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The Golden Bowl by Henry James

The Golden Bowl (1904)

by Henry James

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"I've just read The Golden Bowl and the last 2 vols of Leon Edel's Henry James biography which I enjoyed very much." (Letter to Bob Smith, 13 April 1973.) (Pym, A very private eye. Granada, 1985. p. 383.)
"I have chosen ... for my Desert Island Discs ... the book Henry James The Golden Bowl (which I have already stumbled through once)." (Letter to Philip Larkin, 27 July 1978.) (Pym, A very private eye. Granada, 1985. p. 444.)
  Barbara_Pym | Aug 26, 2013 |
Rated: F-
I struggled through about 10% of this classic. James' writing style, for me, was a beating. Long flowing sentences and paragraphs the lost me at times. Hard for me to enjoy, so I stopped reading. First book to drop in years. ( )
  jmcdbooks | Jan 28, 2013 |
A little soap opera of a plot expanded beyond bearing with excruciatingly detailed exploration of the uninteresting characters' interior motivations; characters so shallow that I was never for a moment convinced about the delicacy of the thought that James gives them. If James's intent was to show the bored futility of pre-WWI upper class life he succeeds. Plot: A fabulously rich American and his daughter are in England. She marries a out-of-fortune Italian Prince. Her father marries a pretty friend of hers. It turns out that the Prince and the pretty friend have had a previous unconfessed romantic relationship. That's about it. The crisis of the plot turns on the eponymous golden bowl which is introduced with a coincidence of Dickensian improbability. The prose is everything that James's prose is parodied for. ( )
1 vote sjnorquist | Jan 1, 2013 |
I figured wasn't old enough to read "The Golden Bowl" until this year (and here it is the eve of my 57th birthday). The novel is considered by many to be Henry James' masterwork, and certainly its ever-changing points of view and revelations are almost excruciatingly subtle. I'm pretty sure that I would have to read the book several times to get all its delicate little nuances, which are pretty much why people love James or find him tiresome beyond endurance.

Read the rest of this review at http://thegrimreader.blogspot.com/2011/09/i-plumb-subtleties-of-henry-james.html ( )
1 vote nohrt4me2 | Sep 12, 2011 |
I'm not able to review this novel without a few small spoilers and I apologise for that.

Henry James finds his plots in unlikely places, and the story that slowly unfolds in this novel demonstrates this wonderfully. There are two halves. The first half of the novel lulls the reader into thinking that two cultured Europeans are taking advantage of a slightly distracted American father and his gormless American daughter. We're introduced to the idea that the father, a collector of precious things, has naively 'collected' an exotic son-in-law (though no critical reader will be terribly impressed with that little trope — yet). We're also introduced to the golden bowl itself, an object that one of the Europeans cannot value, and that the other rejects out of hand on account of a defect. At the end of the first half, the advantage is with the Europeans.

The second half of the novel reveals the canniness and, more importantly, the goodness and good sense, of the 'gormless' daughter. She's the star. She recognises that her husband's defects are not fatal to his overall worth (i.e., he is nonetheless a thing of value, just as the golden bowl is a thing of value notwithstanding its defect). She is simply a better judge of quality than the two Europeans. Thus she sets out to put things right, and she succeeds without exciting their suspicion. 'They thought of everything but that I might think' says the daughter, near the end. I was tempted to find a 'revenge of the Americans' theme here, but it's really the triumph of the daughter alone.

The chapter divisions are clever; they don't mark off scenes from one another in the conventional manner. They often fall in the very middle of a bit of dialogue, and signal some advancement in one or another character's understanding. This serves James's preferred way of advancing the story: the interaction of human thoughts. A character sees somebody do something, or talks to somebody, or learns of something somebody has done, and this new intelligence provokes that character to some new action or statement or level of understanding. This, in turn, sends another character by similar means into something new. James sets up these interactions so well, that the reader sees what he is about to reveal an instant before he reveals it.

But James doesn't always pull this off. There are great long passages where one character is drawing out a second character in a contrived way, simply to allow that second character to give expression to some key thought that the reader would otherwise never get wind of. Fanny Assingham draws out Maggie in this way many times, and Fanny's husband, the Colonel, seems to exist as a character solely for this purpose.

Another problem, common to late Henry James, is that his sentences often misfire. I.e., they don't express what he means them to express, or they give the false impression that they're expressing more than they actually do. I'm not as critical as others are. I would judge his late style by what he was obviously capable of producing and did sometimes produce.
1 vote messpots | Jan 1, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (36 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry Jamesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Donoghue, DenisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The Prince had always liked his London, when it had come to him; he was one of the modern Romans who find by the Thames a more convincing image of the truth of the ancient state than any they have left by the Tiber.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140432353, Paperback)

'This story of the alliance between Italian aristocracy and American millionaires is "a work unique among all [James'] novels: it is [his] only novel in which things come out right for his characters ...he had finally resolved the questions, curious and passionate, that had kept him at his desk on his inquiries into the process of living. He could now make his peace with America - and he could now collect and unify the work of a lifetime' - Leon Edel in "The Life of Henry James".

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:07 -0400)

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James' controversial novel probes the mind of an American heiress as she becomes aware of the affair between her husband and her father's young wife.

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