by Henry James
published in 1904, this was the author’s last completed work. The story revolves around a widowed American
billionaire, Adam Verver, and his sweet and innocent
daughter Maggie. The father and daughter
are very close to each other, and both have a great appreciation for European
art and culture. Maggie is engaged to Amerigo, a penniless Italian
prince who needs to marry for money. Charlotte Stant is Maggie’s charming
and independent friend- but what Maggie fails to realize is that Charlotte and Amerigo are lovers
, and had been since before Maggie ever met him.
Maggie and Amerigo eventually marry and have a son together, though Maggie still remains closer to her father than her husband. Maggie eventually decides that her father needs to find another wife and looks to Charlotte for this possibility. Though Charlotte is still carrying on with Amerigo, she finds the chance for marriage to Adam Verver quite suitable and the two eventually come together.
The golden bowl is an object Charlotte first finds in a shop, and considers purchasing the bowl as a wedding gift for Maggie and Amerigo. Though the bowl is very beautiful, the shopkeeper explains to Charlotte that the item has a hidden flaw. Charlotte does not buy the bowl, but the object recurs throughout the story as the (obvious) symbol of Maggie and Amerigo’s marriage.
Through chance, Maggie eventually discovers the bowl and inadvertantly learns the truth about Amerigo and Charlotte- whom she’d been suspecting for a while. Now with proof of the affair, Maggie confronts Amerigo and the two have it out. Amerigo, after all of this, suddenly discovers how much he truly loves his wife, especially after she is no longer ignorant of his and Charlotte’s ugly truth. Maggie realizes also that in order to be a better wife she must let go of her father a bit, and figures out a way to keep Charlotte and her father away from them permanently by sending the couple to America (where Adam Verver plans on building a museum).
I was not particuarly fond of this novel. Over the years, James greatly expanded his attention to detail in his writing and along with this he became the master of the run-on sentence. The lengthy story has no real climax, which made the task of reading it even less engaging. After having read the novel I watched the film adaptation- a Merchant Ivory production (shock!) starring Kate Beckinsale, Anjelica Huston, Nick Nolte, Jeremy Northam, and Uma Thurman. The film, released in 2001, was directed by James Ivory, who’s other credits include “Howard’s End,” “A Room With a View” and “Remains of the Day.” While cinematically gorgeous, the acting was not all that fantastic. The movie followed the book quite closely in terms of the storyline, but as I mentioned previously the story was rather dull.
This book is listed as #32 on the Modern Library’s best books of fiction. Other works by James include:
The Portrait of a Lady
The Wings of the Dove
The Turn of the Screw