1. One critic describes The Golden Bowl as 'obscurely compelling'; another refers to the 'shimmering elusiveness' of Elective Affinities (Die Wahlverwandtschaften, 1809). Each description fits the other novel as well. The two novels are so welfoccul-wrought and well-written that they have strong claims to be the most beautiful in their respective languages. Both are self-consciously 'classical' in their concentration on a single theme, worked out thoroughly, in their reduced number of protagonists, in their handling of time and place, and in their high social tone. Both works have emerged from relative obscurity to new popularity in recent years, suggesting that the tensions they explore are in some way characteristic of our own period. Each novel dates from its author's sixtieth year and was spoken of by its author as his best book. It might not be far from the truth to imagine the sixty year old James emulating the sixty year old Goethe, for in The Golden Bowl James enacts with Goethe one of the most gripping elective affinities in literature. The connection, perhaps James's single most important use of a literary model, was pointed out by Judith Ryan, translator of Elective Affinities, in 1982, but has not been followed up in James scholarship. 'The later work... is an answer to questions left unresolved in the earlier work; indeed, it brings to light problematic aspects of its predecessor which might otherwise have remained hidden and helps us to understand its coordinates more subtly and intricately... The two novels provide the greatest mutual illumination... A master in the study of relationships, James shows us what they have to do with art and artifacts, revealing and refining at the same time the mainspring of Goethe's novel' (Ryan, 153-4).
2. Goethe's novel, published in two volumes, is structured in two parts with eighteen chapters each, and can be subdivided into six sections of six chapters each. Here is the basic plot outline:
Part I, Section 1: Formation of the foursome.
Eduard and Charlotte, who wished to marry in youth and have finally done so in middle age(after the death of their respective spouses), are installed in their magnificent estate. They decide to invite his friend the Captain and her niece Ottilie, schoolmate of her daughter Luciane, to stay with them. The Captain helps Eduard beautify the estate and expounds the chemical topic of elective affinities. Charlotte feels rather neglected. But the arrival of the introverted, slightly anorexic Ottilie provides her with companionship.
Section 2: The 'double adultery'.
The two couples, thrown together as in a laboratory vessel, form new attachments. Eduard's passion for Ottilie grows like wildfire. At a foundation-laying ceremony on Charlotte's birthday he throws a glass in the air but it is not smashed; it is inscribed with the letters E and O which he takes as an omen. The visit of an adulterous couple, the Count and the Baroness, creates a sense of moral disorder. Eduard and Charlotte make love while thinking of Ottilie and the Captain respectively; the next day Edward embraces Ottilie, Charlotte the Captain.
Section 3: Departure of the two men.
Charlotte tries to restore things to normal. On Ottilie's birthday the Captain saves a boy from drowning. Eduard ignores the general commotion and puts on the fireworks display for Ottilie alone. The Captain leaves. Promising Charlotte that he will try to cure his passion, Eduard retires to a smaller residence, having ensured that Ottilie will stay on, and then joins the army. Charlotte reassures the ex-clergyman Mittler that her marriage is not doomed, for she is pregnant.
Part II, Section 4. Intermezzo.
The two women are taken up with an architect who is devoted to Ottilie and with the vain and over-energetic Luciane. They enact various aesthetic fads of the period, culminating in tableaux vivants from which Luciane excludes Ottilie. When Luciane has left, the architect stages new tableaux in which Ottilie poses radiantly as the Blessed Virgin.
Section 5. The re-emergence of the fateful relationships.
After the visit of Ottilie's tutor, Charlotte gives birth to a boy who resembles Ottilie and the Captain. A visiting English Lord tells a story which may suggest that Charlotte and the Captain were lovers in the past. More Romantic fads: Ottilie reveals a capacity for water-divining; Charlotte refuses the Lord's offer to cure Ottilie's headache by magnetism. Eduard tells the Captain (now a Major) that his survival in battle means that Ottilie is his. He will divorce Charlotte and the Captain can marry her. This will restore all-round harmony.
Section 6. Tragedy and apotheosis.
Stealing back to his estate, Eduard finds Ottilie with his son by the lake and explains his plan. Her excitement causes a boating accident in which his child drowns. Charlotte agrees to the divorce. But Ottilie, stricken with guilt, renounces Eduard. Eduard meets her at an inn on her journey back to the boarding school; she gently declines his advances but returns with him to Charlotte. Charlotte, to soothe Edward, agrees to marry the Major, on condition that Ottilie first agrees to marry Eduard. Ottilie falls into anorexia and mutism, and explains in a written statement that her passion for Eduard has disoriented her and that she wants to recover herself. She hears Mittler speak of the sanctity of marriage, and faints. She dies shortly after, asking Eduard to promise to live. Seeing Ottilie's funeral, the servant-girl Nanny leaps down from her window, and is severely injured, but is miraculously healed when she touches Ottilie's body. A cult forms around Ottilie. Edward discovers that the glass inscribed with E and O has been broken, and he too becomes mute and anorexic, and dies.
The inserted novella points to a hidden story under the surface. The Captain would have married Charlotte but for his loyalty to Eduard; they try to have Eduard fall in love with Ottilie instead, but he is not swayed. Charlotte knows the episodes in the Captain's life on which the novella is based (442), and we may gather, as James may have, that the girl was Charlotte herself (Winkelman, 80). In the story Charlotte rejects her boring fiance (Eduard) for the Captain; this happy ending, the opposite of what actually happened, moves her so much that she has to leave the room. When Eduard proposes inviting the Captain, Charlotte makes her consent contingent on his consent to the corresponding visit by Ottilie, hoping (at least subconsciously) that this will lead to Eduard falling in love with Ottilie after all and to a divorce that will free Charlotte to marry the Captain. The ethical shadiness of this and the necessity of squaring the Captain's high principles explain the inconsistencies in her later behaviour (Winkelman, 24-9, 79-83, 100-1). The division in her motivations makes Charlotte a 'fascinating woman' rather than the 'bland personification of virtue' critics have seen in her (103).
3. Compare the plot of The Golden Bowl:
Book I. Part 1: Before the marriage of Amerigo and Maggie.
Impoverished Prince Amerigo is uneasy about his forthcoming marriage to Maggie, daughter of a wealthy art-collector, Adam Verver. He visits Fanny Assingham, who has helped make the match, and finds her too ill at ease, because Charlotte Stant, who separated from him to leave the ground clear for such an advantageous marriage, has come to London for the occasion. Charlotte makes him join her in a search for a present for Maggie; they consider a curious golden bowl, but the Prince points out that it must have a hidden crack.
Part 2: The second marriage.
Two years later, at Fawns, his country estate, Adam is troubled by women who want him as their husband. Maggie's marriage has bound her more closely to her father and even her son, the Principino, is a new bond between them. But Maggie feels Adam would be happier if he remarried. She invites Charlotte to join them. On a trip to Brighton Adam proposes to Charlotte, clearly indicating that it is for Maggie's sake. Charlotte wavers, until a telegram from the Prince resolves her doubts.
Part 3: Adultery.
At a ball two years later, Charlotte complains to Fanny that she is neglected by Adam, and that she feels entitled to pair up with the equally neglected Amerigo. This is the theme of one of the distraught colloquies between Fanny and her bemused husband Colonel Bob. A house party at a great country house is the occasion for Amerigo and Charlotte to consummate their relationship, at an inn in Gloucester.
Part II. Section 4: The scales fall from Maggie's eyes.
Her suspicions aroused, Maggie tries to rearrange the foursome, spending time with Charlotte while Adam is left with Amerigo. She realizes that Amerigo and Charlotte are falling in too smoothly with this plan, and she asks Fanny directly if they are lovers; Fanny solemnly denies it. Maggie buys the golden bowl and is visited by the vendor, who confesses that it has a crack; he recognizes photographs of Charlotte and Amerigo, and Maggie is able to piece together their relationship. She summons Fanny, who smashes the golden bowl, at which instant the Prince appears. Maggie confronts him with the truth.
Section 5: Lying to Charlotte.
The scene is again Fawns. The Prince has denied to Charlotte that Maggie knows of their relationship. Charlotte asks Maggie if she has some complaint to make of her and Maggie solemnly lies, pretending complete ignorance (mainly in order to spare her father, who, however, seems to know as much as she does). She feels united with Amerigo in their shared lie. Adam decides to take Charlotte back to America and Charlotte puts the best face she can on it by pretending she wants to go in order to save her marriage from Maggie; self-sacrificingly, Maggie again lies, agreeing with Charlotte's accusation.
Section 6: Conclusion.
Before the Ververs arrive to say farewell, Amerigo tells Maggie he wants to tell Charlotte that they have lied to her. But Charlotte gives such a splendid display of confidence that there is no place for this. Maggie and Adam speak to one another in fulsome praise of Charlotte; Maggie feels a guilty pity for her. Alone with Amerigo she feels he has now fully given himself to her, and the novel closes on an embrace.
4. The similarity in structure between the two works is striking. Edith Aulhorn notes that every third chapter in Goethe's Part I brings a decisive turn: the Captain's arrival (3); Ottilie's arrival (6); silent recognition of the adulterous affinities (9); open confession of them (12); farewells of the two adulterous pairs (15)(Rösch, 104). She does not find this pattern in Part II, but here too we can find a three-chapter grouping: the architect (1-3); Luciane and the tableaux vivants (4-6); the tutor, the birth of the child (7-9); the English Lord, and the reappearance of Eduard (10-12); Eduard's reunion with Ottilie, the death of the child, Ottilie's decision to withdraw (13-15); Ottilie's return and the final tragedy (16-18). Aulhorn does not advert to the more salient patterning in groups of six chapters. The first six chapters set up the foursome, the next six bring their chiastic relationship to full expression, the final chapters of Part I temporarily dissolve the fateful situation; the first six chapters of Part II culminate in the tableau vivant of Ottilie as the Blessed Virgin; the next six center on the birth of the child (in the second chapter of the six) and end with the return of Eduard, corresponding to the middle section of part I which centers on the conception of the child (in the second last chapter of the six); the last six culminate in the posthumous apotheosis of Ottilie.
