Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The last of James’s completed novels, The Golden Bowl is arguably his crowning achievement, gathering together many of the major thematic concerns that dominated his entire career and weaving them into a rich tapestry of intrigue and psychological warfare. As nearly always in James, marriage and money are basic ingredients, but here these provide only the barest givens. The real force of the story derives from the subtle maneuverings, first of Charlotte Stamp and later of Maggie Verver (with some considerable assistance from her father, Adam), to secure the love of Maggie’s husband, Prince Amerigo.
On the eve of Maggie’s and Amerigo’s marriage, Charlotte Stamp, an old friend of Maggie, arrives in London to attend the ceremony. Unknown to Maggie, Charlotte was once the prince’s lover, and she enlists his help in choosing an appropriate wedding gift—the gilded crystal bowl of the title. After the wedding, Charlotte remains, at Maggie’s urging, to act as companion to Maggie’s father, the millionaire Adam, whom Maggie feels she has abandoned. Adam ultimately asks Charlotte to marry him. In the course of the two couples’ life together, Charlotte resurrects her affair with the prince. By chance, Maggie discovers that Charlotte and the prince had purchased the bowl together, surmising the truth about their past and the painful reality of their present relations.
Maggie is thus confronted with a dilemma: Either she must...
(The entire section is 577 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Maggie Verver is the daughter of a wealthy American widower who has devoted all of his life to his daughter. The Ververs live a lazy life. Their time is spent collecting items with which to decorate their own existence and to fill a museum that Mr. Verver is giving to his native city in the United States. They have few friends, and Maggie’s only confidant is Mrs. Assingham, the American-born wife of a retired British army officer. It is Mrs. Assingham who introduces the Ververs to Prince Amerigo, a handsome, quiet young Italian nobleman who strikes Maggie’s fancy. When she informs her father that she would like to marry the prince, Mr. Verver provides a handsome dowry so that the wedding might take place.
A few days before the wedding, a painful scene occurs in Mrs. Assingham’s home, where the prince and Charlotte Stant, deeply in love with each other, meet to say good-bye. They are both penniless, and marriage between them is out of the question. As a farewell lark, they spend their last afternoon together in searching for Charlotte’s wedding present for Maggie. In a tiny shop, they discover a golden bowl that Charlotte wishes to purchase as a remembrance for the prince from her. He refuses it because of a superstitious fear that a crack in a golden bowl might bring bad luck.
After the prince and Maggie are married, their life coincides with the life the Ververs have been living for years. Maggie and her father spend much of their...
(The entire section is 1051 words.)
Book 1, Chapters 1-2 Summary
Amerigo is an Italian prince who has found in London the idea of Rome that Rome itself has lost. He is marrying Maggie Verver, the daughter of an American millionaire. Adam Verver travels all over the world, looking for items to add to the collection in a museum he is supplying. Maggie tells the Prince that, like pirates, the Ververs have treasure hidden in many different places; they carry only a few choice pieces around with them. The Prince himself is a museum piece, she says, intended to be taken back to Adam Verver’s native home called “American City.” The Prince asks Maggie if she suspects him at all of being a hypocrite, meaning that he is marrying her for her money. She dismisses the thought.
The prince’s family is coming from Italy to attend the wedding. The family is descended from a “wicked pope,” which gives it a dash of evil as well as romance. Maggie’s family consists only of her father. She does not intend to invite mere acquaintances to her wedding. The Prince reflects that Mrs. Fanny Assingham, whom he had met in Rome, is responsible for his marriage to Maggie. She had liked him at once and then proceeded to make a project of him, stating that she had someone in mind who would be perfect for him. He decides that he needs to visit her, and he wonders if she has been recompensed for bringing him and Maggie together.
The prince goes to thank Mrs. Assingham for her role in bringing about his marriage to Maggie Verver. Mrs. Assingham credits the prince more than he feels he is worth. He begs her to allow him to maintain their friendship, as he is still in need of her guidance as he enters the treacherous seas of marriage. The prince compares his moral sense to that of Mrs. Assingham: hers is like an elevator in one of Mr. Verver’s office buildings while his is more like a broken, ancient staircase missing several steps. Mrs. Assingham offers her husband, Bob, to the prince as an escort to meet the prince’s family when they arrive in London. She also mentions that Charlotte Stant, a close friend of Maggie’s from America, is also coming for the wedding.
The prince hides his surprise. Mrs. Assingham is blunt about the need for him to criticize Charlotte, but the prince feels troubled that Mrs. Assingham feels the need to be judgmental about Maggie’s friend. She promises, however, to look after her, saying that she does not feel troubled about her anymore.
(The entire section is 435 words.)
Book 1, Chapters 3-4 Summary
Mrs. Assingham and the prince observe Charlotte Stant arriving. The prince inquires of Mrs. Assingham how long Charlotte is to be in London. He thinks Mrs. Assingham might think he does not like Charlotte, so he jokingly offers to take Charlotte off her hands. He and Charlotte greet each other in a tone of suspense. As they talk, the prince senses that Charlotte does not particularly like the United States, and Charlotte confesses this is true. The Prince says this is not encouraging for him because he is to go there soon with Maggie after their marriage.
