Introduction

The Europeans is the last work of Henry James's early period. Published in 1878, this novella was written while James resided in Europe, primarily in London. His success with The American and Daisy Miller in the previous three years had established him as a significant writer of the cultural differences and engagements between the Old World, as it was fading into eventual democracies, and the New World, as it was poised to take a prime spot on the world stage.

In The Europeans, James brings his characters on a rare trip to the United States, specifically to New England. Himself an American, James was born in New York City, and thus has a slanted view of neighboring New England, specifically Boston. The seat of Puritanism, Boston does not have to cosmopolitan air that New York City had long had by the time of the novel's publication. In the narrative, James examines the character of the New England residence, as their Puritan rigidity is confronted by European laxity. The Wentworths symbolize the struggling hold on an isolated nation, refraining from being influenced by the rapidly back-sliding Continent. In the end, it is the European Eugenia who remains inflexible, refusing to be influenced by another culture. The character of Felix Young symbolizes what James hopes for the two regions that claim him: an amalgam of the best of both worlds, open to new experiences, pleasing to everyone, and making friends all the world over.

The Europeans received (and still receives) mixed reviews as to its quality compared to the rest of James’s works. He himself called it “shallow,” in response to his brother, William’s judgment. Yet many critics and readers view it as the finest of his works, showing the interweaving of the cultural themes that are so predominate in the writings of Henry James.