Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

"Europe" is a dark comic story by Henry James that was published in 1899. In the story, three spinsters live with their very elderly mother, dreaming of a time when they might go visit Europe. Their widowed mother, Mrs. Rimmle, went to Europe once, with their father, and they have the proof (pictures and letters) on the walls of their New England home. There was a time, just after the death of their father thirty years ago, when all four of them almost went to Europe, but Mrs. Rimmle fell ill at the last minute. Now the daughters—Becky, Jane, and Maria Rimmle—speak of Europe in a legendary fashion, as a dream that could some day be fulfilled, if only one of them could summon up the nerve to sever ties with their domineering mother and simply leave.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Europe Study Guide

Subscribe Now

"Europe" unfolds like a Japanese ghost story, a spooky kaidan of psychological horror. James peppers his story with ominous details from the start. The narrator is a man who has occasion to visit the household of the four women, called Brookbridge, while he is in nearby Boston, settling affairs with his sister-in-law after his brother’s death. He describes their home as belonging in "another world"; it "enshrines" the family. The unnamed narrator at first enjoys the "air of Puritanism reclaimed and refined" in the household and the delicate, ancient, and earnest nature of the women's personalities.

Europe hovers like a specter over the family. Mrs. Rimmle and her husband’s tour of Europe, readers learn, was apparently not far removed from the time of the battle of Waterloo, in 1815. The narrator assesses Mrs. Rimmle as having “reached the limit”—she is ancient. Later, he wonders if it is true that she is really 110 years old. Her daughters are also old, and none of them has ever married. Becky is short, stout, and serious; Jane is pretty and rebellious; Maria is red in the face all the time. The daughters all constantly attend to Mrs. Rimmle, who sits in her chair in the sunny parlor room wearing a head cap and a "gay new 'front' that [looks] like rusty brown plush."

The narrator returns to visit the Rimmle home multiple times over the years. The actual time period of the story is uncertain, but there is a sense that time passes differently in the Rimmle home than it does in the outside world. Each time he returns, the narrator is shocked by how much older each of the women looks, as though they are all aging unnaturally together. And, during each visit, the three daughters become increasingly agitated about the topic of visiting Europe. The narrator at first innocently blathers on about visiting Europe, but he begins to see how Europe haunts them.

"But surely when you're once there you'll stay on."

"Stay on?"—they murmured it simultaneously and with the oddest vibration of dread as well as of desire. It was as if they had been in presence of a danger and yet wished me, who "knew everything," to torment them with still more of it.

The narrator also notes that the ancient Mrs. Rimmle stares at him with a "calm cold" expression, as if she is accusing him of something, when he talks about Europe with her daughters. When Maria at one point exclaims that their mother is "better than Europe," the narrator begins to sense the danger and the trap that the women are in here. Every time a serious plan to go to Europe is made, Mrs. Rimmle falls ill, and the plans are cancelled. This loop repeats itself, and Mrs. Rimmle perches over her daughters

like a vulture... calculating. Is she waiting for them successively to drop off? She'll survive them each and all. There's something too remorseless in it.

The narrator dares to wonder if perhaps Mrs. Rimmle should be murdered or encouraged to commit suicide so that the women can be released from their captivity. She is called “a subtle old witch.”

The tale turns when at last, one of the daughters—the rebellious Jane—is invited to Europe by her friends,...

(The entire section contains 1937 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Europe study guide. You'll get access to all of the Europe content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Analysis
  • Quotes
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial