Obviously, I am no fan of Henry James, but I do believe I enter into each novel with hope and an open mind. This being the third James on the Modern Library list, I hoped for the best and while it was a tad easier to read than The Wings of the Dove and The Ambassadors, it was not much so.
What worked were the personal tidbits James feeds the reader allowing for a very intimate understanding of the characters. He did this so well in fact, that characters I felt ambivalent toward, I began to dislike as I learned more about them.
What did not work was the buildup to two major events with an eye for the tiniest of detail that followed with only the aftermath. For instance, the Prince’s wedding is being planned with much drama surrounding it and we suddenly find him married with a child. Mr. Verver’s wedding to his daughter’s acquaintance takes a similar turn where there is a proposal and suddenly they are married and quite setteled in.
Prince Amerigo is one of the characters I came to dislike. At first he appears to be a charming and handsome Italian prince who has fallen on hard financial times. He later shows his judgmental side which along with his infidelity made it easy to lose sympathy for him.
Mr. Verver seems to epitomize the fat greedy American accumulating objects of wealth and so absorbed with his daughter that he fails to see anything going on around him.
The daughter of Mr. Verver, Maggie becomes the Princess after marrying Amerigo. She seems to be the only character with character. She is very thoughtful and appears somewhat sheltered. When she realizes she has been betrayed, she does not lash out, but rather moves in for closer observation and says much with so few words.
Charlotte Stant is most certainly the she wolf in sheep’s clothing. She plays the poor, yet worldly American to the hilt and even as her deceit unravels, she continues the charade as though her own performance has confused her with the truth. The more I got to know her, the less I liked her.
Were I to meet with Mr. James, I would try to discuss his later works as they do seem to show improvements.
My rating for The Golden Bowl is a 6 out of 10.
To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
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