James also paces his story in six acts, the latter three mirroring and partly undoing the former three. We might surmise that James's six sections may originally have been intended, like Goethe's, to have six chapters each, as the first section has (the other sections have seven, eleven, eleven, five and three; the proportions grow and decline in mirror-like symmetry of the two halves). Goethe had already used the structure of two volumes that mirror one another in Werther. The two volume format is not new to James (e.g. The Portrait of a Lady), nor is the formal division in two books (The Wings of the Dove). But the more explicit mirroring of the two halves of The Golden Bowl is unprecedented. The mirroring is most obvious in the setting of the central section of each Book at Fawns; even the Lutches and Mrs Rance, the guests of the first Fawns section, make a brief appearance in the second (441), just as the visit of the Count and the Baroness in Goethe's Part II mirrors that of Part I.
The structural feature that most closely connects the two novels is the shift from Edward as the central consciousness in Part I to Ottilie as the central consciousness in Part II. The last sentence of Part I signals the shift: 'A look into her inner life is provided, however, by her diary, from which we propose to communicate some extracts' (35). Goethe's courtly, officious narrator has much in common with James's. He tells us that her diary has a red thread, such as runs through the rigging of the British navy, 'a thread of affection and devotion (Neigung und Anhänglichkeit)' (368). This is the counterpart to the passion and egoism of Eduard. Just as in James, a woman is positioned as the apparent agent of a redemptive enterprise at the start of Part II. Goethe's Part I has four protagonists; in Part II the least active of the four, Ottilie, emerges as chief protagonist. In James, Book I has four equal protagonists; in Book II Maggie, the least seen in action so far, emerges as chief protagonist, and her point of view dominates as the Prince's did not in Book I. The two parts of Goethe's novel could well have been titled 'Eduard' and 'Ottilie' just as James titles his Books 'The Prince' and 'The Princess'. We do not find this symmetrical relationship between two centres of consciousness in any other of James's novels, though The Wings of the Dove already shows James's mastery of the architectural possibilities of complementary centres. Aulhorn notes that Goethe's Part I is a series of scenes in logical succession, one scene inevitably calling forth its counterpart, whereas Part II works by juxtaposition and contrast (Rösch, 97). James works by logical progression in both Books.
At the start of Goethe's Part II, since Eduard and the Captain are absent, the vacant place is filled by a newly prominent personage, the architect, who is devoted to Ottilie. In James there is never such an empty place to be filled and no character other than the three principal couples has a substantial presence in the novel; the minor characters at Fawns in Part Fifth, for example, serve only to smooth over embarrassment in the two intense relationships of the principals.
Towards the close of Goethe's novel a melancholy peace prevails. Charlotte and the Captain no longer resist the fatal passion between the other two, but instead try to smooth the way for it. Similarly, in James, Charlotte and the Prince no longer put up a resistance to the will of Adam and Maggie as they lay down the law of marriage, backed with the law of money. Marriage is swept away by passion in Goethe; passion is stamped out in the name of marriage in James.
Goethe's characters have wide-ranging cultural conversations, though always coming back to the fatal affinities. Despite the partial conflict between the novel's ambition to provide a critique of culture and the central marriage-plot, Elective Affinities is much tighter in construction than Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship. The author of Faust did not share James' aversion to 'loose baggy monsters': 'The only product of greater extent in which I consciously worked to present a pervasive idea was my Elective Affinities. That made the novel easy for the understanding to grasp, but I will not say it thereby became a better novel! Rather I am of the opinion that the more a poetic production is immeasurable and difficult for the understanding to grasp, the better' (G 626). James's characters never discuss or think of anything but their intensely tangled relationships, and thus James completes Goethe's movement towards total classical integration. But this is achieved at the expense of the realistic social texture in the background of Goethe's drama, which is a microcosm of German society in a time of rapid social change, accelerated by the wartime conditions of 1806 (the year in which Hegel was writing The Phenomenology of Mind). However, though there is no presence of the poor in James's novel, it does convey a muffled sense of social crisis. He may have noticed the social dimension of Goethe's story and of its central conceit: the chemical affinities are connected with the relations of 'the nobility and the third estate, the soldier and the civilian' (G 272). The marriages in The Golden Bowl are symbolic 'not only of marriages in actual life but of other social institutions and processes which are fused with them'. Like Goethe's, 'James's novel devotes its full power simultaneously to sanctioning the institutions of marriage as a convention and to challenging its given conventional status' (Holland, 350).
5. The principle of composition at work in each of the novels is felt as an uncanny law, dictating the symbolism, the structure, the decorum, and the pace of the narration. Goethe's novel is superbly paced; often in a succession of quick passionate strokes. The characters act and speak with a lightning-like directness that is at the polar opposite to James, and that gives the narration a daemonic pulse. James's pacing is also perfect, in its slow motion suggesting a stately dream. It cannot be rushed, and any rush would be felt as a lapse of taste. Leisurely rhythmic unfolding, touch by touch, in a patient logical development has been characteristic of James's fiction for a long time, not only in The Spoils of Poynton, The Awkward Age, The Sacred Fount, The Ambassadors, but even as far back as The Portrait of a Lady. The lapse from this principle in The Wings of the Dove, deplored by James himself, leaves readers with a sense that Milly's story, unlike Maggie's, has not been fully told. Ennui is more successfully kept at bay in The Golden Bowl than in the earlier works, despite its length, because of the hypnotic rhythm James sets up, a rhythm common to all the novel's dialogues, yet vibrant and fresh in each of them, so that one almost thinks of Ravel's Bolero. Each of the forty-two chapters is rhythmically shaped and swings majestically to its climax and cadence.
In the sixties almost all commentators on the novel spoke condescendingly of its longueurs. Ever since Edith Wharton's comments, the midnight colloquies of the Assinghams were seen as almost intolerably tedious. But repeated readings of the novel reveal even these passages to be far more vibrant and dramatic than they seem at first. Fanny's role is seen to be tightly woven into the plot, and her distress becomes more enjoyable for its frank comedy. The Golden Bowl is a much more 'disillusioned' novel than The Wings of the Dove, for here James forgoes all Romantic idealization of his heroine. At the outer rim of his great humming bowl, Fanny's agnonized analyses and the cooler comments of her husband -- 'She's very nice, but she always seems to me, more than anything else, the young woman who has a million a year' (79-80) -- frame Maggie's drama in a manner that dispels the shadows where romance might lodge. Colonel Assingham is the closest thing to an uninvolved spectator in the novel, and can represent the bemused and obtuse reader. But he too plays a role in the composition as the editor of the play of his wife's mind (73) and as he echoes her words and puts his questions. The tremendous elaboration of these analyses is not a lapse on James's part but a deliberate following out of the design until it has reached the fully satisfying ample proportions he aims at. It is a baroque extravagance, to be sure. When Charlotte says: 'though the whole thing is a little baroque, its value as a specimen is, I believe, almost inestimable' (496), James is inserting an apologia for his novel. As the classic proportions that prevail amid this extravagance become clearer, to complain of longueurs becomes, as in the comparable case of Wagner, a mark of defective attention or of philistinism. The classic triumphs over its hasty critics.
6. Ryan correlates the characters of the two novels as follows: Eduard and Amerigo (both decadent aristocrats); Charlotte and Maggie (though Maggie has some of the 'innocence and naturalness' of Ottilie); Ottilie and Charlotte Stant; the Captain and Adam Verver -- the latter pair are 'rather shadowy', 'more functions than characters' she claims (Ryan, 155). Actually it is Charlotte who is eclipsed by Ottilie and reduced to a function in Part II of Goethe's novel. Adam Verver is something more than a function: his point of view governs the entire middle section of James's Book I. Still he may remain 'essentially a product' (Notebooks, 70). I propose instead that the principal correlation is that of Eduard and Adam, Charlotte and Charlotte Stant (who have the same names!), Ottilie and Maggie, the Captain and Amerigo. However, James does not stick rigidly to this parallel; at one point, as we shall see, Maggie plays the role of Goethe's Charlotte in persuading (not her husband but) her father to invite the other woman, Charlotte.
The enigmatic figure of Mittler, the specialist in resolving domestic disputes, can be compared with Mrs Assingham (Ryan, 157), he too being an 'ass' whose interventions, like Fanny's, are rarely blessed with success. He is also reflected in the similarly named Father Mitchell, 'good, holy, hungry man' (500), who is just as useless to Maggie as Mittler is to Ottilie: 'nothing came but the renewed twiddle of thumbs over the satisfied stomach and the full flush, the comical candour, of reference to the hand employed at Fawns for mayonnaise of salmon' (503). Both Mittler and Mitchell are figures of the Church and its incapacity to deal with the breakdown of traditional morality. Fanny's act of smashing the bowl initiates the reconciliation of Maggie and Amerigo, whereas Mittler's last intervention in Goethe's novel drives Ottilie to suicide. But, like Fanny, Mittler has the gift of acute prophecy: 'He who wants something better than he has is quite blind -- yes, yes! just laugh -- he plays blind man's buff' (256). Maggie's plans of improving her life by inviting Charlotte are just as unforeseeing as Eduard and Charlotte's plans to invite the Captain and Ottilie. Charlotte's unease about the invitation to the Captain causes her to blot her letter, something Eduard lightly laughs off (257). One thinks of the looming unease created by the major mistakes in James: Charlotte's secret rendezvous with Amerigo at the end of Part First, her acceptance of Adam (after awaiting Amerigo's permission) at the end of Part Second, her sexual encounter with Amerigo at the end of Part Third. Incidentally, it is not correct to say that Mittler is a 'staid representative of bourgeois morality' (Ryan, 157); he is a daemonic presence in the novel, an impulsive eccentric who reflects rather the threatened state of the bourgeois moral order.
