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...
(The entire section is 1361 words.)