he was one of the great prose writers and stylists of his century.

James’s public remained limited during his lifetime, but, after a revival of interest in his work during the 1940s and ’50s, he reached an ever-widening audience; his works were translated in many countries, and he was recognized in the late 20th century as one of the subtlest craftsmen who ever practiced the art of the novel. His rendering of the inner life of his characters made him a forerunner of the “stream-of-consciousness” movement in the 20th century.

Leon Edel




Type of work: Novel
Author: Henry James (1843-1916)
Type of plot: Psychological realism
Time of plot: About 1900
Locale: Paris, France
First published: 1903

The Ambassadors marks a turning point in James's attitude toward his American characters. This novel contains none of the embarrassment found in many of the earlier works, which portray the author's fellow Americans as slightly barbaric in their inability to appreciate the fineness and subtlety of European culture.


Principal Characters

Lambert Strether, the chief ambassador of Mrs. Newsome, his betrothed, sent to summon her son Chad back from Paris to the family business in Wollett, Massachusetts. A fifty-five-year-old editor of a review, Lambert Strether has all the tact and diplomacy necessary to accomplish his task, but his sensitivity will not allow him either to complete it or to take advantage of Chad's situation to gain his own ends. He sees Chad as immeasurably better off in Paris, himself as somehow changed and strengthened by his sojourn abroad, though he will not allow himself to stay in Europe after having failed his benefactress. His heady experiences renew his earlier impressions, and he forms friendships, visits cathedrals, and lives easily for the first time since his wife died while bearing their son, also dead. His delicacy—in approaching young Newsome and his mistress, Mme. de Vionnet; in handling Chadwick's sister, brother-in-law, and childhood sweetheart, and in breaking off from Maria Gostrey, who loves him—is the more remarkable when one considers that his own hopes of a rich marriage and great influence have been shattered by his actions.
Chadwick Newsome, called Chad, the handsome, twenty-eight-year-old successor to a family business on the one hand and the heir to a modest income from another source. Candid and open-hearted, the graying young man has been so improved by his years in Europe, largely under the tutelage of Mme. de Vionnet. that no thought of his return can really be harbored by anyone who has seen him. Although he himself is willing to return for a visit and to consider taking over the advertising and sales promotion of the business he is well equipped to run, his proposed marriage to Mamie Pocock is unthinkable. His greatest triumph comes as the result of his mannerly presentation of his sister's group of ambassadors to his Parisian friends, while his saddest duty is to allow his good friend Lambert Strether to return to face the consequences of a diplomatic failure.
Maria Gostrey, a self-styled introducer and tour director and a chance acquaintance of Lambert Strether. A sensitive, genial, and understanding woman, she proves to be the agent through whom the ambassador discovers the irony of Chad Newsome's situation. Her generosity and devotion to her new friend first touch him and then move him deeply when he sees her loyalty and love unencumbered by desire for personal gain.
Mme. Marie de Vionnet (ma-re' da ve-on-na'), the beautiful Comtesse whose religion and social position will not allow her to divorce an unloved and faithless husband. Gravely lovely and charming, she has educated young Chad Newsome in the social graces and has won his heart and soul. Called a virtuous connection by intimate friends, the arrangement seems shabby to Mr. Way-marsh and Mrs. Pocock, typically closed-minded Americans. Through the efforts of good friends, especially those of Lambert Strether, Mme. de Vionnet is allowed to retain her younger lover in spite of the fact that they have no future beyond their immediate happiness. Her daughter, who was believed by some to be in love with Chad Newsome, settles on a marriage more reasonable and agreeable to all.
John Little Bilham, called Little Bilham, an American expatriate artist and Chad Newsome's close friend. A perceptive, bright young man. Little Bilham becomes the confidant of the ambassadors and. along with a friend. Miss Barrace, their interpreters of social and artistic life in Paris.
Miss Barrace, a shrewd, witty, understanding woman living in Paris. She asks Lambert Strether not to force the issue of Chad Newsome's return home.
Mr. Waymarsh, an American lawyer residing in England, Lambert Strether's friend. He accompanies Strether to Paris and directly involves himself in Chad Newsome's affairs when he writes a letter informing Mrs. Newsome that her ambassador is not fulfilling his mission.
Sarah Newsome Pocock, Chad Newsome's older sister. She, her husband, and her sister-in-law are also dispatched as Mrs. Newsome's ambassadors to make certain that Chad returns to America. She and Mr. Waymarsh join forces to separate Chad and Mme. de Vionnet.
James Pocock, Sarah's husband, who during Chad Newsome's absence is in control of the Newsome mills. He enjoys his trip to Paris, sympathizes with Chad, and becomes Lambert Strether's tacit ally.
Mamie Pocock, James Pocock's younger sister, the girl Mrs. Newsome has selected as a suitable wife for her son. Although she accompanies her brother and his wife on their mission to persuade Chad Newsome to return, she loses her personal interest in the young man after meeting John Little Bilham. Little Bilham's announced intention of marrying Mamie helps Chad solve his own problems of loyalty and love in his affair with Mme. de Vionnet.
Jeanne de Vionnet, Mme. de Vionnet's daughter. For a time society assumed that Chad Newsome might be in love with the daughter. Jeanne becomes engaged to M. de Montbron.
M. Gloriani, a sculptor, Mme. de Vionnet's friend, famous in the artistic and fashionable circles of Parisian society.
Mme. Gloriani, his loving wife.