The prince confides in Charlotte that he had suspected she would be married by now to some rich American; this reveals that they knew each other previously. Charlotte says she never found anyone to suit her. She declares that it is much easier for a woman to remain single now. She asks the prince if the wedding is to take place on Friday (which is an unlucky day). He tells her it is to be on Saturday at three o’clock. The prince tells her that he is to dine with Mr. Verver that evening and asks if she has any message for him. She says she will talk with Maggie soon. The prince offers to send a carriage for her, but she says she will take the omnibus, which costs only a penny. Charlotte asks the prince to help her find a wedding present for Maggie, something that cannot be bought in America. He agrees to accompany her and departs, feeling that he now knows where he stands.
That evening, Colonel Bob Assingham wonders why his wife is taking Charlotte’s arrival so hard. Charlotte came to London from Southampton, settled into a hotel for a few hours, and then relocated to a private home. Mrs. Assingham explains to the Colonel that Charlotte and the prince had previously had a romance but broke it off because neither had money enough to marry. Charlotte can no longer stay in America because she does not fit in. Mrs. Assingham believes that Charlotte has come to help Maggie understand the prince as she herself had come to know him. Mrs. Assingham does not believe Charlotte knows the Prince had any previous romantic attachment, nor has Charlotte told her, fearing that Maggie is not strong enough to take it. Colonel Assingham is confused as to his wife’s involvement in all this and wishes she would not meddle. Mrs. Assingham claims that, in a sense, these people are “hers” and would not resent her meddling. She thinks it would be best if she and her husband arranged a...
(The entire section is 445 words.)
Book 1, Chapters 5-6 Summary
As they had planned when meeting at Mrs. Assingham’s home, Charlotte Stant and the prince go shopping for Maggie’s wedding gift. Charlotte mentions the many times in Rome when the two of them had gone shopping; the prince was able to make bargains on many items Charlotte still has. The prince admits that he does not go shopping in London because he finds the experience there boring. They agree to go to shopping districts where the prince has not gone with Maggie, preferring out-of-the-way places where Maggie would not go and no one who would know either the prince or Charlotte would see them together. They have not told Maggie they were going shopping together. Charlotte confesses she has asked the Prince to accompany her on this shopping trip more to be alone with him than to have his advice on the gift. She wants to relive for one last time before the prince’s marriage the times they had together when there was still a possibility of love between them. Charlotte and the prince speak of the innocence and trust Maggie exhibits. She would not suspect anyone she loves of anything. They do not exhibit pity toward her, only decency and helpfulness.
The prince and Charlotte shop for two hours without finding anything appropriate. They wander into a small shop in the Bloomsbury district. Although the collection of items is small, the items are of find quality. They speak Italian to avoid being overheard by the shopkeeper, who fascinates Charlotte by his commanding eyes. The prince afterwards claimed that he did not notice him any more than he ever notices the “lower classes.” Charlotte proposes buying the prince a souvenir of their last time together, but he rejects the notion. He offers to buy her some item of jewelry, but she points out that she could never wear it publicly because their current shopping expedition is designed to be an expedition. The shopkeeper finally addresses them in Italian, and they realize that he has understood what they have been saying. He offers to show them one more item, a golden bowl, which is a large crystal goblet with gilded design. The prince looks at it, dismisses it, and goes outside the shop to wait. Charlotte is fascinated by it but claims there must be a flaw in it because the price (fifteen pounds) is so cheap. The shopkeeper says it does not matter if there is a flaw if it is unnoticed. Charlotte replies that it might be noticed later, after it has been purchased. She asks if crystal can...
(The entire section is 514 words.)
Book 2, Chapters 1-3 Summary
Adam Verver is residing at his home, called Fawns, on a Sunday morning while all the others of the family are at church. He has retreated to his billiard room to escape Mrs. Rance, who has accompanied the Miss Lutches, friends of Maggie’s from the American Midwest. Mr. Verver is afraid Mrs. Rance is tracking him down with marriage on her mind, although she already has a husband somewhere in America.
Mr. Verver reflects on his first visit to Europe after the death of his wife, when Maggie was ten years old. He had come to Europe on his honeymoon and begun collecting antiques for his wife. After her death, Verver continued to collect but this time for the purposes of a museum. He wonders why he started out as a collector after his wife’s death, having begun the enterprise in Italy. He is now planning on how to best display his collections. He decides he will not settle for a small display but for an exhibition on a large scale.
It is now more than a year since Maggie’s marriage to the Prince, and the couple has a young son, who is referred to as “the Principino.” On this particular Sunday, they have gone to the nearest Roman Catholic Church for morning Mass, and Mrs. Rance and the Miss Lutches have walked to the small Anglican church that is situated on the property of Fawns. Maggie is Catholic, following the faith of her mother, who was devout in her practice of the religion. Mr. Verver enjoys being alone; he does not have any particular faith of his own.
When the worshippers return, Mr. Verver and Maggie spend the afternoon together away from the others. The Prince is not invited to join them, having failed to displace the father in the heart of the daughter. Rather than growing apart after Maggie’s marriage, Mr. Verver and his daughter are drawn even closer, especially with the arrival of a grandchild who serves as a bond between father and daughter more than between husband and wife. The presence of Mrs. Rance has given rise to the possibility of Mr. Verver’s remarrying; he is still relatively young. Both Maggie and Mr. Verver agree that, though Mrs. Rance is most likely not a good prospect (despite her efforts), there will be others who could become the next Mrs. Verver.
(The entire section is 399 words.)
