Places: The Golden Bowl

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1904

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: c. 1900

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. Golden Bowl, TheGreat Britain’s capital is the home of most of the novel’s main characters. Most of its scenes are set within the homes of Adam and Charlotte Verver, Prince Amerigo and Maggie, and, less frequently, their friends Bob and Fanny Assingham. James provides little description of these interior spaces, but instead focuses almost exclusively on the contents of the characters’ thoughts. As is typical of James’s later novels, the characters do not voice their most important thoughts and learn, not from hearing, but from seeing one another. Long passages detailing their thoughts contain much of the motivation for the plot development. The reader is typically reminded of where a passage is set after the passage has begun.

The setting in London is significant because it is the true home of neither the Ververs nor Prince Amerigo. The Ververs are free of Adam’s business and financial and business concerns; the prince is free of family and aristocratic tradition.

*Bloomsbury Street

*Bloomsbury Street. London street that is the location of the shop in which Charlotte and the prince–and later Maggie–find the golden bowl of the novel’s title. Here, Maggie learns that her husband spent time with Charlotte on their wedding day; from this information, she comes to understand that they had been much more intimate than she had realized.

Matcham

Matcham. Home of friends in which the prince and Charlotte spend a weekend. Away from their spouses, they are free to be together. While they are gone, Maggie realizes that her husband is interested in Charlotte and begins working to keep them apart.

Fawns

Fawns. Country home of Adam Verver, in southeastern England’s Kent County, which Maggie arranges to visit with the prince, Adam, and Charlotte, at a time when she is trying to keep the prince away from Charlotte. The peaceful estate, which the characters think of as “out of the world,” contrasts with the emotional turmoil of the two women competing for the man’s affection. Maggie’s victory over Charlotte is sealed when, during the stay at Fawns, Adam decides that he and Charlotte should return to American City to live.

American City

American City. American home of Adam and Maggie Verver in which Adam uses his wealth to build a museum. He collects treasures to send to his museum, and it is in the spirit of collecting that he sees the acquisition of his son-in-law, an Italian prince, conspicuously named Amerigo. Although no scenes in the novel are actually set in American City, it is important symbolically in the novel. The city’s very name stresses its differences from Europe. Through Adam’s collecting, European culture is reduced to objects for display in the museum.

Although the Ververs, Charlotte, and many other characters in the novel are Americans, they clearly view their native country as an inferior place to live. Charlotte’s final loss of the prince to Maggie at the end of the novel is accentuated by her move to American City, a decision made by her husband Adam.

*Rome

*Rome. Italy’s capital city is the home of Prince Amerigo. Although he retains his royal title, his family has lost its wealth; through him, this city is depicted as a place where the aristocracy is in decline. Although no scenes in the novel are set in Rome, both Charlotte and Maggie fondly remember their romances with the prince there. The city thus reminds both women of happy and less complicated times.

BibliographyEdel, Leon. Henry James: A Life. 1st ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1985. Abridged version of Edel’s standard biography of James. Comments on the genesis of The Golden Bowl and explains its subtle relationship to the author’s life. Briefly sketches portraits of major characters.Gard, Roger, ed. Henry James: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968. Excerpts from reviews by British and American writers that provide an overview of the reception given to The Golden Bowl by James’s contemporaries. Most cite James’s skill in storytelling, though some note the complexities of style that make reading difficult.Jones, Granville H. Henry James’s Psychology of Experience: Innocence, Responsibility, and Renunciation in the Fiction of Henry James. The Hague: Mouton, 1975. Focuses on James’s portrait of the heroine of The Golden Bowl, Maggie Verver. Discusses several important scenes in which she gradually learns the nature of the relationship between Prince Amerigo and Charlotte and explains how she achieves a moral victory.Macnaughton, William R. Henry James: The Later Novels. Boston: Twayne, 1987. In a chapter analyzing The Golden Bowl, Macnaughton comments on the genesis of the work and the influences that shaped James’s tale. Characterizes the novel as a study in the folly of goodness and offers a careful explication of key scenes.Sicker, Philip. Love and the Quest for Identity in the Fiction of Henry James. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980. Includes a chapter on The Golden Bowl that explores James’s ability to create “multipersonal love relationships.” Describes parallels between the novel and the traditional fairy tale, which provides a symbolic framework for the story.
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