The Story

Lambert Strether was engaged to marry Mrs. New-some, a widow. Mrs. Newsome had a son, Chadwick, whom she wanted to return home from Paris and take over the family business in Woollett, Massachusetts. She was especially concerned for his future after she had heard that he was seriously involved with a Frenchwoman. In her anxiety, she asked Strether to go to Paris and persuade her son to return to the respectable life she had planned for him.
Strether did not look forward to his task, for Chadwick had ignored all of his mother's written requests to return home. Strether also did not know what hold Chadwick's mistress might have over him or what sort of woman she might be. He strongly suspected that she was a young girl of unsavory reputation. Strether realized, however, that his hopes of marrying Mrs. Newsome depended upon his success in bringing Chad back to America, where his mother could see him married to Mamie Pocock.
Leaving his ship at Liverpool, Strether journeyed across England to London. On the way he met Miss Gostrey, a young woman who was acquainted with some of Strether's American friends, and she promised to aid Strether in getting acquainted with Europe before he left for home again. Strether met another old friend, Mr. Waymarsh, an American lawyer living in England, whom he asked to go with him to Paris.
A few days after arriving in Paris, Strether went to Chad's house. The young man was not in Paris, and he had temporarily given the house over to a friend, Mr. Bilham. Through Bilham, Strether got in touch with Chad at Cannes. Strether was surprised to learn of his whereabouts, for he knew that Chad would not have dared to take an ordinary mistress to such a fashionable resort.
About a week later, Strether, Miss Gostrey, and Way-marsh went to the theater. Between the acts of the play, the door of their box was opened and Chad entered. He was much changed from the adolescent college boy Strether remembered. He was slightly gray, although only twenty-eight years old.
Both Strether and Chad Newsome were pleased to see each other. Over coffee after the theater, the older man told Chad why he had come to Europe. Chad answered that all he asked was an opportunity to be convinced that he should return.
A few days later, Chad took Strether and his friends to a tea where they met Mme. and Mile, de Vionnet. The former, who had married a French count, turned out to be an old school friend of Miss Gostrey. Strether was at a loss to understand whether Chad was in love with the comtesse or with her daughter Jeanne. Since the older woman was only a few years the senior of the young man and as beautiful as her daughter, either was possibly the object of his affections.
As the days slipped by, it became apparent to Strether that he himself wanted to stay in Paris. The French city and its life were much calmer and more beautiful than the provincial existence he had known in Woollett, and he began to understand why Chad was unwilling to go back to his mother and the Newsome mills.
Strether learned that Chad was in love with Mme. de Vionnet, rather than with her daughter. The comtesse had been separated from her husband for many years, but their position and religion made divorce impossible. Strether, who was often in the company of the Frenchwoman, soon fell under her charm. Miss Gostrey, who had known Mme. de Vionnet for many years, had only praise for her and questioned Strether as to the advisability of removing Chad from the woman's continued influence.
One morning Chad announced to Strether that he was ready to return immediately to America. The young man was puzzled when Strether replied that he was not sure it was wise for either of them to return and that it would be wiser for them both to reconsider whether they would not be better off in Paris than in New England.
When Mrs. Newsome, back in America, received word of that decision on the part of her ambassador, she immediately sent the Pococks, her daughter and son-in-law, to Paris along with Mamie Pocock, the girl she hoped her son would marry. They were to bring back both Strether and her son.
Mrs. Newsome's daughter and her relatives did not come to Paris with an obvious ill will. Their attitude seemed to be that Chad and Strether had somehow drifted astray, and it was their duty to set them right. At least that was the attitude of Mrs. Pocock. Her husband, however, was not at all interested in having Chad return, for in the young man's absence, Mr. Pocock controlled the Newsome mills. Mr. Pocock further saw that his visit was probably the last opportunity he would have for a spirited time in the European city, and so he was quite willing to spend his holiday going to theaters and cafes. His younger sister, Mamie, seemed to take little interest in the recall of her supposed fiance, for she had become interested in Chad's friend, Mr. Bilham.
The more Strether saw of Mme. de Vionnet after the arrival of the Pococks, the more he was convinced that she was both noble and sincere in her attempts to make friends with her lover's family. Mrs. Pocock found it difficult to reconcile Mme. de Vionnet's aristocratic background with the fact that she was Chad's mistress.
After several weeks of hints and genteel pleading, the Pococks and Mamie went to Switzerland, leaving Chad to make a decision whether to return to America. As for Mr. Strether, Mrs. Newsome had advised that he be left alone to make his own decision, for the widow wanted to avoid the appearance of having lost her dignity or her sense of propriety.
While the Pococks were gone, Strether and Chad discussed the course they should follow. Chad was uncertain of his attitude toward Mamie Pocock. Strether assured him that the girl was already happy with her new love, Mr. Bilham, who had told Strether that he intended to marry the American girl. His advice, contrary to what he had thought when he had sailed from America, was that Chadwick Newsome should remain in France with the comtesse, despite the fact that the young man could not marry her and would, by remaining in Europe, lose the opportunity to make himself an extremely rich man. Chad decided to take his older friend's counsel.
Waymarsh, who had promised his help in persuading Chad to return to America, was outraged at Strether's changed attitude. Miss Gostrey, however, remained loyal, for she had fallen deeply in love with Strether during their time together in Paris. Strether, however, realizing her feelings, told her that he had to go back to America alone. His object in Europe had been to return Chad Newsome to his mother. Because he had failed in that mission and would never marry Mrs. Newsome. he could not justify to himself marrying another woman whom he had met on a journey financed by the woman he had at one time intended to marry. Only Mme. de Vionnet, he felt, could truly appreciate the irony of his position.


Critical Evaluation

In Henry James's The Ambassadors, plot is minimal; the story line consists simply in Mrs. Newsome sending Lambert Strether to Europe to bring home her son, Chad. The important action is psychological rather than physical; the crucial activities are thought and conversation. The pace of the novel is slow. Events unfold as they do in life: in their own good time.
Because of these qualities, James's work demands certain responses from the reader. He must not expect boisterous action, shocking or violent occurrences, sensational coincidences, quickly mounting suspense, or breathtaking climaxes; these devices have no place in a Henry James novel. Rather, the reader must bring to the work a sensitivity to problems of conscience, an appreciation of the meaning beneath manners, and an awareness of the intricacies of human relationships. Finally, and of the utmost importance, the reader must be patient; the power of a novel like The Ambassadors is only revealed quietly and without haste. This is why, perhaps more than any other modern author, James requires rereading—not merely because of the complexity of his style, but because the richly layered texture of his prose contains a multiplicity of meanings, a wealth of subtle shadings.
In The Ambassadors, which James considered his masterpiece, this subtlety and complexity is partially the result of his perfection of the technique for handling point of view. Departing from traditional eighteenth and nineteenth century use of the omniscient narrator. James experimented extensively with the limited point of view, exploring the device to discover what advantages it might have over the older method. He found that w hat was lost in panoramic scope and comprehensiveness, the limited viewpoint more than compensated for in focus, concentration, and intensity. It was a technique perfectly suited to an author whose primary concern w as with presenting the thoughts, emotions, and motivations of an intelligent character, with understanding the psychological makeup of a sensitive mind and charting its growth.
The sensitive and intelligent character through whose mind all events in the novel are filtered is Lambert Strether. The reader sees and hears only what Strether sees and hears; all experiences, perceptions, and judgments are his. Strictly adhered to, this device proved too restrictive for James's purpose; therefore, he utilized other characters—called confidants—who enabled him to expand the scope of his narrative without sacrificing advantages inherent in the limited point of view. The basic function of these "listening characters" is to expand and enrich Strether's experience. Miss Gostrey. Little Bilham, Waymarsh, and Miss Barrace—all share with him attitudes and insights arising from their widely diverse backgrounds; they provide him with a wider range of knowledge than he could ever gain from firsthand experience. Maria Gostrey, Strether's primary confidante, illustrates the fact that James's listening characters are deep and memorable personalities in their own right. Miss Gostrey not only listens to Strether, but she also becomes an important figure in the plot, and as she gradually falls in love with Strether, she engages the reader's sympathy as well.
Lambert Strether interacts with and learns from the environment of Paris as well as from the people he meets there; thus, the setting is far more than a mere backdrop against which events in the plot occur. To understand the significance of Paris as the setting, the reader must appreciate the meaning that the author, throughout his fiction, attached to certain places. James was fascinated by what he saw as the underlying differences in the cultures of America and Europe and, in particular, in the opposing values of a booming American factory town such as Woollett and an ancient European capital such as Paris. In these two places, very different qualities are held in esteem. In Woollett, Mrs. Newsome admires practicality, individuality, and enterprise, while in Paris, her son appreciates good food and expensive wine, conversation with a close circle of friends, and leisure time quietly spent. Woollett pursues commercialism, higher social status, and rigid moral codes with untiring vigor; Paris values the beauty of nature, the pleasure of companionship, and an appreciation of the arts with studied simplicity. Thus, the implications of a native of Woollett, such as Lambert Strether, going to Paris at the end of his life are manifold; and it is through his journey that the theme of the novel is played out.
The theme consists of a question of conscience: Should Strether, in his capacity as Mrs. Newsome's ambassador, be faithful to his mission of bringing Chad home, once he no longer believes in that mission? That he ceases to believe is the result of his conversion during his stay in Paris. He is exposed to a side of life that he had not known previously; furthermore, he finds it to be good. As a man of noble nature and sensitive conscience, he cannot ignore or deny, as Sarah Newsome later does, that life in Paris has vastly improved Chad. Ultimately, therefore, he must oppose rather than promote the young man's return. The honesty of this action not only destroys his chance for financial security in marriage to Chad's mother but also prevents him from returning the love of Maria Gostrey. Although Strether's discovery of a different set of values comes too late in life for his own benefit, he at least can save Chad. The lesson he learns is the one he passionately seeks to impart to Little Bilham: "Live all you can; it's a mistake not to. It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. . . . Don't, at any rate, miss things out of stupidity. . . . Live!"
If, in reading The Ambassadors, the reader's expectations are for keenness of observation, insight into motivations, comprehension of mental processes, and powerful characterizations, he will not be disappointed. If Henry James demands the effort, concentration, and commitment of his reader, he also—with his depth and breadth of vision and the sheer beauty of his craftsmanship—repays him a hundredfold.