Book 2, Chapters 4-5 Summary
Although Mr. Verver speaks of the possibility of other ladies with marriage on their mind, he sees it as a fate to be avoided rather than welcomed. He does not believe he will ever remarry, but Maggie thinks the time is right because she has left him alone by her marriage to the Prince, even though she lives next door to her father. In the past, women have avoided Mr. Verver after seeing how close a relationship he had with his daughter following his wife’s death. It would be unthinkable to “break up” this family by introducing another woman into the mix.
Mrs. Rance is unacceptable, both by her present married state and by her personality. Mrs. Assingham has taken an interested in matchmaking, but it is only for her own entertainment instead of Mr. Verver’s happiness. Maggie suggests that her friend Charlotte Stant might be a possibility. Mr. Verver is nonplussed because he has seen her for so long as his daughter’s friend. Maggie tells him that Charlotte wants to be married but has failed to find anyone, which makes her a somewhat pathetic figure. She tells her father it would be a good idea for him to write to Charlotte and invite her for a visit. This would be more effective than if Maggie were to invite her. She gradually wins Mr. Verver over to the idea.
When Charlotte arrives at Fawns, Mrs. Rance and the Miss Lutches take their leave. Mrs. Assingham and her husband, the Colonel, also leave but return after a short time. Mrs. Assingham clearly sees that Charlotte is a prospective mate for Mr. Verver and encourages it. She says that Charlotte quickly saw what the situation was concerning Mr. Verver’s loneliness following Maggie’s marriage.
Over the weeks, Mr. Verver becomes very attached to Charlotte; he enjoys their talks and their strolls around the grounds. When the Prince and Maggie leave to go abroad for a month, the two of them are left in relative seclusion at Fawns. Their conversations become more personal and self-revelatory. Soon Mr. Verver decides he must propose marriage to Charlotte. It is becoming less a matter of seeking relief from his solitude after being abandoned by his daughter and more of a true affection for Charlotte as a woman. He decides that a proposal of marriage will make him happy, and Maggie will feel satisfied that she has had some measure of influence in easing her father’s loneliness.
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Book 2, Chapters 6-7 Summary
Adam Verver takes Charlotte Stant to the seaside resort town of Brighton. There they meet Mr. Gutermann-Seuss, a gentleman who has longed to meet the famous antiques collector. Mr. Gutermann-Seuss is delighted with Charlotte, though he assumes she is Mrs. Verver because she and Mr. Verver are evidently a couple.
On one of their daily walks, Mr. Verver and Charlotte sit on a bench overlooking the town. Mr. Verver tells her that he hopes she could regard him with any satisfaction as a husband. He realizes that he is older than she is and that she has long regarded him as the father of her friend. Charlotte disagrees, saying it is she who seems old. Charlotte confesses that his proposal appeals to her mainly because she wants to be married and thus avoid being a stereotypical “English old maid.” Mr. Verver is taken aback, unsure of her meaning. He thinks she is turning him down because, though she wants to be married, she does not want to be married to him. She corrects him, saying that she fears that she is unable to fulfill his expectations because she is poor. She also wonders whether, having given his daughter in marriage, he now wants another “daughter.” Mr. Verver laments that a man cannot be anything but a father. He tells Charlotte that Maggie would be the first to welcome her into the family. She is reluctant to believe this, so he suggests they go to Paris and ask her in person. They agree to abide by whatever decision Maggie makes concerning their marrying.
Charlotte and Mr. Verver return to Fawns, where Mr. Verver writes to Maggie of his proposal of marriage to Charlotte. When they arrive in Paris, Mr. Verver receives a telegram from Maggie (now in Rome) giving her approval and stating that they are on their way to Paris to congratulate them. Charlotte worries that the Prince and Maggie have cut their trip short; she is sure the Prince would not like this. Mr. Verver tries to convince her that this is a sign of the Prince and Maggie’s mutual agreement. Charlotte (and silently Mr. Verver) is disturbed that she has not personally heard from Maggie. It is not long, however, until she receives a telegram. However, it is not from Charlotte but from the Prince. Mr. Verver can see she is bothered by it, but he will not read it when she offers it to him. She crumples the telegram and puts it in the pocket of her coat.
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Book 3, Chapters 1-2 Summary
Two years after her marriage to Adam Verver, Charlotte attends a society event that has drawn the best of London society. She encounters Mrs. Assingham, who questions her about her presence with the Prince instead of Mr. Verver. Charlotte explains that Mr. Verver did not feel like coming, but he sent Charlotte and Maggie and the Prince without him. Maggie soon felt that she ought to go back and be with her father, leaving her husband as companion for her step-mother.
Mrs. Assingham is shocked at this arrangement and asks Charlotte if it would not have been more appropriate for her, as his wife, to be with the ill Mr. Verver. Charlotte explains that Maggie has made great attempts to be with her father as much as possible, so she is off to the side. She tells Mrs. Assingham that Mr. Verver has the greatest possible affection for his daughter and she, as his wife, has been unsuccessful at drawing an even greater affection for herself. Mrs. Assingham is uncomfortable with the implications of this, especially because Charlotte professes that it is entirely reasonable for her to spend time with the equally deserted Prince, particularly because they have had a previous relationship—although this is what causes Mrs. Assingham to have some fear as to the implications of their presence there that evening. Charlotte says she fears Mrs. Assingham will leave her just at the moment when she is feeling deserted by everyone. The Prince himself comes, with the Ambassador, to tell Charlotte that “the greatest possible Personage” has requested to see her upstairs in a private audience.
