First published by Scribners in 1904, The Golden Bowl was the last of the novels James published during what has come to be seen as his most productive and best period. It followed The Ambassadors in... More > 1903 and The Wing of the Dove in 1902. The novel is essentially a study of character, concentrating on four figures, Prince Amerigo, an Italian aristocrat who is poor yet still charismatic, his partner Maggie Verver, the child of the incredibly rich financier, Adam Verver. The fourth character, Charlotte Stant, was previously Amerigo's lover, but this detail is kept from the Ververs.
The essential plot follows the arc of the relationship between Amerigo and Maggie Verver and how the latter, on suspecting something more intense between Amerigo and Charlotte Stant, struggles to save her relationship, while at the same time avoiding anything too turbulent socially. Where at the start of the novel, Maggie is seen as something of an innocent debutante, by the close she has matured, showing her worth.< Less
Originally published in 1898 by Macmillan, The Turn of the Screw is a novella that might or might not be a ghost story. The plot, as described by a third party narrator, follows the experiences of a... More > governess at a country estate in Essex whose task it is to look after two small children the parents of which have recently died. The governess begins to see a man and a woman around the estate, neither of whom she recognises, though she suspects that they are apparitions of the previous governess, Miss Jessel and her lover Peter Quint.
The Turn of the Screw is famed for its ambiguity, enabling the reader to interpret the story in more than one way, perhaps seeing Jessel and Quint as ghost, or maybe believing that the governess is actually insane. James' abilities as a writer make this possible but they also give a sense of his perceptiveness for character development and using character to shape reader's impressions.< Less
Originally serialised in the New Review in 1897 before being published in book form later that year, What Maisie Knew details the fate of a young daughter, Maisie of the title, as she is flung back... More > and forth between divorced parents who care very little about what might be good for her. The narrative follows Maisie's impressions as her parent, Beale and Ida Farange, are divorced, find new partners, passing her back and forth twice a year and change her governess.
In its subject matter, What Maisie Knew, is a furious indictment of English society as James saw it, particularly the abdication of parental responsibilities. While life in late Victorian England might seem tame by today's standards, James saw it otherwise and the novel is testament to a society moved by greed and selfishness.< Less
First serialised in the Atlantic Monthly in 1878, The Europeans was published in book form later that year after being heavily revised by James. An early work in his career, following on from The... More > American, the previous year, the novel is unusually set in America, where two siblings, emanating from Europe where they travelled extensively, are trying to settle with their cousins. One of this pair, Eugenia Munster, is seeking an end to an unsuccessful marriage, while the other, Felix Young, is looking to marry for the first time.
James' purpose for the novel was as an examination of American society using the Eugenia and Felix as innocent parties against which the omniscient narrator could present the author's observations. Whilst some critics understood this objective, others, many of them contemporary, saw the novel as to slight – at around 59,000 words it only just exceeds a novella size – and in some instances lightly written. Modern assessments have been less harsh.< Less
Originally serialised in the Atlantic Monthly between 1880 and 1881 then published in book form later in the year, The Portrait of a Lady was certainly the finest novel in James' early career. The... More > plot centres upon a young American heiress, Isabel Archer and her interactions in Europe with two scheming compatriots, Gilbert Osmond, whom she marries, and Madame Merle who, it is revealed, has worked with Osmond to secure the marriage and Archer's fortune.
The novel marks a profound step away from the idea of plot, towards the notion of character development with plotting merely the means as opposed to the end. James' idea is that resolution comes about not through conveniently tying up the threads of a novel, but by rounding out the strengths of the character under study. That the novel displays a certain ambiguity at the close is evidence enough that this was James' purpose.< Less
Originally serialised in the Atlantic Monthly between 1889 and 1890, before being published in book form later in the year, The Tragic Muse was James' last full novel before his doomed foray into... More > writing for the stage. The plot also hinges on dramatic leanings, with Miriam Rooth, a young and by all accounts extremely raw actress, providing the love interest for one of the other leads in Peter Sherringham, a high flyer in the British Diplomatic Service. Other characters include, Nick Dormer, a politician who'd prefer to be an artist and his partner Julia Darrow who prefers him in the House of Commons.
There are in fact at least fifty named characters in The Tragic Muse and a plot to carry them through, making the novel an oddity in the James portfolio. In truth it reads more like a typically Victorian novel from authors like Dickens or Thackaray, rather than the pared down character studies that James would perfect towards the end of his career.< Less
Originally serialised in Harpers Weekly between 1898 and 1899, subsequently published in book form, The Awkward Age deals with the social mores of English upper class life. The plot revolves around... More > the young, attractive and intelligent Nanda, daughter of the Brookenhams, who has turned eighteen and entered that 'awkward age'. Her suitors include a young civil servant Vanderbank, who has little money behind him, and the rich but naïve Mitchy who may yet be in love with another.
The novel is particularly heavy in dialogue and what narration it uses is loftily presented, away from the characters. By concentrating more on the dialogue, James allowed the plot to be presented from differing perspectives. Critics have noted similarities between this novel and the earlier, What Masie Knew, with Nanda as the more mature Maisie.< Less
First serialised in Scribners magazine in 1879 and published in full during the same year, Confidence is a light romantic comedy of marriage declined and accepted. The plot centres upon three... More > characters, Bernie Longueville, an artist, Gordy Wright, a scientist, and Angie Vivien without occupation but a strong, gregarious female. When Gordy asks Bernie whether he should marry Angela, Bernie, having already met her, advises against it. Yet later, when Bernie again meet Angela, he realises that he loves her himself and proposes.
Confidence is unusual for James in that it is light and comedic. While there are familiar themes including the pressure to marry, it is the treatment that marks it out. There is also an impression that James was keen to provide a resolution in the set of relationships and critics have suggested that the one provides, and its means, was somewhat contrived.< Less
Originally serialised in the Atlantic Monthly under the title The Old Things, The Spoils of Poynton was first published in book form by Heinemann in 1897. The plot centres upon the valuable antique... More > possessions housed in the home of Adela Gereth which her son Owen, poised to marry the unrefined Mona Brigstock, is clearly coveting. The fourth character, and the principal point of view, is a typically Jamesian female lead called Fleda Vetch who seeks to mediate within the family but who also becomes an object of attraction for Owen.
Unusually for a mid to late period James novel, The Spoils of Poynton is more dependent upon plot than might be expected. While the characterisations do move the novel along, they come out second to what's happening and, true to that sense, James supplies an ending that has both resolution and a certain convulsiveness.< Less
Originally serialised in MacMillan Magazine in 1888 and published in book form later that year, The Reverberator is a short novel about how a piece of scandal published in a popular news sheet... More > reduces a Parisian family to infighting. When Francie Dosson, a kind American girl who possesses little or no tact confides to her friend George Flack a piece of information about the family of her fiancé Gaston Probert, only she is surprised when it duly appears in the scandal sheet (the Reverberator of the title) for whom Flack is a correspondent.
With this prompt in place, James goes on to analyse the reactions to Dosson's mistake and in particular how her character – essentially honest and self-critical – leads her to accept responsibility for her actions. Subsequently, Gaston Probert is forced to decide whether or not to marry Dosson, a decision that is informed by the intervention of his sister Suzanne.< Less