Type of work: Novel
Author: Henry James (1843-1916)
Type of plot: Psychological realism
Time of plot: с 1900
Locale: England and the Continent
First published: 1904


The Golden Bowl is a meticulous, involved, and incredibly detailed exploration of the subtleties of thought and nuances of emotion of a small circle of wealthy, cultured Americans living in Europe. James's collection of psychological shades and discriminations are at times almost overwhelming to the reader. A forerunner of psychological expressionism, the novel describes characters who live in a world shut off from homely realities, a world that will not tolerate crudities.


Principal Characters

Maggie Verver, the motherless daughter of an American millionaire. For a number of years the Ververs have spent much of their time abroad, where Mr. Verver has devoted himself to acquiring a magnificent art collection for the museum he plans to build in American City. Sharing her father's quiet tastes and aesthetic interests, Maggie has become his faithful companion, and they have created for themselves a separate, enclosed world of ease, grace, and discriminating appreciation, a connoisseur-ship of life as well as of art. Even Maggie's marriage to Prince Amerigo, an Italian of ancient family, does not change greatly the pattern of their lives, a pattern that she believes complete when Mr. Verver marries her best friend, Charlotte Stant. What Maggie does not know is the fact that before her marriage the Prince and Charlotte, both moneyless and therefore unable to marry, had been lovers. Several years later the Prince, bored by his position as another item in the Verver collection, and Charlotte, restless because she takes second place beside her elderly husband's interest in art, resume their former intimacy. Maggie finds her happiness threatened when her purchase of a flawed gold-and-crystal bowl leads indirectly to her discovery of the true situation. Her problem is whether to disclose or conceal her knowledge. Deeply in love with her husband and devoted to her father, she decides to remain silent. Her passivity becomes an act of drama because it involves a sense of ethical responsibility and a moral decision; her predicament is the familiar Jamesian spectacle of the innocent American confronting the evil of European morality, in this case complicated by Maggie's realization that she and her father are not without guilt, that they have lived too much for themselves. In the end her generosity, tact, and love resolve all difficulties. Mr. Verver and his wife leave for America and Maggie regains her husband's love, now unselfish-lessly offered.
Prince Amerigo, a young Italian nobleman, handsome, gallant, sensual, living in England with his American wife. A man of politely easy manners, he is able to mask his real feelings under an appearance of courteous reserve. Though he has loved many women, he has little capacity for lies or deception in his dealings with them; he objects when Charlotte Stant, his former mistress, wishes to purchase a flawed golden bowl as a wedding gift to his wife, for he wants nothing but perfection in his marriage. He and Charlotte are often thrown together after she marries his father-in-law, and they become lovers once more. When his wife learns, through purchase of the same flawed bowl, the secret of his infidelity, he tries to be loyal to all parties concerned, and he so beautifully preserves the delicate harmony of family relationships that no outsiders except their mutual friends, the Assinghams, know of the situation. Maggie, his wife, is able to save her marriage because his delicacy in the matter of purchased and purchasable partners makes tense situations easier. After Mr. Verver and his wife return to America, the Prince shows relief as unselfish as it is sincere; their departure allows him to be a husband and a father in his own right.
Charlotte Stant, the beautiful but impecunious American girl who needs a wealthy husband to provide the fine clothes and beautiful things she believes necessary for her happiness. Because Prince Amerigo is poor, she becomes his mistress but never considers marrying him. After his marriage to Maggie Verver, her best friend, Mr. Verver proposes to Charlotte. She accepts him and, though Mr. Verver cannot understand her claim of unworthiness, but she declares herself prepared to be as devoted as possible, as a wife and as a stepmother to her good friend. Often left in the Prince's company while Maggie and her father pursue their interest in art, she resumes her affair with her former lover. When the truth is finally revealed, Charlotte, determined to prove her loyalties to all concerned, persuades Mr. Verver to return with her to America. Her poised and gracious farewell to Maggie and the Prince is more than a demonstration of her ability to keep up appearances; it shows the code of responsibility she has assumed toward her lover, her friend, and her husband.
Adam Verver, a rich American who has given over the pursuit of money in order to achieve the good life for himself and his daughter Maggie. In his innocence he believes that this end may be attained by seeing and collecting the beautiful art objects of Europe. A perfect father, he cannot realize that there is anything selfish in the close tie that exists between himself and his daughter, and he tries to stand in the same relationship with his son-in-law. Prince Amerigo, and Charlotte Stant, his daughter's friend, whom he marries. All he really lives for is to provide for Maggie and his grandson the life of happiness and plenty he envisions for them. When he finally realizes that the pattern of his life has been a form of make-believe, he sacrifices his own peace of mind and agrees to return with his wife to make the United States his permanent home.
Fanny Assingham, the friend of Maggie and Adam Verver, Prince Amerigo, and Charlotte Stant, and the guardian angel of their secret lives. As one who senses the Tightness of things, she helps to bring about both marriages with a sensitive understanding of the needs of all, a delicacy she will not allow to be disrupted by Maggie's discovery of her husband's infidelity. Her belief is that even wickedness is more to be condoned than wrong-ness of heart. She helps to resolve the situation between Maggie and Prince Amerigo when she hurls the golden bowl, symbol of Maggie's flawed marriage and the Prince's guilt, to the floor and smashes it.
Colonel Robert Assingham, called Bob, a retired army officer who understands his wife's motives and the interest she takes in the Verver family but who manages to keep himself detached from her complicated dealings with the lives of others.
The Principinio, the small son of Prince Amerigo and his wife Maggie.


