Places: The Princess Casamassima

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: serial, 1885-1886; book, 1886

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Lomax Place

*Lomax Princess Casamassima, ThePlace. Working-class section of Pentonville in north London that is home to Amanda Pynsent, the foster mother of Hyacinth Robinson, who is ostensibly the bastard child of an English lord. In spite of their lowly social position, Pynsent raises Hyacinth to be a gentleman, not only because she believes that in fact he is one, but also because of her reverence for the upper class. Prior even to Hyacinth’s own recognition of his “mixed blood,” there is already a tension between his social status and his upbringing.

*Millbank

*Millbank. Prison on the River Thames in which Hyacinth’s birth mother, Florentine Vivier, has been imprisoned for murdering the man she claims is Hyacinth’s father, Lord Fredericks. The prison is the setting for one of the most important scenes in the novel, in which the young Hyacinth meets his dying mother and thus confronts his own mixed origins. This encounter sets up the tension between the two sides of Hyacinth’s character that struggle with each other throughout the novel.

James himself visited Millbank in 1884, and Miss Pynsent’s commentary on the prison may be seen as James’s own reflections on the subject.

*Audley Court

*Audley Court. Neighborhood in Camberwell, a lower-class section in south London, in which Paul Muniment, the chemist who leads Hyacinth into revolutionary work, and his sister Rose, live. Rose has a debilitating illness, but is strong enough to voice her protests against a working-class revolution, making Audley Court another setting for the mounting tension within Hyacinth Robinson.

The Sun and Moon

The Sun and Moon. Small tavern in Bloomsbury in whose rear room secret meetings of the “revolutionaries” take place. The tavern’s name is significant, as the Sun and Moon are antithetical bodies that cannot appear together in the night sky, just as Hyacinth’s sympathies must either be for or against the existing order, but not both at the same time.

*Pimlico

*Pimlico (PIHM-lih-koh). District of London that is home to some of the “petit bourgeois.” Considered a step up from Pentonville, Pimlico is home to Millicent Henning, Hyacinth Robinson’s childhood friend, who represents the middle road, the middle class, between Hyacinth’s conflicting sympathies. Although Millicent’s level would seem to be the most logical and comfortable position for Hyacinth, Millicent and the class she represents cannot be faithful.

*Belgrave Square

*Belgrave Square. Upper-class London district in which Lady Aurora has a house that undergoes a transformation corresponding to a transformation taking place within Lady Aurora herself. When her house is introduced, it described as a “magnificent mausoleum,” but in the end it is bright and alive, as is Lady Aurora, both acceding to their “noble” constitutions.

Medley Hall

Medley Hall. Country home at which Hyacinth Robinson briefly visits with the Princess Casamassima. While the princess’s rooms on London’s South Street provide him with a glimpse of expensive ornaments, Medley Hall serves as Hyacinth’s first taste of the true grandeur of the upper-class life.

*Paris

*Paris. Hyacinth visits the capital of France after inheriting money from Amanda Pynsent. The art, architecture, and culture of Paris, which he sees as the result of the struggles between the dominant and the oppressed, cause him to reconsider his revolutionary beliefs. He comes to similar conclusions during a visit to Venice.

Madeira Crescent

Madeira Crescent. Dreary London neighborhood to which the princess moves after selling all her beautiful furnishings to live in a tawdry, lower-middle-class house in order to be closer to Paul Muniment and support his “cause.” The noble sacrifice she makes is muted by the fact that she continues to use only the most expensive tea and keeps her servants.

Westminster

Westminster. Working-class London neighborhood in which Hyacinth settles after Amanda Pynsent’s death. There he again faces the degrading conditions of working-class life, but with a new respect for the upper classes, which requires the maintenance of the different class levels.

BibliographyBell, Millicent. Meaning in Henry James. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991. Bell focuses on James’s belief that a novel is “about nothing so much as its own coming-into-being.” Chapter 4 discusses the conflict in The Princess Casamassima between naturalism and impressionism.Johnson, Warren. “Hyacinth Robinson or The Princess Casamassima?” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 28, no. 3 (Fall, 1986): 296-323. Both Hyacinth and the princess are masks for the author, who investigates their fates in order to test his own freedom; the novel is named after the princess because we “prefer her knowledge to Hyacinth’s example.”Jolly, Roslyn. Henry James: History, Narrative, Fiction. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1993. Jolly discusses The Princess Casamassima as a novel in which James tries to unite history and fiction; the main conflict for Hyacinth and the princess alike is fought between their personal visions of the future and the social constraints on those visions.Seltzer, Mark. Henry James and the Art of Power. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984. Seltzer applies the ideas of Michel Foucault on power and subterfuge to James’s work. In chapter 1, he uses The Princess Casamassima to link naturalism with the novelist’s will to power.Tilley, Wesley H. The Background of “The Princess Casamassima.” Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1961. Tilley traces the sources of James’s knowledge of anarchism to articles in The Times of London and finds models for Millicent, for Muniment, and for Hoffendahl in actual subjects of news reports during the 1870’s and 1880’s.
Categories: Places