When Charlotte leaves, Mrs. Assingham questions the Prince as to who requested the audience with Charlotte, thinking that it was inappropriately the Prince. Amerigo, however, assures her that it was the Ambassador. He says Mr. Verver is more like Charlotte’s father-in-law than her husband; both Amerigo and Charlotte were “acquired” to focus on Maggie. Mrs. Assingham is concerned that both the Prince and Charlotte have in effect let their respective spouses free and are spending time together, regardless of the social consequences. The Prince humorously reflects that, previous to his own wedding, he and Mrs. Assingham had thought about plotting to find Charlotte a husband. Mrs. Assingham decides she has had enough of this and wants to go home. The Prince begs her not to desert him just as Charlotte did, but Mrs. Assingham continues to walk away.
(The entire section is 407 words.)
Book 3, Chapters 3-4 Summary
Colonel and Mrs. Assingham return home following the party, riding in a hired carriage. They discuss Charlotte and the Prince’s public appearance as a couple without their respective spouses. Mrs. Assingham feels that their strong defense of themselves supports her idea that there is something inappropriate occurring between the two. The Colonel points out that the Prince, whose wife is more devoted to her father than she is to her husband, is left out in the cold with nothing really to do. Mrs. Assingham admits that, as long as she has known him, the Prince has always acted admirably. The Colonel asks if she means that the Prince has earned the right to “kick up his heels.” His wife replies that it isn’t a question of their behaving well apart but of how they behave together. They discuss which one, Charlotte or the Prince, is to be held responsible for the impending scandal. Mrs. Assingham believes it is more due to Charlotte’s behavior than the Prince’s. The Colonel advises her to leave the situation alone. Mrs. Assingham objects that they would be implicitly encouraging the situation, but the Colonel insists that she mind her own business. The Prince’s and Charlotte’s behaviors—and consequences—are their own responsibility and not anyone else’s.
Charlotte and the Prince feel that they now have an “extraordinary freedom.” Charlotte presses the idea of this freedom, though the Prince has also felt it for some time. The inevitability of the relationship and the direction in which it is going are apparent to Charlotte. This freedom was felt when Charlotte returned from an extended stay in America, where Mr. Verver was arranging his newly purchased antiques in his museum. The Prince wonders if they did everything they could have done to avoid this outcome when he received the telegram announcing Charlotte’s marriage and responded with his own, which telegram Charlotte still keeps in a secret place. They had the attitude that what will happen will happen, and there was nothing they could do to stop it.
Charlotte arrives to visit, and the Prince wonders if she will leave when she learns Maggie is not present. She does not. She joins him in the parlor, where Charlotte dries her feet, having come through the rain. She tells the Prince that she did not use her own carriage because of the weather, which makes her feel as she used to—that she could do anything she liked.
(The entire section is 416 words.)
Book 3, Chapters 5-6 Summary
When Charlotte says she is acting as she used to do by doing whatever she liked, the Prince admits he does not have her courage. She replies that it is not so much her courage as her imagination and intelligence. He asks her where she has been all day. She replies that she had gone to the museum and the art gallery and would have gone to the zoo if it had not been so wet. Maggie has been with her father and her baby all day. Leaving the child with his grandfather, Maggie ran some errands for Mr. Verver, taking Charlotte’s carriage, which accounts for Charlotte’s walking in the rain and taking a cab.
The Prince asks her what she will say when asked where she has been all day. Charlotte says she will frankly tell them that she has been with the Prince, keeping him company in his solitude. Maggie and her father are content spending their time together, in effect abandoning their spouses to their own devices. Charlotte says she and the Prince must plot what they will plan to say so their stories will be in agreement should they be called into question. The Prince tells her Mrs. Assingham is on their side and would do anything for them. They agree that their relationship is “sacred,” and they seal it with a passionate kiss.
Charlotte and the Prince decide that Mrs. Assingham no longer matters because they have taken over their relationship themselves. The Prince keeps postponing a visit to Mrs. Assingham that he promised her at the party at the Foreign Office. Mrs. Assingham has turned her attention to Maggie, unhappy about the “desertion” of Charlotte.
Charlotte has taken charge of the social relations of the family because Maggie’s attention is focused on taking care of her father. Charlotte has become involved in London society more than she had thought she would, especially after her return from America. She feels that this is part of the wonderful world she has acquired through her marriage to Adam Verver. At social engagements, the Prince tries hard to avoid Charlotte’s glance, fearing detection, but Charlotte looks at him just as she looks at her husband. The Assinghams and the Ververs are at the foot of the social ladder, but the Prince gives them an entrance to higher society.
(The entire section is 394 words.)
Book 3, Chapters 7-8 Summary
Charlotte and the Prince attend a concert with the Assinghams, and the couples discuss an approaching event at Matcham over the Easter holidays. They all expect that neither Maggie nor Mr. Verver will be attending the occasion. Mrs. Assingham asks if Charlotte and the Prince will go if their spouses do not, and the young people insist that they will still be at Matcham. The Prince has become attached to, but not passionate about, the English social scene and generally makes a dominant presence at these occasions. He enjoys it, but he is never quite satisfied with the results. The Prince tells Mrs. Assingham that he understands that his presence or absence at Matcham makes a difference as to whether the Assinghams will feel comfortable going (because the Assinghams are only marginally included in this level of society).