The Story

Maggie Verver was the daughter of a wealthy American widower who had devoted all his life to his daughter. The Ververs lived a lazy life. Their time was spent in collecting items to decorate their own existence and to fill a museum that Mr. Verver was giving to his native city back in the United States. They had few friends, Maggie's only confidante was Mrs. Assingham, the American-born wife of a retired British Army officer.
It was Mrs. Assingham who introduced the Ververs to Prince Amerigo, a handsome, quiet young Italian nobleman who struck Maggie's fancy. When she informed her father that she would like to marry the Prince, Mr. Verver provided a handsome dowry so that the wedding might take place.
A few days before the wedding, a painful scene occurred in Mrs. Assingham's home, where the Prince and Charlotte Stant, deeply in love with each other, met to say good-bye. Each was penniless, and a marriage had been out of the question. Since both were friends of Maggie, the present situation was painful for them. As a farewell lark, they spent the last afternoon in searching for a wedding present for Charlotte to present to Maggie. In a tiny shop, they discovered a golden bowl which Charlotte wished to purchase as a remembrance for the Prince from her. He refused it because of superstitious fears that a crack in the golden bowl might bring bad luck.
After the wedding of the Prince and Maggie, the lives of the pair coincided with the life that the Ververs had been living for years. Maggie and her father spent much of their time together. The Prince, although he did not complain, was really only a convenience that they had purchased because Maggie had reached the age when she needed to have a husband.
After a year and a half, a baby was born to the Prince and Maggie, but the child made no apparent difference in the relationships between the woman and her father or the woman and her husband. Maggie decided that her father also needed a wife. She went to Mrs. Assingham and told her friend that she planned to have Charlotte Stant marry her father. Charlotte was a quiet person aware of the love between Maggie and her father, and she was the sort of person who would be thankful to marry a wealthy man. Neither Maggie nor Mrs. Assingham puts this into words, but it was tacitly understood.
Mr. Verver, anxious to please his daughter in this as in everything else, married Charlotte a short time later. This second marriage created a strange situation. Maggie and her father both took houses in London where they could be together a great deal of the time. The association of father and daughter left the Prince and Charlotte together much of the time. Maggie encouraged them to go out, to represent her and her father at balls and dinners. Maggie, however, did not know that her husband and her stepmother had been intimate before her own marriage to the Prince.
Several years went by in this manner, but slowly the fact that there was something strange in the relationships dawned upon Maggie's sensitive feelings. She eventually went to Mrs. Assingham and poured out her suspicions. Mrs. Assingham, in full knowledge of the circumstances, decided to keep silent.
Maggie resolved to say nothing of her suspicions to anyone else. Yet her attitude of indifference and her insistence in throwing the Prince and Charlotte together, aroused their suspicions that she knew they had been sweethearts and that she suspected them of being lovers after marriage.
Each one of the four speculated at length as to what the other three knew or suspected. Yet their mutual confidence and love prevented each one of them from ever asking anything of the others.
One day, Maggie went shopping for some unusual art object to present to her father on his birthday. She accidentally happened into the same shop where the Prince and Charlotte had gone several years before, and she purchased the golden bowl that they had passed over because of its flaw. The following day, the shopkeeper visited her. The name and address had told him that she was the wife of the Prince who had passed up the bowl years before. He knew that the existence of the crack would quickly come to the attention of the Prince, and so he had hastened to inform Maggie of the flaw and to return part of the purchase price. He also told her of the Prince's first visit to the shop and of the young woman who had been with him. Maggie then knew that the Prince and Charlotte had known each other before her marriage and that they had spent an afternoon together the day before she was married. She was upset. Again, she confided in Mrs. Assingham.
Having learned that there was no serious relationship between the Prince and Charlotte, Mrs. Assingham informed Maggie that she was making a great ado over nothing at all. To back up her remark, she raised the bowl above her head and smashed it to the floor, where it broke into several pieces. As she did so, the Prince entered the room and saw the fragments of the bowl. After Mrs. Assingham's departure, he tried to learn how much Maggie knew. Maggie and her husband agreed to say nothing to either Maggie's father or to Charlotte.
Charlotte, too, began to sense that something had disturbed Maggie, and she shrewdly guessed what it was. Then Maggie tried to realign the relationships of the four by proposing that she and Charlotte stay together for a while and that the Prince and her father go to the Continent to buy art objects. This proposal was gently put forward and as gently rebuffed by the other three.
Maggie and her father began to realize that their selfishness in continuing the father-daughter relationship that they had had before her marriage was wrong. Shortly after that selfishness had been brought into the open and discussed by Maggie and Mr. Verver, Charlotte told Maggie that she wished to return to America and to take her husband with her. She bluntly informed Maggie that she was afraid that if Mr. Verver continued to live so close to his daughter, he would lose interest in his wife. Mr. Verver agreed to accompany Charlotte back to the United States. It was a difficult decision for him to make. He realized that once he was away, Charlotte would never agree to his coming back to Europe to live.
On an autumn afternoon, Mr. Verver and Charlotte went to have tea with Maggie and the Prince before leaving England. It was almost heartbreaking to Maggie to see her father's carriage take him out of sight and to know that her old way of life had really ended. The only thing that kept her from breaking down completely was the look on the Prince's face as he turned her face away from the direction her father's carriage had taken. At that moment, seeing his eyes, Maggie knew she had won her husband for herself and not for her money.


Critical Evaluation

The Golden Bowl, along with The Ambassadors and The Wings of the Dove, is one of the novels of the triad of works upon which the high reputation of Henry James's "major phase" rests. In these novels, James's already complex style reaches new levels of sophistication as the writing becomes more and more intricate and convoluted , accommodating ever more subtle levels of analysis of character and event. Gradually the "center of consciousness" in the mind of a character, which had been essential to James's earlier works, gives way to an omniscient point of view, and a narrative voice that is James's own. Though it hardly appears so to the eye, James's style of this period is essentially oral—he had developed the habit of dictating his material to a secretary—and reflects his characteristically ponderous manner of speech. Seeming to move endlessly to circle or enfold a subject or an idea without ever touching it directly, James's technique in these late novels has been admired highly by critics who place a premium on style, while frequently being disparaged by those who stress content and clarity of thought. For James himself, the art of the novel was everything in writing, and there is little doubt that in The Golden Bowl, his artistry reached a peak.
With this novel, James continues the subject matter of the "international theme," which had characterized his work from its beginning, by dealing with a group of Americans in Europe. Adam Verver, in particular, can be seen as an avatar of the American Adam who recurs in James's fiction, often, as here, in search of European culture, which he will take back to his culturally barren homeland. Prince Amerigo is linked by his name to the historic connection between America and Europe and, by his marriage to Maggie, might be seen as dramatizing a new dependence of the Old World upon the New. Yet, The Golden Bowl ultimately is less an international novel than such works as The American, Daisy Miller, or The Ambassadors because its concerns are finally more with individuals than with cultures. Though the Ververs begin in America and Adam returns there at the novel's end, neither his experience nor that of Maggie or Charlotte is essentially contingent upon the sort of conflict of cultural values that is at the heart of James's international novels and stories. Rather, the problems of love and marriage at the heart of The Golden Bowl are truly universal; neither their nature nor their solution depends upon an American perspective.
Like many of James's works, The Golden Bowl began in his notebooks with the recording of an anecdote he had heard concerning a young woman and her widower father, each of whom had taken spouses, who learned their partners were engaged in an affair. From this scant beginning, James crafted his longest and most elaborate novel, not by greatly complicating the essential material of this simple plot but by scrupulous elaboration of the conflicts and resolutions resulting from the complex relations among his four central characters. By making his characters members of the wealthy leisure class, James frees them from the mundane worries of the world so he can focus his, and their, entire attention on the one particular problem without regard to external complications. Ultimately, the novel seeks to pose moral and philosophical questions that transcend either the psychological or social levels of the work to confront the basic question of Maggie's adjustment to a less-than-perfect world.
The golden bowl is James's metaphor for the marriage between Amerigo and Maggie, and perhaps, in its larger implications, for life itself. The bowl, not really "golden" at all, but crystal gilded with gold leaf, has the superficial appearance of perfection, but is, in fact, cracked. As a symbol of Maggie's "perfect" marriage, the bowl very clearly illustrates the flaw at the heart of the relationship—a flaw that no doubt existed even before the Prince and Charlotte resume their old love affair and that represents a potential threat to the marriage. Both Maggie and her father are guilty of treating the Prince as nothing more than one of the valuable objects they have come to Europe to purchase—they have bought the perfect marriage for Maggie. Unlike art, however, human relationships are not subject to purchase, nor can they, as in the case of Adam's marriage to Charlotte, be arranged for convenience without regard to the human factors concerned. In fact, both Maggie and her father tend to live in a small, supremely selfish world. Insulated by their money from the actuality of life, they isolate themselves from the real complexities of daily existence. Their world is, in effect, itself more "art" than "life."
The resolution of the novel results from Maggie's positive act, although in the earlier parts of the novel, she is more passive than active. The marriage itself, for example, seems more of an arrangement between the Prince and Adam Verver than a particular choice of Maggie's—Adam wants the perfect marriage for his daughter, and Prince Amerigo wants access to the Verver millions, so they come to an agreement between themselves. Maggie apparently has little to say about it, and even, judging from her relationship to the Prince throughout most of the novel, no very great interest in the marriage. Her real desire seems to be to continue life with her father, rather than to begin an independent life with her husband. Only when confronted with the Prince's infidelity does Maggie recognize that she must confront this reality for all their sakes. In choosing to separate from her father in order to begin making the best of her imperfect marriage, Maggie discovers a latent ability to confront the world as it really is and to rise above the romantic idealism that had characterized her life with her father.




