The Princess Casamassima

by Henry James

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Characters Discussed

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Hyacinth Robinson

Hyacinth Robinson, a self-educated bookbinder in late Victorian London, England. Growing up in poverty, Hyacinth felt the callousness and violence of capitalistic society. He is easily converted to Socialism by his mentors, Anastasius Vetch and Paul Muniment. When he learns that his mother was abandoned by his aristocratic father, he swears to die for the cause of revolution, but when he meets Princess Casamassima, she introduces him to a finer, nobler world. A changed man, he becomes incapable of assassination. When the call comes, he kills himself rather than carry out his assignment.

Princess Casamassima

Princess Casamassima, an American who has married into Italian nobility. Disenchanted by her husband’s lack of concern for social injustice, she moves to England and, attended only by her companion Madame Grandoni, attempts to learn about—and if possible amend—the problems of late Victorian society. In her effort to uncover the “sufferings and passions” of the people, she employs a succession of guides: Captain Godfrey Sholto, who is soon discarded because he is too vulgar; Hyacinth Robinson, who is finally discarded because he becomes too noble; and Paul Muniment, who in turn discards her when the prince, appalled by the dishonor she is bringing to the family name, cuts off the allowance that has been letting her fund the revolutionary cause.

Paul Muniment

Paul Muniment, a chemist (pharmacist) who seems to embody the true nature of the revolutionary cause. A cold intellectual who sees class warfare as inevitable and necessary, he exploits the desire of the princess to make a difference in society in order to raise money. When the prince cuts off her allowance, Paul ruthlessly drops her. Paul is not wholly trusted by the underground. He diverts some of the money for his personal use, and it is implied that his relationship with the princess is not merely intellectual.

Captain Godfrey Sholto

Captain Godfrey Sholto, a moneyed idler who introduces Hyacinth to the princess. As one with the money of the upper classes but the vulgarity of the lower, he is the perfect intermediary, but he cannot make even Millicent respond to his attentions.

Amanda Pynsent

Amanda Pynsent, a poor seamstress who rears Hyacinth after the infant’s mother is imprisoned for murdering her lover when he refused to support the child. The small inheritance she leaves Hyacinth enables him to visit Paris, France, and complete his aesthetic education.

Anastasius Vetch

Anastasius Vetch, a violinist who is Miss Pynsent’s closest friend. He teaches Hyacinth French, introduces him to Socialism, and obtains for him an apprenticeship in the bookbinding craft. He must stand by helplessly as Hyacinth is drawn into his fatal entanglement.

Millicent Henning

Millicent Henning, a shopgirl and aspiring model. Hyacinth’s childhood sweetheart, she is unable to keep Hyacinth from the fatal attractions of aristocratic wealth, on one side, and revolutionary rhetoric, on the other.

Lady Aurora Languish

Lady Aurora Languish, an upper-class woman who has dedicated her life to “doing good.” Rejected by her own family and ignored by Paul Muniment, whom she adores, she accomplishes little aside from caring for Paul’s crippled sister Rose.

Rose Muniment

Rose Muniment, the crippled sister of Paul. Bedridden, Rose nevertheless embraces life. She provides a moral center for the tale, which desperately needs one.

Diedrich Hoffendahl

Diedrich Hoffendahl, the shadowy head of the revolutionary movement. Although he is never seen directly, Hoffendahl is a central character. Paul and the princess yearn to meet him and be taken into his confidence, but Hyacinth desperately wishes he had never met him.

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