In the end, the four of them do go to Matcham to enjoy the rigorous English country life of riding, hunting, and dancing. The other guests think it peculiar that the Prince and his step-mother-in-law are there without their spouses, but the couple manages to keep up the appearance of propriety. Maggie, who has no imagination, never questions the frequency of the times in which her husband and her father’s wife attend public occasions as a couple. The intimacy between Charlotte and the Prince Amerigo continues to grow.
As the Easter holiday comes to an end and the guests prepare to return home, the Assinghams, the Prince, and Charlotte discuss their travelling arrangements. Charlotte and Amerigo discuss that, because Mrs. Assingham arranged Maggie’s marriage and has implied acceptance of the relationship between Charlotte and the Prince, they are relatively safe from being betrayed by the older woman. Bringing them down would put an end to her own social reputation as well.
Mrs. Assingham suggests that the four of them travel back to London in the same railroad compartment. Amerigo, however, sees this as unwise. Charlotte announces that she will remain behind to have lunch with the Matcham hostess, and the Prince will stay to provide her with a safe escort home. Mrs. Assingham agrees and promises to go back to London and immediately report this plan to Maggie and Mr. Verver, giving them a sense of propriety and innocence. Mrs. Assingham wishes them a pleasant day, and Amerigo laughingly tells her that they shall do their best.
(The entire section is 397 words.)
Book 3, Chapters 9-10 Summary
Lady Castledean, the hostess at Matcham, had invited Charlotte to stay for luncheon as an excuse and a cover for her desire to have a young man, Mr. Blint, stay while her husband was away. Charlotte was to serve merely a message to the other guests that Lady Castledean would not be alone with the young man.
The Prince, standing on the balcony and looking over the English countryside, thinks of going to Gloucester to visit the cathedrals and tombs. Charlotte arrives and reveals Lady Castledean’s intentions, that their hostess does not really want them to stay. Charlotte reminds the Prince of the golden bowl she had wanted to buy for Maggie for a wedding present and the Prince’s objection to it because it had an indiscernible crack. The crack remains, he says, in their marriages, of which the bowl is a symbol. Charlotte tells him that she risks the cracks and wonders what happened to the bowl and the “swindling Jew” who wanted her to buy it. The Prince speculates that he has kept the bowl for Charlotte, sure that she would one day return for it. Charlotte proposes that they leave at once, before luncheon, and take the train to Gloucester. They are assured of having three or four hours alone before being compelled to return to London and their spouses.
Mrs. Assingham returns to London and sends the Colonel off to luncheon at his club. Later, she tells her husband that she believes there is nothing going on between Charlotte and the Prince. The Colonel is confused because his wife had previously felt sure there was a clandestine affair between the two. He asks if they told her, but she dismisses this as absurd—as well as being unreliable if it were true. She decides that she does not want to be responsible in any way for a relationship between Charlotte and Amerigo. She is worried that, whatever her actions, she might be seen as abetting them or protecting them. She is unsure what Maggie thinks, though she sees Maggie as having some responsibility in driving them together because she maintains a bedroom at the home of her father as well as a second nursery for her infant son. Mrs. Assingham confesses that her own friendship with Maggie is not what it used to be. She suspects that Charlotte and the Prince may have not stayed at Matcham after all but could have gone on to a secret location. The Colonel remains confused about the whole situation and his wife’s involvement with it.
(The entire section is 429 words.)
Book 3, Chapter 11 Summary
Mrs. Assingham vacillates between believing Charlotte and the Prince are currently having an affair and thinking they are merely proceeding in that direction. However, she can tell by recent expressions on Maggie’s face that the Princess believes something is going on. She is beginning to doubt that friendship and family connections are strong enough against temptations. The Colonel feels that Maggie will place the blame on Charlotte rather than on her husband. Mrs. Assingham disagrees, saying Maggie will most likely only blame herself. Mrs. Assingham feels that herself is most to blame, though Maggie will not blame her. She reminds the Colonel of the night on the way home from the party at the Foreign Office, when they discussed what they should do about the budding romance between Charlotte and the Prince. The Colonel had suggested that they let them figure it out for themselves, and now they have. The Colonel feels pity for Maggie; he sees her as a victim. But Mrs. Assingham thinks Maggie will find a way to live through it. She will accept that she has never really had the Prince’s love. The Colonel thinks she will decide to live for the benefit of her child, but Mrs. Assingham dismisses this idea completely, stating that Maggie will decide to live for the benefit of her father.
Fanny Assingham blames herself for the illicit relationship between Charlotte and Amerigo. It was she who pushed Charlotte in the Prince’s direction originally because he had the habit of attracting the most unsuitable women. She viewed Maggie as likely to accept Charlotte as a friend. Charlotte, on her part, “plays the forms” for the Prince in order to make everyone happy. Fanny is not sure Amerigo really cares for Charlotte; she tells the Colonel that no man truly cares for a woman who gives herself as freely as Charlotte has. Fanny believes that initially both Amerigo and Charlotte had been innocent until she became involved, though she hints that it was Maggie who started “the vicious circle.” Maggie’s primary intent is to save her father, and she may have seen the Prince’s interest in Charlotte as a way by which her father could be saved from Charlotte’s unfaithful nature. This view confuses the Colonel. In the meantime, Mr. Verver suspects nothing, even after having lived with Charlotte for two years. Fanny imagines the Assinghams can find a way to save Maggie, who will die before she lets her father suffer.
(The entire section is 416 words.)
