Maggie Verver, the motherless daughter of an American millionaire. For a number of years the Ververs have spent much of their time abroad, where Mr. Verver has devoted himself to acquiring a magnificent art collection for the museum he plans to build in American City. Sharing her father’s quiet tastes and aesthetic interests, Maggie has become his faithful companion, and they have created for themselves a separate, enclosed world of ease, grace, and discriminating appreciation, a connoisseurship of life as well as of art. Even Maggie’s marriage to Prince Amerigo, an Italian of ancient family, does not change greatly the pattern of their lives, a pattern that she believes complete when Mr. Verver marries her best friend, Charlotte Stant. What Maggie does not know is that before her marriage, the prince and Charlotte, both moneyless and therefore unable to marry, had been lovers. Several years later the prince, bored by his position as another item in the Verver collection, and Charlotte, restless because she takes second place beside her elderly husband’s interest in art, resume their former intimacy. Maggie finds her happiness threatened when her purchase of a flawed gold-and-crystal bowl leads indirectly to her discovery of the true situation. Her problem is whether to disclose or conceal her knowledge. Deeply in love with her husband and devoted to her father, she decides to remain silent. Her passivity becomes an act of drama because it involves a sense of ethical responsibility and a moral decision; her predicament is the familiar Jamesian spectacle of the innocent American confronting the evil of European morality, in this case complicated by Maggie’s realization that she and her father are not without guilt, that they have lived too much for themselves. In the end her generosity, tact, and love resolve all difficulties. Mr. Verver and his wife leave for America, and Maggie regains her husband’s love, now unselfishly offered.
Prince Amerigo (ah-MEH-ree-goh), a young Italian nobleman, handsome, gallant, sensual, living in England with his American wife. A man of politely easy manners, he is able to mask his real feelings under an appearance of courteous reserve. Though he has loved many women, he has little capacity for lies or deception in his dealings with them; he objects when Charlotte Stant, his former mistress, wishes to purchase a flawed golden bowl as a wedding gift to his wife, for...
(The entire section is 1026 words.)