Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Rome. Capital city of Italy after 1871 and one of the world’s art capitals, in which most of the novel takes place. Rowland Mallet, a man of inherited wealth and cultivated tastes, offers to accompany Roderick Hudson, a young and talented American sculptor, to Europe. Mallet sponsors him during their sojourn, undertaken to refine Hudson’s sensibilities through the study of art and general exposure to European culture. They visit Paris, Genoa, Milan, Venice, Florence, and other great cities, but it is Rome that most deeply captures Roderick’s imagination. His first fortnight in Rome is an “aesthetic revel,” and he declares that Rome makes him feel and understand more things than he can, as he is sure that life there must give all one’s senses an “incomparable fineness.” Indeed, Roderick’s art does impress many people in Rome, especially those connected with the local colony of American artists; however, his successes are short-lived. Soon, his passion for Christina Light, a beauty of vague American origins but a distinctly European social and moral sense, consumes him, and he loses his will to create.

James evokes the romantically charged air of Rome throughout the novel, with lush language that conveys the intoxicating sense of the city. He also sets scenes at places his American readers may have visited or longed to visit: the Colosseum (“Coliseum” in the novel), St. Peter’s Basilica, the church of St. Cecilia—all famous sites he word-paints with an unerring eye. However, Rome, for all its beauty, is as much a symbol as a realistically drawn city: It comes to stand for corruption. As with a fine wine, the pleasures of Rome can be deep, but drunk without moderation—or taken in great draughts by an innocent such as Roderick, whose “tolerance” has not been gradually...

(The entire section is 749 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Anderson, Charles R. Person, Place and Thing in Henry James’s Novels. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1977. A study of the connection of James’s novels to other novels of the nineteenth century. The chapter on Roderick Hudson refers to James’s life in Rome and discusses the ways that the characters relate to one another.

Edel, Leon. Henry James: A Life. New York: Harper & Row, 1985. A valuable study that includes discussion of his work, with substantial comment on Roderick Hudson.

Ford, Ford Madox. Henry James: A Critical Study. New York: Octagon Books, 1972. Short, readable study of James by a fine novelist.

Lee, Brian. The Novels of Henry James. London: Edward Arnold, 1978. A short study of the relation of culture to the individual. Includes a chapter on Roderick Hudson that discusses James’s enthusiasm for European culture.

McCormack, Peggy. The Rule of Money: Gender, Class, and Exchange Economics in the Fiction of Henry James. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990. Discusses how James’s characters learn to adjust to the rules of the game in their society. Useful for understanding the mores and practices of a departed era.