Book 4, Chapters 1-2 Summary
Maggie waits at her home (not her father’s, for once) for Amerigo’s return from his trip with Charlotte. She is nervous of her appearance, always having felt inferior to Charlotte in terms of personal style and fashion. She waits patiently, trying not to pace, but she is anxious for her husband to return, unconsciously fearing his time spent alone with Charlotte. She reflects that she has always loved her husband, especially from the time he proposed to her in Rome, but she has a more conscious need of him now. She has seldom been home; she has spent much of her time at her father’s. She felt that, rather than taking her attention away from her new husband, she was providing her husband with a new friend in her father. It seems, however, that both her husband and her step-mother have felt marginalized by her attentions to her father, which she had not intended. It is for this reason that she anxiously waits for Amerigo’s return.
When he arrives, he briefly describes his day and says that he is very tired and must bathe and dress for dinner at ten o’clock. She offers to help him get ready, but he gently refuses. This bothers her—both his refusal and her being an annoyance in slowing him down in his preparations.
While her husband dresses for dinner, Maggie feels once again that she is alone. The feeling comes from more than just being in a room by herself. She feels that she has been isolated and cut off from both her husband and her friend Charlotte. She imagines a scene in which Amerigo and Charlotte, along with the Principino, are riding in the family carriage while she and her father stand on the roadside and wave as they go by. She blames herself for this isolation because she has paid so much attention to her father rather than to her husband. She is jealous of Charlotte, not just for her style but for her ease of personality.
At dinner, Maggie asks her husband for details about his trip with Charlotte, in this way to be somewhat included in their lives. She decides she must have a plan to stop being marginalized in the life of her husband, who evidently finds more enjoyable companionship with his step-mother-in-law than with his wife. The four people have been “arranged,” with Amerigo and Charlotte arranged together and Maggie and Mr. Verver arranged apart. Maggie must find some way to change this arrangement.
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Book 4, Chapters 3-4 Summary
It had been discussed some time before that Maggie and Amerigo, along with the Ververs, might take a trip to Spain during the summer months. Maggie thinks this might play into her plan to draw her husband closer to herself and away from Charlotte. She suggests to Amerigo that, instead of all four of them going to Spain, he might take Mr. Verver without the women. She has been trying to spend less time with her father, seeing that her husband feels at loose ends when she is gone. Amerigo is unsure of this plan, and he feels that his father-in-law will not take to the suggestion. Maggie suggests that he should be the one to approach Mr. Verver with the prospect of the trip. Amerigo resists, so Maggie then proposes that they have Charlotte suggest the trip and encourage her husband to go off with his son-in-law, leaving the two women behind. Amerigo agrees that this might work better. Maggie confesses that she feels she has been a source of unhappiness in their family, but Amerigo assures her that her father is never so happy as when she is with him. It would not be wise to cut too loose from the Ververs. Amerigo agrees to go if Charlotte will be involved in convincing Mr. Verver to go on the trip with Amerigo.
Over the next several days, Maggie’s uneasiness does not subside. She realizes that it was on the way back from dinner at Eaton Square with Lady Castledean that her fears began to materialize. There has been a loss of balance between the two couples, as Maggie describes it to herself. It was Mrs. Assingham who succeeded in drawing Maggie out of herself in such a way that she noticed her husband’s straying affections. She now understands what Amerigo had meant in his allusion to using Charlotte to provide harmony and prosperity in the family. Charlotte has been everywhere Amerigo has been, whether Maggie or Mr. Verver were there or not. As Mr. Verver declines so many social occasions, Charlotte has been seen more with her step-son-in-law than with her husband.
One evening, Maggie proposes to her father that the two of them go out for a walk in nearby Regent’s Park, where Charlotte and Amerigo had taken the Principino to the zoo. Once more affectionate with her father, the two of them go to Regent’s Park.
(The entire section is 404 words.)
Book 4, Chapters 5-6 Summary
Maggie and her father return from their walk in Regent’s Park to find that Charlotte and Amerigo have already come home. The father and daughter discuss the plan for Amerigo and Mr. Verver to go to Spain. Mr. Verver says Amerigo will have to suggest the plan; he will not. They discuss the ability of the two couples to get along well together. Mr. Verver asks Maggie about the possibility of a return to their country home, Fawns, for the summer. Maggie states that she believes she is up to it, although she felt previously that this was too much proximity. Rather than going just the four of them, they talk about the possibility of asking Lady Castledean. Maggie confesses that she does not like Lady Castledean, but she enjoys watching her in action. Maggie also suggests asking the Assinghams because Fanny has been so instrumental in their lives previously. Mr. Verver states that he is sure the Assinghams would appreciate being included because their social life can sometimes be a bit limited. He worries that the four of them are selfish in their desire to be together. They are unselfish with each other, but their exclusion from other society has a strong flavor of self-centeredness that needs to be overcome. Therefore, it is a good idea if they break through this and have a large group of guests for an extended visit at Fawns.
Maggie turns to Fanny Assingham for help, though she senses that for some reason Fanny acts as though she is afraid of Maggie. Amerigo is obviously not going to ask Mr. Verver to go with him to Spain, so Maggie makes plans for the summer gathering at Fawns. When Fanny visits her, Maggie breaks down and begs Fanny to tell her what is going on between Amerigo and Charlotte. At this outburst, Fanny turns pale and professes not to know what Maggie is talking about. Fanny asks Maggie if she is jealous of Charlotte. Maggie says she is not jealous on account of her father—but she may be jealous on account of her husband. She says she is sure that both her husband and her step-mother are aware that Maggie has taken more notice of the times they spend together. Maggie says she can bear anything for love—not just love of her husband or of her father, but for love itself. Fanny assures her that she has never considered that there is anything inappropriate going on between Charlotte and Amerigo. Maggie accepts this with relief.