7. We cannot say how deeply James had studied Goethe's novel, nor how he would have interpreted it. Goethe believed his novel could be understood only on a third reading, and it has been 'the commentators' despair' for two hundred years (Winkelman, 4). Though James had studied the novel diligently in Bonn at the age of seventeen, as he recalls in his autobiography, Ryan is ready to admit that its influence on the composition of The Golden Bowl may have been subconscious (155). This is unlikely, given the highly conscious nature of James's use of models on other occasions. In addition to the coherence of the total effect of James's novel as a rewriting of Goethe's there are a number of minor 'bumps' in James's text that come into satisfying focus only when viewed laterally from the vantage point of Goethe's.
(i) Consider Amerigo's visit to Fanny: 'The unspoken had come up, and there was a crisis -- neither could have said how long it lasted -- during which they were reduced, for all interchange, to looking at each other on quite an inordinate scale. They might at this moment, in their positively portentous stillness, have been keeping it up for a wager, sitting for their photograph or even enacting a tableau-vivant' (49-50). James then presents his portrait of Fanny in the manner of a tableau vivant. The most famous literary reference to tableaux vivants is Goethe's. They represent the aestheticization of human beings that is a major theme in both novels (see Nussbaum, 131-6). Edith Wharton has a beautiful description of tableaux vivants in The House of Mirth (Book 1, chapter 12), which is contemporaneous with The Golden Bowl; they also feature in 'Paste' (1899).
(ii) Of Maggie's plan to invite Charlotte Adam asks, 'Is it a strict moral obligation', to which Maggie replies 'No -- it's for the amusement' (146), including Fanny's. As in Goethe, the symmetrical arrangement attracts for the amusement it promises. The scene continues as follows:
It had come to him within the minute that from the beginning of their session there she had been holding something back... 'You've got something up your sleeve'.
She had a silence that made him right. 'Well, when I tell you you'll understand. It's only up my sleeve in the sense of being in a letter I got this morning. All day, yes, -- it has been in my mind. I've been asking myself if it were quite the right moment, or in any way fair, to ask you if you could stand just now another woman'. (GB 146-7)
Compare the following passage from Goethe:
'At least, my dear', she continued, 'you should know that your wishes, the friendly liveliness with which you expressed them, have not left me untouched, or unmoved. They force me to a confession. I too have hidden something from you up to now. I find myself in a similar situation to you and have already done myself the violence that I suspect you have done to yourself'.
'I hear it gladly', said Eduard; 'I have noted that in the marital state one must sometimes quarrel, for thereby one experiences something of one another [erfährt man was voneinander]'.
'Then now you shall learn [erfahren]', said Charlotte, 'that my situation with Ottilie is the same as yours with the Captain. I am not at all happy about the dear child being in the boarding-school, where she finds herself in very oppressive connections' (250-1).
Eduard exclaims: 'Take Ottilie, leave me the Captain, and in God's name let the experiment (Versuch) be made' (G 252). Charlotte would prefer to 'test (versuchen) for a while how far we suffice in this way for one another' (246). Maggie speaks of Charlotte as Goethe's Charlotte speaks of Ottilie: 'She's always with people, poor dear -- she rather has to be; even when, as is sometimes the case, they're people she doesn't immensely like' (148). Unlike Ottilie, who shows no capacities (251), Charlotte is 'Great in nature, in character, in spirit. Great in life' (149), yet she 'has done nothing, and anyone can see it, and see also that it's rather strange' (151). Goethe's Charlotte will bring out Ottilie's hidden qualities; 'if I were an educator or supervisor I would form her to be a splendid creature'. Maggie, in rather grandiose tones, declares: 'I've lived more myself, I'm older, and one judges better. Yes, I'm going to see in Charlotte... more than I've ever seen' (150). The Charlotte/Ottilie parallel here is underlined by Adam's remark that he had thought of her as a little girl. Maggie points out that she is in fact 'a brilliant woman' (ib.), like Goethe's Charlotte. Eduard remembers Ottilie as having especially beautiful eyes (G 253) and Adam thinks similarly of Charlotte's: 'Her extraordinarily fine eyes, as it was his present theory that he had always thought them' (183)'.
(iii) Early in Book II a new formation of James's foursome emerges as the two women and the two men are thrown together (326); Maggie realizes that Charlotte and Amerigo are colluding on 'a plan that was the exact counterpart of her own' (328), 'a worked-out scheme for their not wounding her... a bath of benevolence artfully prepared for her' (329; see the bath image, 34). There had been a plan that 'the parent and the child should "do something lovely" together' (330), but Maggie now knows that this would allow Charlotte and Amerigo to 'snatch their moment' (331). Adam drops the plan (336), perhaps because he has had the same suspicion as Maggie, simultaneously. She proposes a new plan to Amerigo -- that he should go on a trip with Adam, 'you and he alone' (338). Amerigo asks if Adam is to propose this (341)and demurs at making the proposal himself, suggesting instead 'we can make Charlotte ask him' (344); Maggie feels this proposal contains 'menace' (351). When Adam, prompted by Charlotte, raises the idea with Maggie (358) and then asks her to let it drop, pleading 'his lack of any eagerness to put time and space, on any such scale, between himself and his wife' (360). Maggie assures him the trip was not for Amerigo's sake; he and Maggie 'perfectly rub on together', a phrase Adam immediately echoes with regard to Charlotte and himself. Maggie feels she has been outmanoeuvred by Amerigo and Charlotte: 'He had played then, either all consciously or all unconsciously, into Charlotte's hands; and the effect of this was to render trebly oppressive Maggie's conviction of Charlotte's plan... She had kept her test, Maggie's test, from becoming possible, and had applied instead a test of her own' (361). This rather odd set of events is a 'bump' pointing to Goethe. At the same point in Goethe's novel the two men have absented themselves, breaking up the spellbound circle of the criss-crossing foursome. Indeed the spell never really took hold between Charlotte and the Captain. James projects the possibility of a premature dissolution of his foursome, but by not following through on it he increases the sense of claustrophobic entanglement between his characters and also assures a tighter symmetrical structure to his novel, in contrast to what may have struck him as the chaotic second part of Goethe's. Also we remember that when Goethe's Charlotte agrees to the divorce she makes it a condition that Eduard and the Major go off together; nothing comes of this; James retrieves this loose stitch in Goethe's design.
These intertextual effects recall those in 'The Aspern Papers' that pointed to the presence of Pushkin's 'The Queen of Spades'. It has been suggested that the unlikely Venetian garden of 'The Aspern Papers' 'is explicable only because it has been transported from Salem to Venice! (that is, from Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables) (Bell, 192-3); but as we know from a letter of 1906, there actually was a garden attached to the house James used as his model (Palazzo Capello, Rio Marin); the garden may be seen as doubly motivated, having both a factual basis and intertextual value. All the gardening and artistic activities in Elective Affinities also have a factual basis, so that the novel is a sociological document, yet they are laden with symbolic import, to a degree that has blinded critics to their realistic basis.
8. Familiarity with the extreme sophistication of James can make Goethe's plot management seem rather abrupt. Just as 'The Aspern Papers' clothes the skeleton of Pushkin's novella with rich psychological motivation, so The Golden Bowl fills out 'the motivation of the chiasmic love affairs which remain in Goethe somewhat artificial and abstract' and 'provides it with more modern underpinnings, i.e. greater psychological and social credibility' (Ryan, 154). Goethe's novel has something of the schematic character of a novella, a genre that 'concerns a single extraordinary event depicted in a realistic manner', and that Theodor Storm called 'the sister of the drama' (Winkelman, 54). James was a master of the novella genre, but in The Golden Bowl (originally conceived as a novella) he is writing a novel modelled on the novella just as The Awkward Age is modelled on the drama. A novella can afford obvious symbolisms and parallelisms that a full-length novel has to mask. With the exception of the looming eponymous bowl, deliberately thrown into the highest relief, James distributes his leitmotifs so unobtrusively that they are likely to go unnoticed on a first reading, whereas it would be hard not to notice the dense play of motifs in Goethe's novel. The motifs create a web of cross-connections that makes both novels intensely self-referential. Goethe did not exploit obsessively recurrent motifs so systematically in his other works, nor did James, who here again is emulating the German master.
To trace motival connections between the two novels could be an endless task. Adam is introduced in a setting that has a lake, a village, church, terrace, park, garden just as in Goethe: 'spaces of terrace and garden, of park and woodland and shining artificial lake, of richly condensed horizon,, all dark blue upland and church-towered village' (111). The name Adam evokes gardening, the principal occupation of Eduard. When Charlotte plays the piano for the less musical Adam -- 'She went through his "favourite things" -- and he had so many favourites -- with a facility that never failed, or that failed but just enough to pick itself up at a touch from his fitful voice' (164) -- we are reminded of how when Ottilie accompanied Eduard's flute her playing revealed their affinity: 'She had so made her defects his own that there arose thence again a kind of living whole' (297).
The ubiquitous imagery of water and boats is imported from Goethe, as when for instance the Colonel sees his wife afloat on a 'mystic lake' (274, 282). Maggie and Adam's incestuous cocoon is imaged as a boat: 'They were husband and wife -- oh, so immensely -- as regards other persons... In the boat they were father and daughter... Why... couldn't they always live... in a boat?' (471). This recalls the sinister link between Ottilie's quasi-incestuous embrace of Eduard and her fatal boating accident. Maggie's initial imagination of the clandestine couple as 'the pair of operatic, of high Wagnerian lovers... interlocked in their wood of enchantment, a green glade as romantic as one's dreams of an old German forest' (488) might evoke the passion of Eduard and Ottilie. One of Ottilie's adages recalls Maggie's struggle to dose intimacy with secrecy: 'In nothing perhaps is the middle way more desirable than in confiding or keeping silent toward those that we love' (385). On the eve of Eduard's birthday Ottilie is enveloped by the atmosphere of the chapel; there is reference to 'the beauty of the vault' (373); Maggie also beholds a vault as she realizes she is being manipulated: 'it now arched over the Princess's head like a vault of bold span' (328).
Goethe's novel is structured by the chemical law of elective affinities which operates like a fate, the four characters changing places as the elements do in a chemical interaction. The chiastic, criss-cross relation between the four protagonists is reflected in their names: Otto, Otto, Charlotte, and Ottilie. When Eduard (whose real name is Otto) makes love with his wife Charlotte while thinking of Ottilie, the child who is born resembles the Captain and has Ottilie's eyes, thus revealing the scandalous desires of his parents. The child too received the name Otto, a palindrome that is the chemical formula of the relationships among the adults.