Type of work: Novel
Author: Henry James (1843-1916)
Type of plot: Psychological realism
Time of plot: About 1875
Locale: England, France, and Italy
First published: 1881


In this novel crowded with brilliantly subtle and penetrating character studies, James explores the ramifications of a naive, young, high-minded American girl's first exposure and gradual acclimatization to the traditions and decadence of an older European culture. The reader follows step by step the mental process of Isabel Archer as she gravitates away from the staunch and stuffy American, Caspar Goodwood, and her frail, intelligent, and devoted cousin Ralph Touchett, into a marriage with Gilbert Osmond, a worthless, tyrannical dilettante. The Portrait of a Lady is an excellent example of the Jamesian technique of refracting life through the mind and temperament of an individual.



Principal Characters

Isabel Archer, the heroine of the novel. Orphaned at an early age and an heiress, she uses her freedom to go to Europe to be educated in the arts of life lacking in her own country. She draws the interest and adoration of many people, all of whom feel that they can make a contribution to her growth, or at least can use her. Isabel is somewhat unworldly at the time of her marriage to Gilbert Osmond. After three years of resisting the social mold imposed on her by Osmond and his Roman menage, Isabel faces a dilemma in which her intelligence and honesty vie with her sense of obligation. Sensitive to her own needs as well as to those of others, she is aware of the complicated future she faces.
Gilbert Osmond, an American expatriate. He finds in Rome an environment suited to his artistic taste and devotes his time and tastes solely to pleasing himself.
Madame Merle, Isabel's friend. Madame Merle was formerly Osmond's mistress and is the mother of his daughter Pansy. A clever, vigorous woman of considerable perspicacity, she promotes Isabel's marriage to Osmond.
Ralph Touchett, Isabel's ailing cousin. He appreciates the fine qualities of Isabel's nature. Distressed by what he considers her disastrous marriage, he sees to it that his own and his father's estates come to Isabel.
Caspar Goodwood, Isabel's faithful American suitor. He has the simplicity and directness of American insight that Isabel is trying to supplement by her European "education." He does not understand why he fails with Isabel.
Lord Warburton, a friend of Ralph Touchett. Like all the other unsuccessful men in Isabel's life, he deeply admires the young American woman and is distressed by her marriage to Gilbert Osmond.
Henrietta Stackpole, an American journalist and a girlhood friend of Isabel. Henrietta is, in her own right, an amusing picture of the sensation-seeking uncritical American intelligence ranging over the length and breadth of Europe. She is eager to save Isabel.
Pansy Osmond, the illegitimate daughter of Osmond and Madame Merle. Pansy is unaware of her situation, and she welcomes Isabel as her stepmother; she feels that in Isabel she has an ally, as indeed she has. Determined to endure gracefully what she must, she feels increasingly the strictures of her father's dictates.
Edward Rosier, a suitor for Pansy's hand. This kind, pleasant man lacks means sufficient to meet Osmond's demands.
Countess Gemini, Osmond's sister. She is a woman who has been spoiled and corrupted by her European experience, and she finds Isabel's behavior almost boring in its simplicity. Several motives prompt her to tell Isabel about Osmond's first wife and his liaison with Madame Merle. She does not spare Isabel a clear picture of Osmond's lack of humanity.
Mrs. Touchett, Isabel's vigorous and sympathetic aunt. Mrs. Touchett is the one responsible for the invitation that brings Isabel to Europe and the world.