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Book 4, Chapters 7-8 Summary
The Assinghams accept the invitation to pay an extended visit at Fawns beginning in mid-July. Fanny warns the Colonel that they will have to lie to Maggie, as she did when she told Maggie she did not believe there was anything going on between Charlotte and Amerigo. They will also have to lie to the others about believing in everyone’s best intentions. The Colonel is astonished that his wife sees lying to Maggie as being loyal to her. Fanny replies that she is loyal to Maggie in helping her with her father, which necessitates lying about Charlotte’s involvement with Amerigo. If Fanny gives the impression that she is sticking close to Maggie, Maggie in return will stick close to her. It is true that Maggie may inform her father that Fanny knew about Charlotte’s previous relationship with Amerigo, but she doubts she will for her father’s sake. It was for Maggie’s sake to begin with that Fanny obtained a wife for her father—to get Charlotte out of the way so Maggie could establish her marriage with Amerigo. Fanny is perfectly fine with Charlotte as Amerigo’s mistress, and she fully believes that both Maggie and her father will not hold her responsible for the state of affairs as they now stand. When the Colonel is amazed that Fanny believes Maggie will forgive her for her lie, Fanny points out that Maggie herself is lying in admitting Fanny’s statement as truth. The Colonel asks what his role is to be in all this, and Fanny tells him that he needs to do nothing. Maggie knows what the situation is but will not let anyone else know that she does.
Amerigo and Maggie stay in London for a week before joining the others at Fawns. Once there, Maggie cannot bring herself to manipulate her husband into feeling guilty. Her only solace is that the crowd of people present prevents Amerigo and Charlotte from being together without exposing themselves to the scandal.
The Assinghams clearly enjoy themselves; they dine as if they never had enough to eat at home. The tension, however, is in the air; it is visible especially to Fanny. She is not sure if she can pull off her plan to keep everyone in the dark. It is obvious that too many people know the truth about Charlotte and Amerigo.
(The entire section is 397 words.)
Book 4, Chapters 9-10 Summary
Maggie spends an hour at the Museum under Mr. Crichton’s protection. When she returns home, she decides to confront Fanny with her knowledge concerning Charlotte and her husband. She had wanted to get something for her father for his birthday. She visits the shop where Charlotte and Amerigo had seen the golden bowl. Maggie buys the bowl and brings it home. Later the shopkeeper tells her that Charlotte and Amerigo had been to his shop a few days before her wedding and noticed the bowl. Maggie places it conspicuously on the mantelpiece for Amerigo to discover.
Maggie points the bowl out to Fanny and tells her about it. She sees it as in indication that, although she had known that her husband and her step-mother had known each other previously, she has now discovered that their relationship had not ended but continued past Maggie’s engagement. Fanny confesses that she had known that they had had a previous relationship, but she claims she did not know that it had been continued. Maggie berates Amerigo’s unfaithfulness, though Fanny confesses that she herself had said nothing. Maggie dismisses this because Fanny had not pretended anything, as Amerigo had done. Maggie points out the flaw in the bowl, recognizing it as symbolic both of the flawed marriage she has with Amerigo and of her fractured friendship with Charlotte. It is for her father only that she is concerned now. Fanny urges Maggie to leave both Charlotte and Amerigo alone. She tells Maggie that Amerigo has never been half so interested in her as he is at the moment. Fanny picks up the bowl and smashes it on the floor just as Amerigo enters, having overheard the last part of their conversation. Fanny leaves, leaving Maggie to confront her husband alone.
Maggie explains that Fanny, on learning of the flaw in the bowl, told her the only thing to do with it was to smash it, which she did before Maggie could stop her. Maggie told Amerigo that she learned the full story of the golden bowl when the shopkeeper came to the house that morning to confess that he overcharged her for the bowl because of the flaw. He saw pictures on the mantelpiece and told Maggie of Charlotte and Amerigo’s visit to the shop. Amerigo confesses that they had been there, but it was to buy a wedding present for Maggie. When Maggie asks what wedding present he and Charlotte had ended up buying, Amerigo cannot remember buying anything. Amerigo asks Charlotte what she intends to do. She tells...
(The entire section is 439 words.)
Book 5, Chapters 1-3 Summary
After all the guests arrive at Fawns, Maggie experiences a sense of freedom, almost as if she were being released from a murky, enclosed space. Although no other exchange has occurred between her and her husband, she feels that he has kept his distance from Charlotte, as he has kept his distance from her. She explains this to Fanny Assingham, who is befuddled as to her friend’s assurance that Amerigo has not told Charlotte that Maggie knows about their affair.
When Maggie had explained to Amerigo about her purchase of the golden bowl, she told her husband that she felt the Jewish shopkeeper tried to return part of the purchase money because he liked her. When mentioning that he had known the two people (Charlotte and Amerigo) in the photographs, the shopkeeper told Maggie that he remembered them only because he had a major purchase a short time after their visit to his shop, not because he found them worthy of his attention. It was Maggie alone who touched his heart.
