Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1361
Rowland Mallet, expecting to sail for Europe in September, visits his cousin Cecilia in Northampton, Massachusetts. He is an idle bachelor, having inherited money, and he feels that he is leading a useless life. Having a passion for art, he is interested to learn of a young sculptor who lives...
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- Critical Essays
Rowland Mallet, expecting to sail for Europe in September, visits his cousin Cecilia in Northampton, Massachusetts. He is an idle bachelor, having inherited money, and he feels that he is leading a useless life. Having a passion for art, he is interested to learn of a young sculptor who lives in the town, Roderick Hudson. On meeting the intense, impetuous Roderick and seeing proof of his talent, Rowland offers to subsidize the young artist for a period of study in Rome and gains the assent of Roderick’s widowed mother. At a farewell picnic, Rowland has a last talk with Mary Garland, a distant cousin of Mrs. Hudson, who has been visiting in Northampton. Rowland realizes that he will not see her again for perhaps three years. In their brief acquaintance, she has come to mean a great deal to him, but on the Atlantic voyage, Roderick Hudson tells Rowland that he is engaged to Mary.
In Rome that autumn, as Rowland expected, Roderick responds to the stimulus provided by the art treasures of the city. He assimilates experiences readily and becomes eager to create masterpieces of his own. Rowland is pleased with his role as patron and nourisher of talent. One day, while Rowland sits with Roderick while he sketches in the Villa Ludovisi, the two companions observe a trio of passersby—a shabbily dressed man, a middle-aged woman, and a young woman with blue eyes, dusky hair, and perfect features. Roderick is enraptured by the young woman and yearns to model her, but they do not stop.
Rowland begins to introduce Roderick into society, and the young and handsome sculptor, attractively impertinent and strident, becomes a favorite. He spends his days hard at work and his nights in Roman drawing rooms. His first work, a life-size Adam, draws admirers to his studio. Among them are another sculptor, Gloriani, and a young American painter, Sam Singleton. Gloriani is skeptical of Roderick’s staying power, but Singleton is an uncritical worshiper. Roderick frequently grows lyrical about his own brilliant future.
The onset of summer, however, brings Roderick to an impasse; his exuberance and inspiration depart. Rowland prescribes for him a change of scenery, and the two leave Rome to ramble northward. Roderick desires to spend most of the summer alone, and Rowland returns to England. After a month with no word from Roderick, Rowland dispatches a letter. The reply is unsettling; Roderick has been gambling and is heavily in debt. When the two friends meet in Geneva, Roderick admits debauchery but feels no remorse. He has learned that he is susceptible to the beauty and mystery of women.
Back in Rome, Roderick is discontented and works only in fits and starts. Then, one day, the couple and the beautiful young woman whom he had observed in the Ludovisi gardens burst into his studio. Madame Light and her daughter, Christina, along with the Cavaliere Giacosa, have come to see the rising young sculptor and his works. Roderick insists that he must sculpt a bust of Christina.
Mrs. Light is a vain, silly widow. She has picked up the old Cavaliere in her European ramblings and now lives solely to marry Christina to a fortune. During the winter, Roderick works on his bust of Christina, whose beauty is supplemented by wit, will, and education. He becomes enamored of her, and Rowland fears the young woman’s influence on his friend. To Rowland she seems selfish and vicious, a complex person who demands worship. Meanwhile, Christina’s mother is becoming established in Roman society, and Roderick takes a commission from an American snob to create in marble the ideal of Intellectual Refinement.
The old Cavaliere confides in Rowland that Roderick will find his love unrequited, as Mrs. Light is determined that Christina marry a man of wealth and position. Though Rowland and Christina dislike each other, they achieve a certain understanding. Christina confesses to him that she despises her own egotism and longs for someone to free her from herself.
Roderick’s adoration of Christina continues, and in an effort to cool the relationship, Rowland informs Christina of Roderick’s engagement. Roderick’s subsequent anger reveals something to Rowland: His friend lacks a feeling heart; he does not care about hurting Mary. Rowland feels that his faith in Roderick’s potential has been foolish—the artistic temperament is amoral.
Winter brings a new personage on the scene: Prince Casamassima is seen with the Light entourage. He is Mrs. Light’s choice for Christina.
Rowland encounters Christina at various places in Rome, and their exchange of frank confidences continues. Rowland asks her to leave Roderick alone. Christina seems to desire Rowland’s respect, but when she leaves Rome briefly, Roderick follows.
Despite Roderick’s interlude of riotous living in Naples, Rowland’s fondness for him is undiminished. Even when the sculptor stops working on Intellectual Refinement, Rowland tries to understand.
Christina’s engagement to Prince Casamassima is announced, but Roderick continues his pursuit. Rowland admits himself disgusted with people. His good deed has turned sour; Mrs. Hudson and Mary Garland will be hurt to learn the truth about Roderick. Rowland’s thoughts keep going back to Mary.
Hoping to save the situation, Rowland sends for Mrs. Hudson and Mary. When they arrive, Roderick greets Mary in a state of drunkenness. Rowland finds her even more attractive than he had before.
Although Christina’s wedding date is set for June, Roderick’s infatuation continues. Rowland is astonished to learn from Madame Grandoni that his own love for Mary Garland is perfectly evident to others. Then Christina breaks off her engagement to the prince, and Roderick isolates himself in his quarters for a week to contemplate this good fortune. Mrs. Light summons Rowland to talk sense to Christina. Meanwhile, Mrs. Hudson and Mary, still unaware of the complex situation, suffer in silence.
Rowland unwillingly converses with Christina. Although Prince Casamassima’s money does not excite her, she refuses to accept Roderick’s proposal of marriage. Three days later, Christina and the prince are suddenly and privately married. Simultaneously, a secret comes out: Mrs. Light’s lover, the Cavaliere, is Christina’s real father. Christina has married quickly because of her fear that such a scandal could cause the prince to break with her.
Roderick, angry, disappointed, and miserable, is ready to leave Rome. He places himself entirely in Rowland’s hands. Rowland agrees when Roderick confesses to his mother and Mary that he is a failure. Mrs. Hudson is appalled to learn that the uncompleted Intellectual Refinement was a five-thousand-dollar commission.
Throughout the dreary, idle summer, Rowland vaguely hopes that Roderick can still pull himself together. In the meantime, Rowland finds that he admires Mary more and more. In the fall, they travel to Switzerland. It is clear that Roderick’s perceptions of beauty are as acute as ever, but he is unable to do anything constructive.
Rowland presses the point with Roderick about his engagement to Mary. Roderick admits that Mary does not interest him, but he does not break the engagement. Roderick sees no point in Rowland’s desire to keep his own admiration for Mary a secret.
In one of their daily rambles, Roderick and Rowland encounter the Prince and Princess Casamassima. Christina detests her husband, and Roderick, previously petulant and unforgiving of her, turns to pursuit again. The next day, he asks Rowland for one thousand francs so that he can meet Christina at Interlaken. Rowland, at the end of his patience, refuses the request, but Roderick gets some money from Mary. He chides Rowland for moralizing, but Rowland admits his love for Mary.
Roderick then disappears. A spectacular mountain thunderstorm arises in the afternoon, and by dawn the next day he has not returned. Sam Singleton, who has been diligently sketching all the while Roderick has idled, stops in for a visit, and he and Rowland go to look for Roderick. They find his body beneath a high cliff three hours’ walk from the inn. He had fallen, apparently, on his way to Interlaken.
Mrs. Hudson and Mary Garland go back to Northampton. Rowland, with his inexhaustible patience, frequently calls on Mary.