The Story

Isabel Archer, upon the death of her father, had been visited by her aunt, Mrs. Touchett. She proved so attractive to the older woman that Mrs. Touchett decided to
give her the advantage of more cosmopolitan experience, and Isabel was quickly carried off to Europe so she might see something of the world of culture and fashion.
On the day the women arrived at the Touchett home in England, Isabel's sickly young cousin, Ralph Touchett, and his father were taking tea in the garden with their friend, Lord Warburton. When Isabel appeared, Warburton had been confessing to the two men his boredom and his distaste for his routine existence. The young nobleman was much taken with the American girl's grace and lively manner.
Isabel had barely settled at Gardencourt, her aunt's home, before she received a letter from an American friend, Henrietta Stackpole, a newspaperwoman who was writing a series of articles on the sights of Europe. At Ralph's invitation, Henrietta went to Gardencourt to spend some time with Isabel and to obtain material for her writing.
Soon after Henrietta's arrival, Isabel heard from another American friend. Caspar Goodwood, a would-be suitor, had followed her abroad. Learning her whereabouts from Henrietta, he wrote to ask if he might see her. Isabel was irked by his aggressiveness, and she decided not to answer his letter.
On the day she received the letter from Goodwood, Lord Warburton proposed to her. Not wishing to seem indifferent to the honor of his proposal, she asked for time to consider it. At last, she decided she could not marry the young Englishman, for she wished to see considerably more of the world before she married. She was afraid that marriage to Warburton, although he was a model of kindness and thoughtfulness, would prove stifling.
Because Isabel had not seen London on her journey with Mrs. Touchett and since it was on Henrietta Stack-pole's itinerary, the two young women, accompanied by Ralph Touchett, went to the capital. Henrietta quickly made the acquaintance of a Mr. Bantling, who undertook to escort her around London. When Caspar Goodwood visited Isabel at her hotel, she again refused him, though his persistence made her agree that if he still wished to ask for her hand, he might visit her again after two years had passed.
While the party was in London, a telegram came from Gardencourt. Old Mr. Touchett was seriously ill with gout, and his wife was much alarmed. Isabel and Ralph left on the afternoon train. Henrietta remained with her new friend.
During the time Mr. Touchett lay dying and his family was preoccupied, Isabel was forced to amuse herself with a new companion. Madame Merle, an old friend of Mrs. Touchett, had come to Gardencourt to spend a few days. She and Isabel, thrown together a great deal, exchanged many confidences. Isabel admired the older woman for her ability to amuse herself, for her skill at needlework, at painting, at the piano, and for her ability to accommodate herself to any social situation. On the other hand, Madame Merle spoke enviously of Isabel's youth and intelligence, lamenting the life that had left her, at middle age, a widow with no children and no visible success in life.
When her uncle died, he left Isabel, at her cousin's instigation, half of his fortune. Ralph, greatly impressed with his young kinswoman's brilliance, had persuaded his father that she should be given the opportunity to fly as far and as high as she might. For himself, he knew he could not live long because of his pulmonary illness, and his legacy was enough to let him live in comfort.
As quickly as she could, Mrs. Touchett sold her London house and took Isabel to Paris with her. Ralph went south for the winter to preserve what was left of his health. In Paris, the new heiress was introduced to many of her aunt's friends among the American expatriates, but she was not impressed. She thought their indolent lives worthy only of contempt. Meanwhile, Henrietta and Mr. Bantling had arrived in Paris, and Isabel spent much time with them and Edward Rosier. She had known Rosier when they both were children and she was traveling abroad with her father. Rosier was another dilettante, living on the income from his inheritance. He explained to Isabel that he could not return to his own country because there was no occupation there worthy of a gentleman.
In February, Mrs. Touchett and her niece went to the Palazzo Crescentini, the Touchett house in Florence. They stopped on the way to see Ralph, who was staying in San Remo. In Florence they were joined once more by Madame Merle.
Unknown to Isabel or her aunt, Madame Merle also visited her friend, Gilbert Osmond, another American who lived in voluntary exile outside of Florence with his art collection and his young convent-bred daughter, Pansy. Madame Merle told Osmond of Isabel's arrival in Florence, saying that as the heir to a fortune, Isabel would be a valuable addition to Osmond's collection.
The heiress who had rejected two worthy suitors did not refuse the third. She was quickly captivated by the charm of the sheltered life Gilbert Osmond had created for himself. Her friends were against the match. Henrietta Stackpole, who was inclined to favor Caspar Goodwood, was convinced that Osmond was interested only in Isabel's money, as was Isabel's aunt. Mrs. Touchett had requested Madame Merle, the good friend of both parties, to discover the state of their affections; she was convinced that Madame Merle could have prevented the match. Ralph Touchett was disappointed that his cousin should have fallen in love so quickly. Caspar Goodwood, learning of Isabel's intended marriage when he revisited her two years later as agreed, could not persuade her to reconsider her step. Isabel was indignant when he commented on the fact that she did not even know her intended husband's antecedents.
After her marriage to Gilbert Osmond, Isabel and her husband established their home in Rome, in a setting completely expressive of Osmond's tastes. Before three years had passed, Isabel began to realize that her friends had not been completely wrong in their objections to her marriage. Osmond's exquisite taste had made their home one of the most popular in Rome, but his ceaseless effort to press his wife into a mold, to make her a reflection of his own ideas, had not made their marriage one of the happiest.
He had succeeded in destroying a romance between Pansy and Edward Rosier, who had visited the girl's stepmother and found the daughter attractive. He had not succeeded, however, in contracting the match he desired between Pansy and Lord Warburton. Warburton had found Pansy as pleasing as Isabel had once been, but he had dropped his suit when he saw that the girl's affections lay with Rosier.
Ralph Touchett, his health growing steadily worse, gave up his wanderings on the continent and returned to Gardencourt to die. When Isabel received a telegram from his mother telling her that Ralph would like to see her before his death, she felt it her duty to go to Garden-court at once. Osmond reacted to her wish as if it were a personal insult. He expected that, as his wife, Isabel would want to remain at his side and that she would not disobey any wish of his. He also made it plain that he disliked Ralph.
In a state of turmoil after her conversation with her husband, Isabel met the Countess Gemini, Osmond's sister. The Countess, visiting the Osmonds, knew the situation between her brother and Isabel. An honest soul, she felt more sympathy for her sister-in-law than for her brother. To comfort Isabel, she told her the story of Gilbert's past. After his first wife had died, he and Madame Merle had an affair that lasted six or seven years. During that time, Madame Merle, a widow, had borne him a child, Pansy. Changing his residence, Osmond had been able to pretend to his new circle of friends that the original Mrs. Osmond had died in giving birth to the child.
With this news fresh in her mind and still determined to go to England, Isabel stopped to say good-bye to Pansy, who was staying in a convent where her father had sent her to recuperate from her affair with Rosier. There, too, she met Madame Merle. Madame Merle, with her keen perception, had no difficulty realizing that Isabel knew her secret. When she remarked that Isabel would never need to see her again, that she would go to America, Isabel was certain Madame Merle would also find in America much to her own advantage.
Isabel was in time to see her cousin before his death. She stayed on briefly at Gardencourt after the funeral. long enough to bid good-bye to Lord Warburton. who had come to offer condolences to her aunt and to reject a third offer from Caspar Goodwood, who knew of her husband's treatment. When she left to start her journey-back to Italy, Isabel knew what she must do. Her first duty was not to herself, but to put her house in order.


Critical Evaluation

The Portrait of a Lady first appeared serially in England and America {Macmillan's Magazine, October, 1880-November, l%%\; Atlantic, November, 1880-December, 1881); it was published as a book in 1881. Usually regarded as the major achievement of Henry James's early period of fiction writing, The Portrait of a Lady is one of the great novels of modern literature. In it, James demonstrates that he has learned well from two European masters of the novel. Turgenev had taught him how to use a single character who shapes the work and is seen throughout in relationship to various other characters. From George Eliot he had learned the importance of tightening the structure of the novel and giving the story an architectural or organic form that develops logically from the given materials. He advances in The Portrait of a Lady beyond Eliot in minimizing his own authorial comments and analysis and permitting his heroine to be seen through her own tardily awakening self-realization and also through the consciousness of the men and women who are closest to her. Thus his "portrait" of a lady is one which slowly grows stroke by stroke as touches are added that bring out both highlights and shadows, until Isabel Archer stands at the end of the novel as a woman whose experiences have brought her excitement, joy, pain, and knowledge and have given her an enduring beauty and dignity.
Isabel is one of James's finest creations and one of the most memorable women in the history of the novel. A number of sources have been suggested for her. She may have been partly drawn from James's cousin Mary "Minny" Temple, whom he was later to immortalize as Milly Theale in The Wings of the Dove. She has been compared to two of Eliot's heroines, Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch and Gwendolyn Harleth in Daniel Deronda: to Diana Belfield in an early romantic tale by James entitled "Longstaff's Marriage"; to Bathsheba Everdene in Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd; and even to James himself, some of whose early experiences closely parallel those of Isabel. Yet, though James may have drawn from both real and fictional people in portraying Isabel Archer, she possesses her own identity; she grew from James's original "conception of a certain young woman affronting her destiny," as he later wrote in his preface to the novel. He visualized her as "an intelligent but presumptuous girl" who would yet be "complex" and who would be offered a series of opportunities for free choice in the affronting of that destiny. Because of her presumption that she knew more than she did about herself and the world, Isabel was to make mistakes, including the tragic error of misjudging the nature of Gilbert Osmond. But her intelligence, thought it was not sufficient to save her from suffering, would enable her to achieve a moral triumph in the end.
Of the four men in Isabel's life, three love her, and one uses her innocence to gain for himself what he would not otherwise have had. She refuses marriage to Lord Warburton because, though he offers her a great fortune, a title, an entry into English society, and an agreeable and entertaining personality, she believes she can do better. She turns down Caspar Goodwood, who also offers wealth, because she finds him stiff, and she is frightened by his aggressiveness. Her cousin, Ralph Touchett, does not propose because he does not wish her to be tied to a man who daily faces death. She does not even suspect the extent of his love and adoration until she is almost overwhelmed by learning it just as death takes him from her. She accepts Gilbert Osmond because she is deceived by his calculated charm and because she believes that he deserves what she can offer him: first, a fortune that will make it possible for him to live in idleness but surrounded by the objects of the culture she believes he represents; and second, a mother's love and care for his supposedly motherless daughter. Half of the novel is given over to Isabel's living with, adjusting to, and, finally, triumphing over the disastrous choice she has made.
In his preface, James uses an architectural figure to describe The Portrait of a Lady. He says the "large building" of the novel "came to be a square and spacious house." Much of what occurs in the novel does so in or near a series of houses, each of which relates significantly to Isabel or to other characters. The action begins at Gardencourt, the tudor English country house of Daniel Touchett which Isabel finds more beautiful than anything she has ever seen. The charm of the house is enhanced by its age and its natural setting beside the Thames above London. It contrasts greatly with the "old house at Albany, a large, square, double house" belonging to her grandmother which Isabel in her childhood had found romantic and in which she had indulged in dreams stimulated by her reading. Mrs. Touchett's taking Isabel from the Albany house to Gardencourt is a first step in her plan to "introduce her to the world." When Isabel visits Lockleigh, Lord Warburton's home, she sees it from the gardens as resembling "a castle in a legend," though inside it has been modernized. She does not view it as a home for herself, or its titled owner as her husband, despite the many advantages he offers. The front of Gilbert Osmond's house in Florence is "imposing" but of "a somewhat uncommunicative character," a "mask." It symbolizes Osmond whose mask Isabel does not see through until she has married him. The last of the houses in The Portrait of a Lady is the Palazzo Roccanera, the Roman home of the Osmonds, which James first describes as "a kind of domestic fortress . . . which smelt of historic deeds, of crime and craft and violence." When Isabel later broods over it during her night-long meditation in chapter 42, it is "the house of darkness, the house of dumbness, the house of suffocation."
Isabel is first seen at Gardencourt on her visit with Mrs. Touchett, and it is here that she turns down the first of three proposals of marriage. It is fitting that she should be last seen here by turns with each of the three men who have loved her. Asserting the independence on which she has so long prided herself, she has defied her imperious husband by going to England to see the dying Ralph, whose last words tell her that if she has been hated by Osmond, she has been adored by her cousin. In a brief conversation with Lord Warburton after Ralph's death, Isabel turns down an invitation to visit him and his sisters at Lockleigh. Shortly afterward, a scene six years earlier is reversed. Then she had sat on a rustic bench at Gardencourt and looked up from reading Caspar Goodwood's letter implying that she would come to England and propose to her—only to see and hear Warburton preparing to offer his own proposal. Now Caspar surprises her by appearing just after she has dismissed Warburton. There follows the one sexually passionate scene in the novel. In it Isabel has "an immense desire to appear to resist" the force of Caspar's argument that she should leave Osmond and turn to him. She pleads with streaming tears, "As you love me, as you pity me, leave me alone!" Defying her plea, Caspar kisses her:

His kiss was like white lightning, a flash that spread, and 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 of its intense identity and made one with this act of possession.

Caspar had possessed her for a moment only. "But when darkness returned she was free" and she flees into the house—and thence to Rome, as Caspar learns in the brief scene in London with Henrietta Stackpole that closes the novel.
James leaves the reader to conclude that Isabel's love for Pansy Osmond has principally determined her decision to continue enduring a marriage that she had freely— though so ignorantly and foolishly—chosen.




Type of work: Novella
Author: Henry James (1843-1916)
Type of plot: Moral allegory
Time of plot: Mid-nineteenth century
Locale: England
First published: 1898


More than a horrific ghost story, The Turn of the Screw is an enigmatic and disturbing psychological novel that probes the sources of terror in neurosis and moral degradation.


Principal Characters

The Governess, from whose point of view the story is told. Employed to look after his orphaned niece and nephew by a man who makes it clear that he does not wish to be bothered about them, she finds herself engaged in a struggle against evil apparitions for the souls of the children. There has been a good deal of the "Is-Hamlet-mad?" sort of inconclusive speculation as to whether The Turn of the Screw is a real ghost story or a study of a neurotic and frustrated woman. Probably both interpretations are true: the apparitions are real; the children are indeed possessed by evil; and the governess is probably neurotic.
Miles, a little boy, one of the governess' charges. At first he seems to be a remarkably good child, but gradually she learns that he has been mysteriously corrupted by his former governess and his uncle's former valet, whose ghosts now appear to maintain their evil control. Miles dies in the governess' arms during her final struggle to save him from some mysterious evil.
Flora, Miles's sister and feminine counterpart. The governess finally sends her away to her uncle.
Miss Jessel, the former governess, now dead. She appears frequently to the governess and to the children, who refuse to admit the appearances.
Peter Quint, the uncle's former valet, now dead. Drunken and vicious, he was also Miss Jessel's lover. The governess sees his apparition repeatedly.
Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper of the country estate where the story is set. Good-hearted and talkative, she is the source of what little concrete information the governess and the reader get as to the identities and past histories of the evil apparitions. Allied with the governess against the influence of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, she takes charge of Flora when the child is sent to her uncle.