The Castledeans leave Fawns just as Mrs. Rance and the Miss Lutes return to the area. Maggie feels that Charlotte is waiting for an opportunity to confront Maggie with her affair with Amerigo. After dinner one evening, Maggie leaves the group to stand alone on the balcony. She feels that she is on the outside, observing (and judging) those within. Soon Charlotte joins her. They stop to watch Mr. Verver, and they inwardly question whose side he is on. Then they retreat to the other side of the house. Charlotte confronts Maggie, asking her if she has done anything to upset Maggie, since she has felt for some time that Maggie is keeping her distance from her. Maggie quietly states that she has nothing against Charlotte. Charlotte asks Maggie for a kiss as a sign of complete peace between them. Maggie passively agrees just as the others come out to join them.
A few days later, Maggie and Mr. Verver walk together to discuss their current situation. Mr. Verver asks his daughter if she is stronger in dealing with Mrs. Ranch and the Miss Lutches than she was previously. Maggie states that she is—she is stronger in many areas. She apologizes to her father for making him the victim of her selfishness. Mr. Verver denies this. He says that perhaps to prove the point, he and Charlotte may return to America. He and Maggie agree that they trust each other more than anyone else; they intend this to include their respective spouses. They continue to be an...
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Book 5, Chapters 4-5 Summary
Maggie feels that both she and Charlotte have been helped by the guests walking in on their seeming embrace. The others at Fawns assume that the two women had a quarrel that has caused a certain tension in the country home but that they have now patched up their differences and are friends again. Maggie is amazed at this misunderstanding, but she lets it go, seeing it as beneficial to her own plans for restoring her marriage. She views Charlotte as a caged animal that has broken free and is roaming at large. Now, Charlotte is playing the perfect hostess to the incoming guests and visitors. Her sense of duty—brought on by Amerigo’s keeping his distance from her even to the point of absenting himself from Fawns frequently—breaks Maggie’s heart. She feels sorry for the isolation that Charlotte now finds herself inhabiting. When Amerigo is at Fawns, he wanders the galleries, lost in his thoughts. Maggie views him as wishing for isolation, wearied by the constant strain of being the dutiful husband. They hear a piercing cry from Charlotte, as of a wounded animal. Amerigo turns away as if he does not hear it.
One Sunday, the only people present at Fawns are the Ververs, the Assinghams, and Amerigo and Maggie (along with Father Mitchell, who is tending the local church for a few weeks). Fanny Assingham asks Maggie if she would rather that they leave, though she would like to stay and be a help to Maggie. Maggie encourages her to stay.
Charlotte isolates herself from the others. She goes for a walk in the garden even though it is the hottest part of an August afternoon. She has taken with her a book Maggie has recommended, but it is the second volume of a three-volume set. Maggie uses this as an excuse to talk to her privately. She takes the first volume to her, and Charlotte invites her to stay and talk. Charlotte tells Maggie that she is tired of the life she is living at Fawns. She announces to Maggie that she and Mr. Verver are leaving for America immediately, as soon as they can gather their things. Maggie asks her if she is indeed taking her father from her. Charlotte explains that she wants to be alone with the man she married. She believes he is worth the trouble and asks Maggie if she does not think so as well. Maggie agrees that he is worth the trouble. Charlotte tells Maggie that her step-daughter loathed her marriage to her father. She confronts Maggie, asking if she has been working against her. Maggie asks if...
(The entire section is 454 words.)
Book 6, Chapters 1-3 Summary
Charlotte and Mr. Verver leave Fawns, leaving Maggie and Amerigo to live there alone. Maggie tells Amerigo that she is willing to go anywhere he wants, even abroad to visit some of the places he has loved so well. Instead, he insists on staying in England, but he wanders around, clearly bored. Fanny Assingham asks Maggie if she is worried that Charlotte will still be able to “get at” him if he is still there. Maggie replies that Charlotte will be able to get at him no matter where he is. Fanny asks what she plans to do with her evenings. Maggie says they will begin to have visitors again once it is known that they are alone.
Maggie feels that she and her father who are lost, since Charlotte and Amerigo got what they wanted. Fanny asks if Mr. Verver knows how far Charlotte and Amerigo had gone, but Maggie says that even she has no idea how far they went. She is sure that Charlotte does not know how much Mr. Verver knows, which is what holds her to her husband. Maggie does not know what is holding Amerigo to her.
A telegram arrives from Charlotte, asking if the four of them could get together for luncheon. Maggie shows it to Amerigo, and both see it as one last time together before the Ververs leave for America. Amerigo does not understand why Charlotte does not want to have a formal dinner, but Maggie says they are being brushed off as surely as the Assinghams already have been. It may be that Mr. Verver will want to go off for a last father/daughter dinner, leaving Charlotte with Amerigo. Amerigo wishes that Charlotte had understood Maggie better, but Maggie states that she is the one who deceived her step-mother by holding her at a distance. Amerigo tells her that Charlotte is stupid because she does not know that Maggie knows about her relationship with Amerigo. He asks Maggie to do one last thing, but he refuses to tell her what it is until after Charlotte and Mr. Verver leave for America.
When Mr. Verver and Charlotte arrive, the atmosphere is strained. Mr. Verver and Maggie talk privately, but there is too much that must be left unsaid for them to say much. When the Ververs leave, Amerigo takes the Principino upstairs while Maggie prepares herself for what will happen when he returns. When he returns, Maggie realizes that Charlotte has completely left their lives. Amerigo assures Maggie that he sees only her.
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