James places an almost salacious symbolic importance on the fact that Nanda must “come down” if she is to become a regular visitor to the drawing room, instead of remaining safely upstairs in her bedroom. He and his characters view Nanda’s passage from innocence to knowledge as a mini-fall, both in the modern sense and in the popular Victorian image of the “fallen woman.” Only in one of his novels could a fall be accomplished by talk alone; however, from the beginning of his writing career James set a much higher store in the workings of consciousness than in those of action.
Mertle. Country house let to Mitchy, a friend of Nanda’s mother and one of Nanda’s suitors, in which most of the novel’s characters gather for a getaway. Despite the house’s beauty, it becomes the subject of a debate between Nanda and Mr. Longdon, who cannot understand the modern carelessness that allows a family casually to rent its own home to unknown guests, who heedlessly tramp through it without even knowing to whom it belongs. To Longdon, a country estate signifies order and tradition. Nanda, on the other hand, is excited by the confusion and breakneck pace of modern life, which inspires Longdon to invite her to give his home and his own kind of life a try.
Longdon’s country house. Suffolk home of Mr. Longdon. A beautiful museum surrounded by an edenic garden located far from the corrupting influences of the city and modern life, this country house becomes Nanda’s retreat from her fate of becoming more and more soiled with knowledge. Nanda herself is already too tainted to be the Victorian ideal of womanhood; however, unlike her unapologetically modern mother, she has a great appreciation for the more mannerly past represented by Longdon and his house, with its “old windows and doors, the tone of old red surfaces, the style of old white facings, the age of old high creepers, the long confirmation of time.” Longdon’s house is also full of precious old things, through which Nanda is permitted to rummage. In one sense, she becomes a rightful and spiritual inheritor of the treasures of the past by taking up residence in Longdon’s home; in another sense, she joins Longdon in a willful retreat from reality–and particularly from sex, as the frequently repeated word “old” also painfully reminds readers.
Tishy Grendon’s house. Hill Street, London, home of Nanda’s racy best friend, Tishy Grendon, who represents the kinds of risqué influences to which Nanda is exposed in London. As everything in Longdon’s home is old, and therefore harmless, so everything in Tishy Grendon’s home is French, which is to say, improper. The walls of her house are “covered with delicate French mouldings . . . so fair that they seemed vaguely silvered; the low French chimney had a French fire. There was a lemon-colored stuff on the sofa and chairs, a wonderful polish on the floor that was largely exposed, and a copy of a French novel in blue paper on one of the spindle-legged tables.”