(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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 time together. After a year and a half, a baby is born to the prince and Maggie, but the child makes no apparent difference in the relationships between Maggie and her father and between Maggie and her husband. Maggie decides that her father also needs a wife, and that Charlotte is the right sort of person; she will be thankful to marry a wealthy man and she will cause little trouble.

Mr. Verver, anxious to please his daughter in this as in everything else, marries Charlotte a short time later. Maggie and her father both take houses in London where they can be together a great deal of the time. The association of father and daughter leave the prince and Charlotte together much of the time. Maggie encourages them to go out and to represent her and her father at balls and dinners. Several years go by in this manner, but slowly the fact that there is something strange in the relationships dawns on Maggie. She eventually goes to Mrs. Assingham and pours out her suspicions. Mrs. Assingham, who knows the full circumstances, decides to keep silent.

Maggie resolves to say nothing of her suspicions to...

(The entire section is 1051 words.)