The central symbol of the bowl links all four characters in James: Maggie buys it for Adam, Charlotte, seeking a marriage gift for Maggie, thinks of buying it for Amerigo. It is invoked as a symbol of the seemingly perfect but actually flawed relations between the couples. In Goethe, a similar central role is played by the glass with E and O inscribed on it, which Eduard takes as a symbol of the indestructibility of fated relationships, but which he later discovers has been broken and replaced with another. The breaking of the symbolic object in Goethe hastens the final consummation of Eduard and Ottilie's fated passion in a Liebestod, whereas in James it clears the air for Maggie's final constructive salvaging of her marriage with Amerigo. James corrects Goethe's plot, and brings the affairs to a far more satisfying conclusion.
The law of elective affinities is expounded in chapter four of Goethe's novel (just as the arrival of the third party, the Captain, begins chapter three). The relationship of the element of quicksilver to itself takes the form of a globe: 'this completely pure relation made possible through fluidity is distinguished decisively and always through the shape of a sphere' (G 271-2), the shape of the golden bowl and of James's novel. Goethe is probably influenced here by a similar discussion of globes in the fifth dialogue in Herder's 1787 book Gott, which he admired; Herder also mentions elective affinities (Wahl-Anziehung) and writes: 'The chemist arranges nothing but weddings and separations' (Herder, 783). Amerigo imagines his (amoral) freedom to be 'as perfect and rounded and lustrous as some huge precious pearl' (268). The 'vicious circle' (292) of the two couples is figured in images of a pagoda (301-3) and 'a great overarched and overglazed rotunda... the doors of which opened into sinister circular passages' (494); Charlotte sits in 'a sort of umbrageous temple, an ancient rotunda' (508).
The most complex form of elective affinity, 'double reciprocal affinity' (see Adler, 107-12), is acted out in Part I: 'A will cast itself on D, C on B, without it being possible to say who has first left the other, who has first again linked up with the other' (276). When Eduard and Ottilie eventually embrace we read: 'It was not to be distinguished which of them had first grasped the other' (324); Charlotte and the Captain embrace at the very same moment (326). Similarly, when Amerigo and Charlotte agree on their clandestine rapport which completes the fourfold pattern in James we read: 'their hands instinctively found their hands... They were silent at first, only facing and faced, only grasping and grasped, only meeting and met... Their lips sought their lips, their pressure their response and their response their pressure' (237). Just before this Amerigo has been feeling the 'congruity' of their relationship: 'Charlotte Stant turning up for him at the very climax of his special inner vision, was an apparition charged with a congruity at which he stared almost as if it had been a violence' (225). Her present appearance recalls their affair in Rome five years earlier: 'The sense of the past revived for him nevertheless as it had not yet done; it made that other time somehow meet the future close, interlocking with it, before his watching eyes, as in a long embrace of arms and lips' (227), a promise of revival of their earlier embraces. 'The magic web had spun itself without their toil' (227).
In Goethe's novel the symmetry of the adulterous couples does not carry over into Part II, for the simple reciprocal affinity between Eduard and Ottilie is far stronger than the sentiment between Charlotte and the Captain. The power and irresistibility of a chemical interaction is what is absent from James's novel. His characters obey not a blindly working instinctive affinity but the convenient symmetry of a social arrangement. What draws them together is in part an attraction of like to like: Charlotte is close to Amerigo through her mastery of Italian, her birth (of American parents) and childhood in Florence, and the Tuscan ancestor he postulates for her (64-5). It is the attraction of opposites, of rich America and romantic Europe, that cements the bond between Maggie and Amerigo. But in large part the marriages in this novel are arranged ones; both Amerigo and Charlotte enter on wedlock with trepidation, and the firm arranging hand of Maggie is felt strongly in Charlotte's case: 'She united them, brought them together as with the click of a silver spring' (189). Money is the fundamental bonding force. Adam buys Amerigo for Maggie; she, in return, makes Adam a present of Charlotte; touched, he exclaims, 'What my child does for me!' (190).
Amerigo's compliance with the situation arranged by Maggie and Adam and with the suggestions of Charlotte recalls the passivity of Densher, a passivity carried over into the way Amerigo cooperates with Maggie in fixing the situation and the way Densher submits to the redemptive influence of Milly. The Prince's anxiety to be 'safe' (67, 69) recalls the cautious passivity of Densher, and Charlotte's skill in making him feel safe is comparable to Kate's. Charlotte takes the initiative in a rather unscrupulous way at many points in the novel. Only her last gracious acquiescence brings her into harmony with the social and moral order of the Ververs. But her role is fundamentally passive too: 'she showed how the question had therefore been only of their taking everything as everything came, and all as quietly as might be. Nothing stranger surely had ever happened to a conscientious, a well-meaning, a perfectly passive pair' (221). The Prince, moreover, follows her lead with a show of courage, as he later follows Maggie's. The phrasing of the telegram approving of Charlotte's marriage show the two wills moving in equal accord as in the chemical process in Goethe: 'I am charmed with your courage and almost surprised at my own' (222).
Amerigo is a passive lover -- what draws him irresistibly to Charlotte is less his passion for her than the beautiful fittingness, symmetry of the situation. Fanny says he does not really care for her, as their relationship is 'too easy' (290, 286). James has acquainted us with the texture of Amerigo's feeling for Charlotte. He reifies her attributes, appraising her as a precious object: 'he took the relics out, one by one, and it was more and more, each instant, as if she were giving him time... He knew her narrow hands,... and the perfect working of all her main attachments, that of some wonderfully finished instrument, something intently made for exhibition, for a prize. He knew above all the extraordinary fineness of her flexible waist, the stem of an expanded flower which gave her a likeness also to some long, loose silk purse, well filled with gold pieces' (59). Charlotte's passion for him is of another order, at least as it looms in Maggie's imagination (for James has barred direct access, as he did with Milly, with similar suggestive effect). In this novel marriages of convenience are supplemented by love affairs of convenience: 'They had these identities of impulse -- they had had them repeatedly before; and if such unarranged but unerring encounters gave the measure of the degree in which people were, in the common phrase, meant for each other, no union in the world had ever been more sweetened with rightness' (267). Compare Goethe: 'what divination may achieve when winged by a community of passion' (260).
Fanny, emotionally unsatisfied with her dry husband and confessing to a romantic feeling for the Prince, seems to be living vicariously through the affairs of her friends. That is why the symmetry of their relationships becomes a kind of fetish, casting a spell on her, and inspiring her to arrange their lives like a creative artist: 'I had fallen in love with the beautiful symmetry of my plan' (291). She finds herself trapped by her own creation: '"You have to do it all", said Bob Assingham, "as if you were playing some game with its rules drawn up -- though who's to come down on you if you break them I don't quite see. Or must you do it in three guesses -- like forfeits on Christmas eve?"' (216).
The characters are as tightly bound together as in Goethe: 'Our relation, all round, exists -- it's a reality, and a very good one; we're mixed up, so to speak, and it's too late to change it. We must live in it and with it' (86), declares Fanny. Maggie thinks of the two couples as a four-wheeled carriage, from which she now alights (315). Adam uneasily remarks to Maggie: 'we're selfish together -- we move as a selfish mass' (362). The Prince thinks of 'these people among whom he was married' (238). In Goethe, Eduard and the Captain 'have been throughout our lifetime so indebted to one another, reciprocally, that we cannot calculate how our credit and debit stand to one another' (244) -- note here the language of symmetry. The filling out of the design provides drama. Charlotte's apologia to Fanny is a squaring of the situation: 'She had made her point, the point she had foreseen she must make; she had made it thoroughly and once for all, so that no more making was required'; she watches 'poor Fanny left to stare at the incurred "score", chalked up in so few strokes on the wall' (204). It is as if the situation of the four is a destiny that cannot be gainsaid. Charlotte has only to point to it to feel herself justified and Fanny's objections quashed. 'They consider their being systematically thrown together as a justifying and not merely as an extenuating reason for their adulterous relationship -- a European view of the matter which James projects with the utmost cogency and persuasiveness' (Segal, 189). In the 'hidden story' of Goethe's novel, Ottilie immediately begins to seduce Eduard, aware that it is for this purpose that her aunt has invited her (Winkelman, 96-7). In a sense Charlotte is obeying an implicit behest of Maggie in reactivating her affair with Amerigo.
Do the names of James' protagonists reflect the symmetries of the design? Amerigo and Adam share the initial and are both names of pioneers (the pioneer of the race and the 'discoverer' of America). Stant suggests rigidity; Verver shiftiness. The name Charlotte is a prominent name in Goethe's life (Charlotte von Stein, Charlotte Kestner) and work (Werther) but the name of Maggie has even richer Goethean connotations: it is the name of Margarete, the heroine of Faust! How well it suits her we shall have occasion to see. It is interesting to note that Joyce's Exiles also reflects the structure of Goethe's novel, including the chiastic naming of the main characters, RIChard, BERTha, RoBERT, BeatRICe (Mahaffey, 150; see Shaffer). In all three works the affinities between the two men and between the two women are piquant subsidiary themes.
Superstition and omens play a great part in Goethe's novel, and lend force to the symbolism. But Goethe already begins to naturalize this and to see it as grounded in the characters' psychology. Charlotte has 'a premonition that bodes to good', but she explains that it is based on the reasonable idea that 'nothing is more significant in every situation than the coming in between of a third party (248). In James there is a slighter presence of omens. The wedding of Amerigo and Maggie must not be held on a Friday or have thirteen guests (68); the presumed crack in the bowl is a bad augury (109), and in reference to it Amerigo remarks to Charlotte: 'I go, as you know, by my superstitions' (270); the vendor of the bowl visits Maggie because 'he had known superstitious visitings' and fears it is 'a present that would bring ill luck' (450); indeed all references to the bowl are steeped in a foreboding reminiscent of Goethe's novel. However, just as 'The Aspern Papers' strips 'The Queen of Spades' of its preternatural elements and creates instead a 'submerged fantastic', so The Golden Bowl translates the uncanny fatalism of Elective Affinities into the terms of a drama of consciousness: 'James' belief that consciousness is all' has as its consequence 'the removal from the plot of those elements of fate and the daemonic which Goethe's novel still (if in a highly complex and not unequivocal sense) retains' (Ryan, 162). Fate is at work in the symmetry of the relationships, but it is a fate assented to and largely created by the imagination of the characters.