The Story

It was a pleasant afternoon in June when the governess first arrived at the country estate at Bly, where she was to take charge of Miles, age ten, and Flora, eight. She faced her new position with some trepidation because of the unusual circumstances of her situation. The two children were to be under her complete care, and the uncle who had engaged her had been explicit in the fact that he did not wish to be bothered with his orphaned niece and nephew. Her uneasiness disappeared, however, when she saw her charges, for Flora and Miles seemed incapable of giving the slightest trouble.
The weeks of June passed uneventfully. Then, one evening, while she was walking in the garden at twilight, the governess was startled to see a young man at a distance. The man looked at her challengingly and disappeared. The incident angered and distressed the young woman, but she decided the man was a trespasser.
On the following Sunday evening, the young woman was startled to see the same stranger looking in at her through a window. Once again he stared piercingly at her for a few seconds and then disappeared. This time the governess realized that the man was looking for someone in particular and that perhaps he boded evil for the children in her care. A few minutes later, the governess told the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, of the incident and described the appearance, of the man. Mrs. Grose told her that it was a perfect description of Peter Quint, the valet to the governess' employer but that Mr. Quint was dead.
One afternoon shortly afterward, a second apparition appeared. This time the ghost of Miss Jessel, the former governess, appeared in the garden to both the governess and the little girl, Flora. The strange part of the situation was that the little girl refused to let the governess know that she had seen the figure and knew who it was, though it was obvious that she had understood the appearance fully.
The governess learned from the housekeeper that the two apparitions had been lovers while alive, though the girl had been of a very fine family and the man had been guilty of drunkenness and worse vices. For what evil purpose these two spirits wished to influence the seemingly innocent children, neither the housekeeper nor the governess could guess. The secrecy of the children about seeing the ghosts was maddening to the two women.
They both felt that the boy was continuing to see the two ghosts in private and concealed that fact, just as he had known of the illicit affair between the valet and the former governess in life and had helped them to conceal it. Yet, when in the presence of the children, the governess sometimes felt that it would be impossible for the two children to be influenced into evil.
The third time, the ghost of Quint appeared to the governess inside the house. Unable to sleep, she had sat reading late at night. Hearing someone on the stairs, she went to investigate and saw the ghost, which disappeared when faced by her unflinching gaze. Each night after that, she inspected the stairs, but she never again saw the ghost of the man. Once she glimpsed the apparition of Miss Jessel as it sat dejectedly on the lowest stair. Worse than the appearance of the ghosts was the discovery that the children had left their beds at night to wander on the lawn in communication with the spirits who were leading them to unknown evil. It became apparent to the governess that the children were not good within themselves. In their imaginations, they were living in a world populated by the evil dead restored.
In such an atmosphere, the summer wore away into autumn. In all that time, the children had given no sign of awareness of the apparitions. Knowing that her influence with the children was as tenuous as a thread which would break at the least provocation, the governess did not allude to the ghosts. She herself had seen no more manifestations, but she had often felt by the children's attitude that the apparitions were close at hand. What was worse for the distressed woman was the thought that what Miles and Flora saw were things still more terrible than she imagined, visions that sprang from their association with the evil figures in the past.
One day, Miles went to her and announced his desire to go away to school. The governess realized it was only proper that he be sent to school, but she feared the results of ghostly influences once he was beyond her care. Later, opening the door of the schoolroom, she again saw the ghost of her predecessor, Miss Jessel. As the apparition faded, the governess realized that her duty was to stay with the children and combat the spirits and their deadly influence. She decided to write immediately to the children's uncle, contrary to his injunction against being bothered on their behalf. That night before she wrote, she went into Miles's room and asked the boy to let her help him in his secret troubles. Suddenly a rush of cold air filled the room, as if the window had been blown open. When the governess relighted the candle blown out by the draft, the window was still closed, and the drawn curtain had not been disturbed.
The following day, Flora disappeared. Mrs. Grose and the governess found her beside the garden pond. The governess, knowing she had gone there to see the ghost, asked her where Miss Jessel was. The child replied that she only wanted to be left alone. The governess could see the apparition of Miss Jessel standing on the opposite side of the pond.
The governess, afraid that the evil influence had already dominated the little girl, asked the housekeeper to take the child to London and to request the uncle's aid. In place of the lovable angelic Flora there had suddenly appeared a little child with a filthy mind and filthy speech, which she used in denouncing the governess to the housekeeper. The same afternoon, Mrs. Grose left with the child as the governess had requested.
That evening, immediately after dinner, the governess asked Miles to tell her what was on his mind before he left the dining room. When he refused, she asked him if he had stolen the letter she had written to his uncle. As she asked the question, she realized that standing outside the window, staring into the room, was the ghost of Peter Quint. She pulled the boy close to her, shielding him from any view of the ghost at the window, while he told her that he had taken the letter. He also informed her that he had already been expelled from one school because of his lewd speech and actions. Noting how close the governess was holding him, he suddenly asked if Miss Jessel were near. The governess, angry and distraught, shrieked at him that it was the ghost of Peter Quint, just outside the window. When Miles turned around, the apparition was gone. With a scream, he fell into the governess' arms. At first, she did not realize that she had lost him forever—that Miles was dead.


Critical Evaluation

One of the world's most famous ghost stories, The Turn of the Screw was first published serially in Colliers' Weekly from January 27, 1898, to April 16, 1898, and in book form, along with a second story, Covering End, late in 1898. In 1908, Henry James discussed at some length the origin and nature of the tale in the preface to volume 12 of The Novels and Tales of Henry James. Considerable critical discussion and controversy have been devoted to the story, especially since Edmund Wilson's 1934 essay on "The Ambiguity of Henry James," in which Wilson argues that "the governess who is made to tell the story is a neurotic case of sex repression, and that the ghosts are not real ghosts but hallucinations of the governess." Since many critics have taken issue with Wilson and since Wilson later modified his interpretation, it is important to note briefly what James himself says about his story, his characters, and his theme in the preface. He calls The Turn of the Screw "a piece of ingenuity pure and simple, of cold artistic calculation, an amusette to catch those not easily caught . . . the jaded, the disillusioned, the fastidious." He terms the governess' account "her record of so many anomalies and obscurities." He comments that he purposely limited his revelation of the governess' character: "We have surely as much of her nature as we can swallow in watching it reflect her anxieties and inductions." He says he presented the ghosts as "real" ones, and he describes them as

my hovering prowling blighting presences, my pair of abnormal agents . . . [who] would be agents in fact; there would be laid on them the dire duty of causing the situation to reek with the air of Evil. Their desire and their ability to do so, visibly measuring meanwhile their effect, together with their observed and described success—this was exactly my central idea.

Concluding his discussions of "my fable," James explains that he purposely did not specify the evils in which the ghosts either attempt to or actually involve Miles and Flora: "Only make the reader's general vision of evil intense enough, I said to myself . . . and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy (with the children) and horror (of their false friends) will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars."
Thus, readers see that James conceived of the tale as one in which the governess, a young woman with limited experience and education but high moral principles, attempts to protect two seemingly innocent children from corruption by the malign ghosts of two former servants who in life were evil persons. His capitalizing of "Evil" and his use of the term "fable" to describe the story suggest a moral as well as an aesthetic intent in writing it. To interpret The Turn of the Screw in terms of Freudian psychology, as Wilson and some other critics have done, is to go beyond James and to find what he did not put there—consciously anyway. Admittedly, some of the "anomalies and obscurities" which puzzle and trouble the governess do lead the reader in the direction of a Freudian interpretation. The account is the governess' alone, and there is no proof that anyone else actually saw the ghosts though she believes that the children saw them and lied to her or tried otherwise to hide the truth from her. Before his reading of the governess' journal, Douglas admits that she was in love with her employer, the children's handsome uncle who showed no personal interest in her. Within the account itself, the reader who hunts may find apparent Freudian symbolism. For example, the male ghost, Peter Quint, first appears standing on a tower when the governess has been deeply longing for her employer to appear and approve her care of the children. The female ghost, Miss Jessel, first appears by a lake and watches as little Flora, also watched absorbedly by the governess, plays a childish game:

She had picked up a small flat piece of wood, Which happened to have in it a little hole that had evidently suggested to her the idea of sticking in another fragment that might figure as a mast and make the thing a boat. This second morsel . . . she was very markedly and intently attempting to tighten in its place.

Tenear-old Miles's repeated use of the word "dear" in speaking to the governess may suggest a precocious boy's sexual interest in his pretty governess.
One can go on, but it is important to remember that James's story was published in 1898 and that Freud's first significant work explaining psychoanalytic theory did not appe until 1905. Perhaps it is best to regard such details in the story as those cited as no more than coincidental, though they may seem suggestive to the post-Freudian reader of The Turn of the Screw.
Among the most difficult facts to explain away in developing the theory that the ghosts are mere hallucinations of a sexually frustrated young woman, is the governess' detailed description of a man she has never seen or heard of:

He has no hat. ... He has red hair, very red, close-curling, and a pale face, long in shape, with straight, good features and little, rather queer whiskers that are as red as his hair. His eyebrows are, somehow, darker; they look particularly arched. . . . His eyes are sharp—awfully. . . . His mouth's wide, and his lips are are thin, and except for his whiskers he's quite clean-shaven.

Mrs. Grose easily identifies him as the dead Peter Quint. She just as easily identifies Miss Jessel when the governess describes the person she later saw: "A figure of quite an unmistakable horror and evil: a woman in black, pale and dreadful—with such an air also, and such a face!—on the other side of the lake." It is difficult to argue convincingly that Peter Quint and Miss Jessel are not "real" ghosts.
The Turn of the Screw will continue to fascinate and to intrigue because James's "cold artistic calculation" has so filled it with suggestiveness and intentional ambiguity that it may be read at different levels and with new revelations at each successive reading. As Leon Edel has said, "The reader's mind is forced to hold to two levels of awareness: the story as told, and the story to be deduced."



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