Published in 1904, The Golden Bowl is the last completed novel of Henry James. In it, the widowed American Adam Verver is in Europe with his daughter Maggie. They are rich, finely appreciative of European art and culture, and deeply attached to each other. Maggie has all the innocent charm of so many of James' young American heroines. She is engaged to Amerigo, an impoverished Italian prince; he must marry money, and as his name suggests, an American heiress is the perfect solution.
The golden bowl, first seen in a London curio shop, is used emblematically throughout the novel. Not solid gold but gilded crystal, the perfect surface conceals a flaw; it is symbolic of the relationship between the main characters and of the world in which they move.
Also in Europe is an old friend of Maggie's, Charlotte Stant, a girl of great charm and independence, and Maggie is blindly ignorant of the fact that she and the prince are lovers. Maggie and Amerigo are married and have a son, but Maggie remains dependent for real intimacy on her father, and she and Amerigo grow increasingly apart. Feeling that her father has suffered a loss through her marriage, Maggie decides to find him a wife, and her choice falls on Charlotte. Charlotte's affair with the prince continues, and Adam Verver seems to her to be a suitable and convenient match. When Maggie herself finally comes into possession of the golden bowl, the flaw is revealed to her, and, inadvertently, the truth about Amerigo and Charlotte.
Fanny Assingham (an older woman, aware of the truth from the beginning) deliberately breaks the bowl, and this marks the end of Maggie's innocence. She is no pathetic heroine-victim, however. Abstaining from outcry and outrage, she instead takes the reins and maneuvers people and events. She still wants to be with Amerigo, but he must continue to be worth having and they must all be saved further humiliations and indignities. To be a wife she must cease to be a daughter; Adam Verver and the unhappy Charlotte are banished forever to America, and the new Maggie will establish a real marriage with Amerigo.
For those who love Henry James, The Golden Bowl is often a favorite. For those who don’t, it may be better tolerated than some of the others. Whichever category is yours, this version is an ideal place to revisit your position on The Master. Katherine Kellgren does a miraculous job with James’s famously endless sentences. She keeps the rhythm and structure of each one clear without losing sight of its emotional content and its pace within the story - a feat something like running a hurdle course. Best of all, she creates vivid characters and makes the tensions among them truly absorbing as a sweet, rich American father and daughter find themselves in the toils of European sophisticates and in crisis everyone behaves beautifully.
“Katherine Kellgren does a miraculous job with James’s famously endless sentences. She keeps the rhythm and structure of each one clear without losing sight of its emotional content and its pace within the story—a feat something like running a hurdle course. Best of all, she creates vivid characters and makes the tensions among them truly absorbing as a sweet, rich American father and daughter find themselves in the toils of European sophisticates and in crisis everyone behaves beautifully.” (AudioFile)
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Collapses under the weight of its own brilliance
One of my top five novels
Yes! There is so much in every detail... I mean, it's James!
Only James can be compared to James. And only later James can be compared to the Golden Bowl. He is in a class on his own. However, George Eliot's Middlemarch was as inspiring, and Middlemarch's Dorothea is a heroine to me just as The Golden Bowl's Maggie is one. Maybe I could add Fanny from Jane Austen's Persuasion as another classic heroine, but really Dorothea and Maggie are most inspiring.
Oh, maybe Balzac is sort of a French Henry James. Lost Illusions was also very thick and dense in it's writing, but not quite as perfect.
Katherine Kellgren was excellent! I wish she would read some more classic novels!
I don't know but I always think of the line that Maggie had "done all" when she rises above her situation and Charlotte's behavior. I read this with the Wall Street Journal Book Club and it was a joy to share with everyone.