The Golden Bowl Essay - Critical Essays

Henry James

Critical Evaluation

With The Golden Bowl, as well as with The Wings of the Dove (1902) and The Ambassadors (1903), Henry James definitively established his reputation. In these novels, James’s already complex style reaches new levels of sophistication. Increasingly, the writing becomes more intricate and convoluted and it tends toward increasingly subtle levels of analysis of character and event. Gradually the “center of consciousness” in the mind of a character, which had been essential to James’s earlier works, gives way to an omniscient narrative point of view that is James’s own. Though it hardly appears so to the eye, James’s style of this period is essentially oral—he had developed the habit of dictating his material to a secretary—and reflects his characteristically ponderous manner of speech. James’s language and technique in these late novels seems endlessly to circle or enfold a subject or an idea without ever touching it directly.

With The Golden Bowl, James continues the “international theme” of Americans in Europe that had characterized his work from the beginning. Adam Verver, in particular, can be seen as an avatar of the American Adam, who recurs in James’s fiction, in search of European culture, which he then takes back to his culturally barren homeland. Prince Amerigo, linked through his name to the historic connection between America and Europe, might be seen as dramatizing a new dependence of the Old World upon the New. However, The Golden Bowl differs from the kind of international novel represented by such works as The American (1876-1877), Daisy Miller (1878), or The Ambassadors by being ultimately concerned more with individuals than with cultures. Though the Ververs begin in America and Adam returns there at the novel’s end, neither his experience nor that of Maggie or Charlotte is essentially contingent upon the sort of conflict of cultural values that is at the heart of James’s international novels and stories. The problems of love and marriage at the heart of The Golden Bowl are universal; neither their nature nor their solution depends upon an American perspective.


(The entire section is 899 words.)