Goethe's Eduard plays along with fate in the divorce plan: 'We are no longer master of what has come from it [the original plan], but we have the power to make it harmless and to direct the relationships to our happiness'; to return to the old situation would involve much 'awkwardness, discomfort, irksomeness' (451). Eduard dies as a victim of fate. Maggie, in contrast, actually reverses an apparent fate. James is showing his readers how marriage can be saved, whereas Goethe, almost like the ineffectual Mittler, leaves us only with a stark antinomy between the sacredness of the marriage bond and the irresistibility of passion. Fate is literally fatal in Goethe's novel, taking three victims. No one dies in James yet a little bump in James's text connects Maggie once and once only with the thought of death: 'I know nothing. If I did... I should die' (505). It is because the civilized equilibrium is kept up that Maggie lives; it is because it breaks down that Ottilie and Eduard die.
The topic of freedom is also central to both novels. James's novel could even be read as a commentary on the maxim in Ottilie's diary: 'As soon as someone considers himself to be free, he immediately feels that he is bound. If he dares to consider himself bound, then he feels that he is free' (397). Charlotte and Amerigo, like Eduard and like Luciane, consider themselves free and immediately run into bonds. Maggie, like Ottilie, finds freedom through assuming bonds of duty. James's characters come close to doubting their free will, as Goethe's do. Colonel Assingham is sceptical of Fanny's view of Adam and Maggie as victims of the conventions they live by and which Charlotte and Amerigo impose on them. He asks, 'Are they mere helpless victims of fate?'; Fanny 'at last had the courage of it. "Yes -- they are. To be so abjectly innocent -- that is to be victims of fate"'(291). Innocence, blindness, makes one a victim of fate, but so does love: 'she had... never felt so absorbingly married, so abjectly conscious of a master of her fate. He could do what he would with her' (314). The fatalism suggested by Goethe's chemical analogy perhaps echoes the Spinozism expounded as follows in 1785 by Jacobi (and much discussed in the following years): 'We merely believe that we acted from anger, love, magnanimity or rational decisions. Pure delusion! In all these cases what moves us at bottom is a something that has no knowledge of all this' (Jacobi, 27; for the Goethe-Jacobi connection see Boyle, 382-5).
Maggie makes a 'somewhat cryptic remark' on the imbalance created by her marriage: 'What has really happened is that the proportions, for us, are altered' (140); 'we don't... lead half the life we might' (145). Her father's marriage is to restore the balance. Fanny imagines the resultant symmetry will be all the more perfect if the new wife is Charlotte. Adam says to Maggie: 'So far as you've wronged me therefore, we'll call it square' (144), alluding to the restored symmetry of the foursome. Fanny is 'squared' (219, 263, 391) by Amerigo and Charlotte; Maggie 'squared again her little objects on the chimney' (425) as she confronts her husband; the vendor apologizes for not having been quite 'square' with Maggie (452). The word 'square' becomes a motif signifying vision of the pattern and restoration of integrity. Adam 'begun to square himself' (483); Maggie sees a 'lighted square' (496).
Adam's remark: 'I had better get married just in order to be as I was before' (144) again underlines something deadly in the symmetry of the plan. It is so perfect that it produces constant confusion as each element mirrors the others. It is as if the characters have become trapped in a collective solipsism. Hence the play on confusion of pronouns, both in the dialogue and in narrative text, that grows increasingly frequent. Pronouns referring to character A are taken to refer to character B, or are reassigned to character B, suggesting virtual relationships coursing along side by side with the real ones. References call for such clarification on pp. 52, 54, 68, 77 (twice), 78, 85 (twice), 118, 131, 175-6, 194-5, 214, 231, 275-6, 276 (three times), 277 (twice), 287, 289, 297, 343, 361, 387, 408, 415, 417, 419, 482, 504, 505 (twice), 512, 524, 531 (twice), 532 (twice). When Maggie says to Amerigo that Charlotte is 'dying for us -- for you and me' (532), the suppressed identity of the 'us' is Maggie and her father, who inflict tragic loss on the other two. These quiproquos become worthy of Ionesco when in reply to his wife's remark 'I should feel... that the two of us were showing the same sort of kindness', Amerigo says 'The two of us? Charlotte and I?' (343), revealingly replacing his wife with Charlotte. One recalls the scene in Goethe in which Charlotte thinks her husband's knocking is that of the Captain's, and each makes love while thinking not of the spouse but of the person they desire (320-1). When Charlotte urges Eduard that they must 'fully return to the old situation' (340) he misunderstands her to refer to a divorce that would restore their premarital state. In James such criss-crossing misunderstandings, dictated by passion, create an almost choreographical sense of symmetry and add to the final effect of the novel as a beautiful artefact in which all the flaws and lies in the characters' relationships are integrated into a semblance of civilized form.
The Anatomy of Egoism
1. W. H. Auden notes that Goethe's tales of romantic passion can be read as subtle studies of egoism:
Living in the twentieth century, not the eighteenth, and knowing, as most of his contemporaries did not, Goethe's later work, Werther can still fascinate us, but in a very different way. To us it reads not as a tragic love story, but as a masterly and devastating portrait of a complete egoist, a spoiled brat, incapable of love because he cares for nobody and nothing but himself and having his way at whatever cost to others. The theme of the egoist who imagines himself to be a passionate lover evidently fascinated Goethe, for, thirty years later, he depicted a similar character in Edouard [sic], the husband in Elective Affinities. (Auden, 126-7)
In similar vein, Ryan says of Eduard and Amerigo: 'Both men are egotists, fancying themselves to be great lovers' (155); again, this applies better to Adam than to Amerigo.
Egoists who imagine themselves to be lovers is a very Jamesian theme: one thinks of Osmond in The Portrait of a Lady (see for example ch. 35) and the grown-ups in What Maisie Knew. It is more particularly a Meredithian theme. Meredith's The Egoist is the novel closest to The Golden Bowl in its slow deliberate pace, subtle psychological analysis, systematic milking of every aspect of a very restricted plot, critique of leisured egoism, and stylistic density that makes re-reading essential to full understanding. Meredith's Willoughby belongs with Austen's Mr Collins, George Eliot's Casaubon and the Aspern narrator to a gallery of monstrous egoists in English fiction. He is a probable source for the portrayal of the arch-egotist Osmond; The Egoist appeared in 1879 and James began work on The Portrait of a Lady at the end of that year. In The Golden Bowl egoism masquerading as passionate love runs rife. All the characters are utterly spoiled, either through being plutocrats, or through being the darlings of the rich.
Eduard, introduced as 'a rich baron in the prime of life' (G 242) is a man of property. His father had 'a never to be sated greed for possessions' (246). 'Eduard was not accustomed to deny himself anything. The only, spoiled child of rich parents' (249). When Ottilie relates his wife's disobliging comment on his flute-playing his vanity is stung and 'he feels himself absolved from all duties' (330). His impatience with beggars, in this period of great social distress, is a mark of personal egoism and the egoism of his class (286). He prevents the beggars from disturbing his life by arranging for them to be dealt with as they leave the town. Goethe's critique of Eduard's class is conveyed in deadpan Swiftian shafts: the Captain 'had taken careful measures to prevent beggary and other inconveniences whereby the agreeableness of an entertainment is spoiled' (334). Charlotte, too, is adroit in smoothing out the rough edges of life, as when she beautifies the graveyard with scant regard for the dead and their families. Readers have missed Goethe's satire because of the imperturbable majesty of the late style (Winkelman, 47-8), and the same is true of James's ironic handling of the Ververs.
In the early chapters Eduard is occupied with improvements to his estate. The plan of inviting the Captain and Ottilie belongs to this realm of engineering, just as Adam Verver's plans are an extension of his collecting. When the Captain draws up a plan of the estate, Eduard feels 'that he was getting to know his properties for the first time; now they seemed for the first time rightly to belong to him' (261). Eduard's passion for Ottilie makes him oblivious of the boy the Captain rescues from drowning: 'Everything is being looked after, and our intrusion would merely be a hindrance' (338). 'I'd like to see the man who exceeds me in the talent of loving' (355), he boasts. 'Men prone to tears are good', he claims (356); 'tears stood in his eyes' (254); compare Adam Verver's lachrymose moments 'strange tears in his own eyes' (497). Adam's 'majestic scheme' (169) of marrying Charlotte has aesthetic beauty and is compared to a 'glazed picture', and its ugly egoism is masked from him by a sense of doing it all for Maggie (169). The language of 'experience' is tinged with egoism here as in Goethe: his relationship to Charlotte is 'an experience... of a new and pleasant order' (170).
Eduard and his wife are very concerned with enriching their social life, by generous invitations. When Ottilie arrives, Charlotte gets to know her: 'For Charlotte was of the opinion that one cannot swiftly enough acquaint oneself with the character of the people with whom one has to live, so as to know what one may expect of them, what in them can be shaped, and what one must once for all concede to them and forgive' (G 282). They are full of elegant consideration for one another, like the characters in James. Linked together in a collective ego, they can be seen as cushioning one another's egoism.
Auden's judgment on Werther underestimates the potency of the melange of sexual passion and a longing for infinite freedom that makes Goethe's protagonist a precursor of Wagner's Tristan -- but of course Auden is happy to follow Nietzsche in seeing Wagner's heroes also as neurotics and decadents, representing forces in the human psyche which are to be overcome (Auden, 253-5). The sentimentality of Werther, who specifies that he would like to be buried in a yellow waistcoat, is one example of the culture critique knit into the novel (see G 544). Unlike Wagner, Goethe can judge his heroes morally, particularly in the passages added in the second version of the text, including the tale of the murderer whom Werther wants to have released. As Goethe remarked to Henry Crabb Robinson: 'It was never perceived by the critics that Werther praised Homer while he retained his senses, and Ossian when he was going mad. But reviewers do not notice such things' (G 536). This combination of empathetic representation and moral discernment creates a rich polyphony which can confuse the inattentive reader; in English novels discernment flourishes at the expense of empathy. Jane Austen underlines the follies of Emma throughout. Emily Bronte goes the whole hog with empathy but rather abandons discernment. One of the great uses of point of view in James is to present the characters with complete empathy, yet at the same time expose them to discerning judgment.
2. The word 'experience' occurs 24 times and 'experiment' or 'experimental' 6 times in The Golden Bowl (19 and 3 times respectively in The Ambassadors; 5 and 8 times respectively in The Wings of the Dove). 'Experience' carries the overtones of its French sense, 'experiment'. In addition we have phrases like 'their settlement again in England, experimental though it was' (117). The images of exploration and discovery (noted in Burrows 2000) -- Amerigo (81), Gordon Pym (42), Cortez (122-3), the Golden Isles (46, 122) -- suggest that James's characters are exploring unknown territories in human relationships. Adam's full vision of the perfect pattern marriage with Charlotte would form (as allowing him to so manage 'that Maggie would less and less appear to herself to have forsaken him') transforms the night landscape into 'a vast expanse of discovery' (167-8). Maggie rejoices in her discovery of her husband's infidelity: the bowl has the value of 'its having given me so much of the truth about you' (428), she tells Amerigo; she doesn't want her money back: 'I feel so that I'm getting its worth' (434). When Charlotte asks Adam, 'Do you think you've "known" me?', he counters with, 'What is that then -- if I accept it -- but as strong a reason as I can want for just learning to know you'; she in turn remarks: 'when it's a question of learning, one learns sometimes too late' (176-7). Experience and knowledge of the other become a scientific challenge. Images of scientific experiment reinforce the images of discovery. Of the 'artlessly-artful' Adam we hear that a 'spark of fire ... had made the chamber of his brain a strange workshop of fortune', the scene of 'a miraculous white-heat, the receipt for producing which... the master of the forge could not have communicated' (112); we hear of the 'action of the cerebral temperature' and 'perfection of machinery', and 'a dim explanation of phenomena' (113).
Fanny's interest in the two couples resembles a scientist's: 'She found his [Amerigo's] eloquence precious; there was not a drop of it that she didn't, in a manner, catch, as it came, for immediate bottling, for future preservation, The crystal flask of her innermost attention really received it on the spot, and she had even already the vision of how, in the snug laboratory of her afterthought, she should be able chemically to analyse it' (208). Maggie's discovery of the truth in Part II has all the excitement of a scientific process: 'as great a difference of view as the shift of an inch in the position of a telescope' (439).
Critics who note the Gordon Pym and Cortez references have failed to indicate that these are mediated by the literary culture of the Prince and Adam respectively. The reading of the characters suits them: Amerigo reads a boy's adventure story, Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym; Adam has middlebrow tastes in poetry, Keats's sonnet on Chapman's Homer (122) and Longfellow (362). Maggie, the fair girl, reads French novels ('her pale novel', 307) and the current issue of a 'salmon-coloured French periodical' (455). If the 'Review' is James's favourite Revue des Deux Mondes, then Maggie is given tastes close to the author's, as befits her role in the novel. Meanwhile Charlotte, the dark girl, struggles with an old dark-covered three-volume English novel (507), which Maggie has given her and which she helps her to read. Maggie retrieves the second volume and gives Charlotte the correct first volume instead, an allegory for her retrieval of Amerigo from and restoration of Adam to Charlotte. Maggie seeks classic form and clarity in relationships, Charlotte an English luxuriance and passion, with less clear definition.
3. Commodity fetishism again dominates this novel, as Maggie and Adam 'buy' and then 'buy off' their respective spouses. Adam says of Charlotte: 'That's what we got her for!' and Maggie chimes in with this dehumanizing commodification: 'What we got her for -- exactly! (364). Even at the end, when Adam concurs with Maggie that Charlotte is 'beautiful', he speaks not in love but in appreciation of her value, striking 'the note of possession and control' (545). On the last page Maggie learns from Amerigo how much her victory is worth: 'she had begun to be paid in full' (547). Now James avoids the tritely puritanical attitude to money that was just below the surface in The Wings of the Dove; instead he indicates by numerous subtle touches how the Ververs' constant consciousness of ownership gives a Midas touch to their human relationships. In Goethe, Eduard, Charlotte and Luciane marry for money, as Amerigo and Charlotte Stant do. Charlotte stands aside to allow Eduard's first marriage and the Captain stands aside to allow Charlotte's marriage to Eduard, just as Charlotte Stant stands aside to allow Amerigo's marriage.
Maggie reifies the Prince as 'a rarity, an object of beauty, an object of price... a morceau de musée' (35). He objects: 'my single self, the unknown, unimportant -- unimportant save to you -- personal quantity. About this you've found out nothing' (33). Very Goethean is her reply: 'what then would become, please, of the promised occupation of my future?' He speaks of himself as being bought and of being sent to American City for safety like other objects in Adam's collection (36). Adam praises Amerigo for his smoothness as a piece of architecture: 'for living with, you're a pure and perfect crystal' (120). Compare the mason's speech in Goethe: 'just as people who are naturally inclined to one another are still better held together when the law binds them, so are stones, whose form already fits them together, still better unified through these binding forces' (G 300). 'The instinct, the particular sharpened appetite of the collector, had fairly served as a basis for his acceptance of the Prince's suit' (GB 121). He even compares Maggie to a figure on an antique vase: 'it came from his caring for precious vases only less than for precious daughters' (154). 'Nothing perhaps might affect us as queerer, had we time to look into it, than this application of the same measure of value to such different pieces of property as old Persian carpets, say, and new human acquisitions; all the more indeed that the amiable man was not without an inkling, on his own side, that he was, as a taster of life, economically constructed' (159-60). Though not as direct as Goethe's comments on Eduard, such remarks effectively underline the monstrous character of Adam's attitude; it is quite wrong to say that 'James seems to take Mr. Verver at his own estimate', and if James 'invests him also with a paradisal innocence' (Matthiessen, 89), that is only one more instance of the treacherous irony of most of James's portraits of innocence, such as the Governess's righteousness in 'The Turn of the Screw', which Matthiessen also takes at face value (see also Pearson, 339, corrected by Marshall, 195). In dealing with Adam, 'the narratorial voice exudes irony' (Marshall, 190). The refrain, 'this amiable man' (111), is ironic like Antony's 'honorable man' in Julius Caesar. Shades of the abominable disciple of Pater, Gilbert Osmond, loom when we read: 'It was all, at bottom, in him, the aesthetic principle, planted where it could burn with a cold, still flame' (160) -- not, notice, with the 'hard, gemlike flame' of Pater; passion is lacking. James compares Adam to 'gentlemen of pleasure' who are 'discreet in their entertainment of compromising company' and adds: 'That figure has, however, a freedom that the occasion doubtless scarce demands, though we may retain it for its rough negative value' (160), clearly suggesting that there is something licentious and unscrupulous in Adam's manipulation of people. His rapacity is masked by self-idealizing notions reminiscent of the Aspern narrator: 'He was equal, somehow, with the great seers, the invokers and encouragers of beauty -- and he didn't after all perhaps dangle so far below the great producers and creators' (122).
Guilt about being selfish prompts Adam and Maggie's decisions: 'I ain't selfish. I'll be blowed if I'm selfish' (476). It is Adam who proposes the return to America with Charlotte, offering himself as a sacrifice. But he also leads Charlotte to the altar of sacrifice, 'the end of a long silken halter looped round her beautiful neck' (493). 'It is almost like some allegory -- "beauty led by the rich; or "the proletariat in the chains of Capital"' (Pearson, 328). This halter could be a reminiscence of the silken Halstuch (scarf) with which the Captain as a child binds the hands of the girl in the inserted novella in Goethe (453).
4. The words 'victim' and 'sacrifice' are a recurrent motif in James, both corresponding to German Opfer, a word often on the lips of Goethe's characters. 'I do not think it proper that Ottilie should be sacrificed' is Eduard's specious plea when Charlotte suggests that Ottilie should leave (341): when he himself leaves, he declares: 'I have sacrificed myself' (344). In Part II the word takes on its weightiest sense: the dead child is a 'victim' to seal the adults' happiness (461), 'the first victim of an ominous destiny' (464). Similarly, in James, the light references to victims and sacrifices early in the novel are proleptic of the grave sacrifice demanded of all four protagonists at the end. James is developing a less mystified and more constructive concept of sacrifice and renunciation, and exposes the masochism or hidden egoism underlying his characters' rhetoric of sacrifice.
At one point James has Maggie victimize Fanny: 'We have each our own way of making up for our unselfishness, and Maggie... would verily, at this crisis, have seen Mrs Assingham's personal life or liberty sacrificed without a pang'; 'the current aspects and agitations of her victim' (369). She plays the same role more grimly with Amerigo and Charlotte. The element of vindictiveness in her treatment of Amerigo is doubled by the suggestion that Adam is simultaneously treating Charlotte in the same way: 'the vision of the two others alone together at Fawns, and Charlotte, as one of them, having gropingly to go on, always not knowing and not knowing!' (437). Both Maggie and Adam feel a muffled sense of guilt at their egoism and compensate by making sacrificial gestures with a masochistic tinge. Goethe's Ottilie also thinks to compensate for her role in undermining Eduard's marriage by sacrificing herself.
5. 'Eduard can be seen qua individual as distinct from a representative person, and in this light his very faults are endearing foibles and he becomes an attractive character with whom the reader may tend to identify and sympathize, as did Goethe, who said that he found Eduard priceless because he loved unconditionally (letter to C. F. von Reinhard, February 21, 1810)'(Winkelman, 69). In Part II Edward's love for Ottilie acquires high dignity; the final lines are: 'So the lovers rest alongside one another. Peace hovers over their resting places; serene, kindred (verwandte) images of angels gaze down on them from the vault, and what a joyful moment it will be when they awaken together some day' (490). Auden's reading does not do justice to this dimension of the novel. The ending however is problematic. Goethe is visibly adopting a fairy-tale mode that clashes deliberately or not with the rest of the novel. The novel contains a subtle critique of the Romanticism of Friedrich Schlegel, recently converted to Catholicism and now a vocal critic of Goethe (Bersier, 77-109). Goethe has exposed the absurdities of Romantic superstition, yet now exploits it to lend magic to his plot, drawing on the conclusion of Gottfried von Strassburg's Tristan (Winkelman, 114-5) and on the Arabian Nights story of Abul Hassan and Princess Schemselnihar who sicken and die for love and whose tomb becomes a place of prayer (Mommsen, 22). Perhaps Goethe intends to give the Romantics a lesson in how to handle Romantic legend in a serenely distanced, playful style. The canonization of Ottilie, fulfilling the typology set out in the tableaux vivants scenes, is itself an ironic tableau (see Blessin, 94-7), and a similar play of irony surrounds the final redemptive dove-image of Milly in Densher's fetishizing consciousness, and also surrounds Maggie's final heroic posture, an irony deepened if we describe her heroism as 'beautiful' or 'splendid', given all the novel has told us about aestheticization.
Some critics find that the word 'redemptive' as applied to Ottilie, Milly Theale or Maggie Verver is a simple misreading of secular and naturalistic tales. But in all three novels the author lures the reader into supposing that some lofty redemptive enterprise is afoot: 'The work reckons so much with this preliminary and foreshortened reception that one cannot afterwards override it without cutting out of the novel's action the crucial dimension of a productive "complicity of the reader"' (Blessin, 97). The redemptive, indeed Mariological, associations of the three heroines are qualified, relativized, demythologized, undercut in many ways, and even contradicted, yet the first sublime image remains a part of the final more complex understanding.
6. Did James seek to steer his perverse foursome to a wholesome moral conclusion, but in the end fail to exorcize the fetishistic relations that loom more hauntingly? Is the unreality of the Principino and his parents' relation to him is an indicator that James is unable to bring his battle of consciousnesses back within the bounds of a real-life family? Ian comments:
I think that for HJ the 'wholesome moral conclusion', the best possible telos of all 'developments' for any subject, is the establishment of a stable fetishistic symbolic economy. 'Symbolic' precisely because the best fetishized objects are generally mental, or 'psychical' as Freud would say, rather than concrete. Indeed, concrete objects are only of value when they symbolize or give birth to mental objects of greater worth. Hence the pathos of those who as in The Spoils of Poynton make the mistake of overvaluing material objects, the evil (Gilbert Osmond) of those who treat people as expressions of their own love of objects, the ambiguity of those who treat people as the material embodiments of their own ideas (Rowland Mallett).
She adds: 'The Principino remains unreal because he is of no real interest to any one; he is a fetish no one needs, a superfluity. (As the diminutive suggests, he is too small to be a really desirable fetish; size matters.)' But note Adam's first appreciation of the child: 'In the way of precious small pieces, he had handled nothing so precious as the Principino' (GB 126). Maggie explains to Amerigo: 'Values, in lots of cases, you must know, have nothing to do with size' (36).
The status of the Principino comes into new focus if we consult Goethe. There we find that both Eduard and the Captain rejoice in the death of the child who is an obstacle to their passions: the Captain's attitude is: 'Such a victim seemed to him necessary for their all-round happiness'; for Eduard the child's death as 'a happy chance whereby every hindrance to his happiness was at one stroke removed' (461). Even his mother does not seem particularly affected by her loss. Compare this exchange between Bob and Fanny, another piece of intertextual play: '"Decide to live -- ah yes! -- for her child". "Oh, bother her child!... Any idiot can do things for her child"' (287).
Goethe's Charlotte believes that her pregnancy will reunite her with Eduard. But human chemistry here turns out to be a Scheidekunst (see G 273) like scientific chemistry: 'This child is the product of a double adultery! It divides me from my wife and my wife from me, whereas it should have bound us together' (456). Adam Verver fails to give Charlotte 'a Principino of his own' (367) to cement their union the Principino has cemented the union between Maggie and her father (while cementing her division from her husband). The use of 'Principino' here recalls the eerie status of the child Otto as the offspring of all four adults; James likewise presents the Principino as an object variously coveted or used by his four adults.
In Maggie's final triumph there is a lingering suggestion that her fetishization of Amerigo as her toyboy continues to underlie their restored harmony. Marcia Ian comments:
Maggie is that rare bird in James who ends up getting something material for herself in the end (as opposed to other Jamesian heroes who end up with some form of ethical or symbolic satisfaction, sometimes in the form of a Really Big Negative). And I would hazard to say here that Maggie is rare in James because James allows her to take her fetish home and keep it -- or him, it being the Prince, of course. He is not just one of those symbolic mental objects the hero wraps in pink paper, cotton, or flannel, and keeps in an epistemological box... If James failed to exorcize fetishism, it is because 'he didn't want to -- it's just that we think he's supposed to -- we tend to assume he should want and represent as good 'a real-life family', but that's our problem, not his. In James's own sense he succeeded, rather than failed. He generously leaves Maggie with something HJ never possessed, and perhaps didn't want as much as he wanted to represent it: a truly 'impossible' ideal -- a fetish made of (male) flesh. The Golden Bowl follows the opposite trajectory from that of Roderick Hudson, The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, etc. Maggie gives up her ideal -- her father -- in exchange for something much closer to a fetish -- her husband.
Like Milly in The Wings of the Dove, Ottilie is fetishized by others, and in posing as a saint she fetishizes herself. Goethe is surely quite aware of the fetishistic dynamics of the cult that grows up around her after her death. He uses a piece of erotic fetishism to introduce the scene of the 'adultery in the marriage-bed': 'I have made a vow to kiss your shoe this very evening' (320). The fetish is a detour from the normal relationship, just as the Eduard's thinking of Ottilie is. Maggie, too, acts fetishized roles as Madonna and scapegoat. Referring to the consequences of her father's marriage she says: 'I'll leave you all the good ones, but I'll take the bad' (144). Adam reflects that Maggie resembles a nymph and a nun (154) just as Eduard sees Ottilie as 'a heavenly being that hovered over him' (291). 'The whole complexity of their peril... she was there... to charge herself with it as the scapegoat of old, of whom she had once seen a terrible picture, had been charged with the sins of the people and had gone forth into the desert to sink under his burden and die' (457). 'She would confess to him [Father Mitchell] that she hadn't confessed, though taking so much on her conscience' (501). The theme of redemption here is far more muffled than in The Wings of the Dove and indeed radically secularized. Civilized restraint is what patches up broken bowls, not 'the jostle of the higher light, of heavenly help itself' (501).
Amerigo associates Maggie with the Madonna when he exclaims: 'it's almost terrible you know, the happiness of young, good, generous creatures... But the Blessed Virgin and all the Saints... have her in their keeping' (62-3); the keyword 'terrible' occurs again on pp. 97, 271, 378, 504, 534. She strikes Fanny as a 'miraculous madonna' might a 'truly pious priest' (404). Goethe's Margarete enjoys similar associations. Maggie's Catholicism (129) prepares her to become a Machiavelli (mentioned, GB 48) and links her to the popes and cardinals mentioned (34, 40, 128, 166, 229, 376). All this self-stylization is continuous with the other forms of fetishism and aestheticization that pervade the novel. Even Charlotte has her fetishistic moments: 'I've got so much by my marriage... that I should deserve no charity if I stinted my return. Not to do that, to give back on the contrary all one can, are just one's decency and one's honour and one's virtue. These things... are my rule of life, the absolute little gods of my worship, the holy images set up on the wall' (241).
7. To say: 'The father-daughter pair by which James varies Goethe's quadrilateral adds a nice touch of early twentieth century psychology to the affair' (Ryan, 155) is to miss the quasi-incestuous element in Eduard's infatuation with Ottilie. Edward seeks his mother in Ottilie (as he has in his wives), she her father in him (Winkelman 22, 68, 88, 91). Their intimacy is thwarted by the image of her father that she wears on her breast; when she is persuaded to remove it 'he felt as if a stone had fallen from his heart, as if a dividing screen between him and Ottilie had been taken down' (293). The incestuous element in Adam and Maggie's relationship is frequently suggested by the pronominal quiproquos mentioned above. 'They had made vacant, by their marriage, his immediate foreground, his personal precinct -- they being the Princess and the Prince' (131)-- we are assured that the marriage is not that of Adam and his daughter!
'It was of course an old story and a familiar idea that a beautiful baby could take its place as a new link between a wife and a husband, but Maggie and her father had, with every ingenuity, converted the precious creature into a link between a mamma and a grandpapa' (GB 132). 'What was not clear, at all events, for the father and the daughter, was their simply knowing they wanted, for the time, to be together -- at any cost, as it were' (134) and they steal away to an Edenic sequestered spot. Meanwhile Fanny maternally smooths over the sidelining of the Prince; 'she was there to keep him quiet' (136), offering him explanations which he likes 'almost as if he collected them, in the manner of book-plates or postage-stamps, for themselves' (135). Fanny predicts that 'the innumerable facts he had collected would find their use' like a 'great gun' that will someday make a 'big noise' (137).
Maggie says to her father: 'It was as if you couldn't be in the market when you were married to me. Or rather as if I kept people off, innocently, by being married to you' (143). Adam remarks: 'I've always thought of her as a little girl' (155); he recalls her as an 'early playmate of Maggie's' and how he 'paternally lumped the two children together' (157). It is as if Charlotte is less a wife than a substitute for his daughter, so that his marriage, too, is quasi-incestuous. 'He might have been her father' (176). '"Are you so certain that there's room in your life -- ?" "For another daughter?"' (177).
At the start of Book Second, Maggie's new consciousness is likened to an unwanted pregnancy to be concealed. Jane Ford sees this as a clue to what is really going on (Ford, 1998): Maggie was aware of Amerigo and Charlotte's affair all along; in fact she arranged it; but now that she has become pregnant by her own father, she needs her husband around to assume paternity, and this is the real motive of her pretended distress at the affair. This 'hidden story' is far less convincing than the one Winkelman finds in Elective Affinities. It is better to take James's strange language as another example of anamorphosis requiring intertextual perspective. Here is the suggestive passage, in which I have italicized phrases recalling the uncanny child in Goethe and the scene in which Ottilie accidentally causes it to drown:
She had not, so to speak, fallen in; she had had no accident and had not got wet; this at any rate was her pretension until after she began a little to wonder if she mightn't, with or without exposure, have taken cold. She could at all events remember no time at which she had felt so excited, and certainly none -- which was another special point -- that so brought with it as well the necessity for concealing excitement. This birth of a new eagerness became a high pastime, in her view, precisely by reason of the ingenuity required for keeping the thing born out of sight. The ingenuity was thus a private and absorbing exercise, in the light of which, might I so far multiply my metaphors, I should compare her to the frightened but clinging young mother of an unlawful child. The idea that had possession of her would be, by our new analogy, the proof of her misadventure, but likewise, all the while, only another sign of a relation that was more to her than anything on earth. She had lived long enough to make out for herself that any deep-seated passion has its pangs as well as its joys, and that we are made by its aches and its anxieties most richly conscious of it. She had never doubted of the force of the feeling that bound her to her husband; but to become aware, almost suddenly, that it had begun to vibrate with a violence that had some of the effect of a strain would, rightly looked at, after all but show that she was, like thousands of women, every day, acting up to the full privilege of passion. Why in the world shouldn't she, with every right -- if, on consideration, she saw no good reason against it? (303-4)
By having his own novel echo Goethe's, James is able to project all sorts of sinister virtualities of the tangled situation he describes, while in reality confining the dramatic incidents in his own plot to an extreme minimum. As to the incest allusion, Marcia Ian objects that 'it is her passion for her husband that is vibrating violently within her. If anything, the direction of Maggie's "development" can be read as a (however belated) rejection of incest, that is, as the healthy displacement of incestuous childish desire, onto adult heterosexual desire, in rather straight Freudian fashion'. Yet James seems to allow an overtone of incest to linger ambiguously. The phrase 'a relation that was more to her than anything on earth' refers to her marriage, but as so often in the novel we have to cogitate a little before this becomes quite clear. In the meantime we may spontaneously mistake the reference as being to her relationship with her father. Even when that idea is cleared away, we may retain the impression that Maggie rather protests too much to herself here, as she suppresses her fixation on her father through delighting on her newly discovered passion for her husband.
8. The novel ends with a paean to Charlotte, because she has 'played the game' with a delicacy and a sense of propriety that Maggie did not expect. Or is it that Maggie ends up crowing complacently over her defeated rival? Like matter and anti-matter, the benign and sinister readings of the characters' actions seem to balance each other off in the symmetry of a constant ambiguity. Maggiephobes see Charlotte Stant as the true heroine of the novel, as a woman who has the courage to compromise herself in passionate love. James certainly allows us to retell the story from Charlotte's viewpoint, in which Maggie would appear as a kind of witch, coldly manipulative, never putting a foot wrong, sexless as her father, her only passion a jealous possessiveness. Maggie's gentleness and discretion as she turns the tables on Charlotte are partly an expression of her own contrite sense of guilt for the situation she created (Marshall, 204-5). The notorious halter image reflects 'her ability to view her father with a more critical eye'; but 'although Maggie is clearly aware of Adam's latent sadism (revealed in the silken halter image), the reader is unsure whether Maggie condemns him sufficiently or even allows her "lucidity" fully to illuminate his defects'; nonetheless, 'she manages largely to dissociate herself from his point of view' (ib., 224). The paucity of explicit moral judgment on the protagonists in 'the inscrutable Goethe' is imitated by James, who comes closer than ever before to 'the moderation of a Goethe... of one who stands on a great intellectual height, far above the heady fumes of our simmering human prejudices' (James 1984:714, 1329). James's ironic vision threatens to undermine the significance of the plot, reducing it to a nihilistic phantasmagoria of self-deception.
Eduard's passion for Ottilie breaks the proportions of the foursome, whereas Amerigo's for Charlotte remains doubly harmonious, an ironic twist. 'In Eduard's ideas as in his actions there is no longer any measure. The consciousness of loving and of being loved drives him into the infinite' (G 328; see also 333). Goethe's Charlotte has the delusive idea that 'that one could return to an earlier, more restrained state, that it was possible to confine again what had been powerfully unbound' (329). If Eduard's passion for Ottilie causes him to lose a sense of measure, the passions in James follow the law of measure for measure. The word 'measure' is frequently used to describe Adam's and Maggie's behaviour. They triumph by their sense of measure and of measurement. The only unadulterated passions in the novel are Maggie's for her father and Charlotte's for Amerigo. But, as in Goethe, the social institution of marriage is valued more highly, though in a style unlikely to satisfy traditional defenders of matrimony. Maggie banks on the marriage bond, and her scarcely masked inquisitorial jealousy in the first section of Book II are on the brink of vulgar conventionality. She does not cut a saintly or even a lovable figure. The novel is not a morality play. Yet in reconstructing her marriage she shows a refined creativity, a mastery of civilized, compositional arts of which James must approve. Soon after publishing the novel he spoke of the values Maggie enacts, in his 1905 graduation address at Bryn Mawr: 'The idea of good breeding -- without which intercourse fails to flower into fineness, without which human relations bear but crude and tasteless fruit -- is one of the most precious conquests of civilization, the very core of our social heritage... It is an idea... for which, always, in every generation, there is yet more, and yet more, to be done; and no danger would be more lamentable that that of the real extinction, in our hands, of so sacred a flame' (James 1999:45).
It is disturbing that the major activity by which civilization is sustained appears to be lying -- not diplomatic white lies either but sustained and formal perjuries. Here we may find an allegory of the lies that pervaded political life at the time. The 'equilibrium' that the characters are obsessed with preserving might recall that great theme of European and imperialist politics, the balance of power. Goethe's characters have a similar concern; Eduard 'longed for outer danger to counter-balance the inner one' (359). But in the wartime poverty and disturbances of 1806 equilibrium had broken down, whereas James's novel is set at the peak of British imperial security, with only new American plutocracy to threaten it, and it enacts not the breakdown of equilibrium but the its vigilant maintenance by diplomatic art.
Charlotte's gratuitous lie about the price of the bowl (108) anticipates the three pivotal scenes of solemn lying in Book II. First Fanny lies to Maggie about Amerigo and Charlotte, 'upon my positive word as an honest woman' (381). Then when Charlotte, boldly pretending innocence, confronts Maggie, Maggie lies to her, again upon her 'honour' (469), about her knowledge of the affair, knowing that Amerigo has also done so (446). The shared lie cements her unity with Amerigo and also with her father, who appears to be keeping up an equally elaborate pretence of ignorance, mirroring her own. Finally, when Charlotte lies to Maggie about her motive for going to America with Adam, Maggie humbly concurs in this lie (514). The three scenes are quite protracted (373-82; 466-9; 511-4), achieving an effect rare in fiction (and anticipated in 'The Aspern Papers'). Maggie's lies are cruel mystification, yet can be construed as noble. Charlotte's pretence of enthusiasm for the return to America at the end of the novel is carried off with a style that redeems her earlier lies.
Maggie's final stance is perhaps best seen as positive despite everything. Moral growth in James is never more than a tiny incremental step. Maggie, at the end, is still treating people as commodities, art-objects, fetishes; even of her son she says: 'I "ordered" him for half past five' (542). 'We have been put on our guard against projects of safety and projects of perfection, so we wonder whether Maggie's new ideal has itself a crack in it' (Nussbaum, 135). Densher, Strether, Isabel Archer hardly make greater progress, while Winterbourne and the narrators of 'The Aspern Papers' and The Sacred Fount make none at all. The final embrace of Maggie and Amerigo is the last in a series that includes the embrace of Charlotte and Amerigo (237), Maggie and Fanny (382), Charlotte and Maggie (469). Maggie and Adam (485), each of which marks the close of a chapter. These demonstrations are all presented in such guise as to leave the reader feeling quite uneasy: the first enacts an immoral pact, the next two seal a perjury, and the last, which 'august and almost stern, produced, for its intimacy, no revulsion' seems to be holding back from incest. The Prince's final surrender to Maggie inspires the tragic emotions of pity and dread. His words, 'I see nothing but you', could possibly mean that she has blotted out the horizon of his freedom and of his love for Charlotte. 'And the truth of it had, with this force, after a moment, so strangely lighted his eyes, that, as for pity and dread of them, she buried her own in his breast' (547). The strange light in his eyes may not betoken devotion to Maggie but suffering at the loss she has inflicted on him. And the all-observant Maggie refuses to see, not because she has buried doubt and questioning, but because she does not want to see how much her victory is at his expense. She sees 'that she and he together have brought about, within his imagination, an extinction of vision and a failure of response; and that this has happened of tragic necessity because of the requirements of his commitment to her... She sees in her husband the genuine, unredeemed article, a "hero" violating love for the sake of love, purified by no inner sympathy, by no higher consciousness' (Nussbaum, 136-7).
The 1878 text of 'Daisy Miller' is quoted from Henry James, Complete Stories 1874-1884. New York: The Library of America, 1999.
G = Goethes Werke VI, ed. Erich Trunz. Hamburg: Wegner, 1951.
WD = Henry James, The Wings of the Dove, ed. J. Donald Crowley and Richard A. Hocks. New York: Norton, 1978.
GB = Henry James, The Golden Bowl, Penguin Modern Classics, 1966.
Notebooks = The Complete Notebooks of Henry James, ed. Leon Edel and Lyall H. Powers. Oxford University Press, 1987.
NY = The Novels and Tales of Henry James. New York Edition XVIII. Scribner's, 1909.
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