This is the first book I have ever read by Henry James, which surprises me because he’s kind of a big classic author, best known for books like The Turn of the Screw and The Portrait of a Lady. However, this one is apparently one of his most famous ones too and considering how much I enjoyed this one, I look forward to reading more of his.
Page Count: 249
Synopsis: This book follows a brother and sister who travel to America to visit cousins, the sister escaping a marriage to make her own fortune. There, they find themselves caught in romance and conflict between cultures.
This is very much a classic romance, and it’s been a long time since I’ve read a book such as this. It is light and positive, about loss and love and finding happiness in the changing society of 19th century America. It also discusses the social and cultural differences between America and Europe. The main character is arguably Eugenia Munster, who comes to America with her brother to escape her marriage to a prince. Both her brother and her experience romance and love, but I loved how it is the communication between characters that is foremost in this book. The story is filled with polite social niceties, like how people behaved in polite society of the era. In that way, this book feels more like an ideal that simple reality.
It is a very…happy story. The characters overcome very little pain and trials before getting their happy ending, and most of the younger characters end up happily married. Personally, I enjoyed Eugenia’s character the most. She is married to a prince, who is far above her status and because of that everyone wants her to divorce him quietly. She hopes to made a fortune in America so that she might be deserving better of her husband’s status and in the end she must decide whether she will return to Europe to stay with her husband or start anew in America.
Perhaps my favorite part of the book is the difference between the societies of America and Europe. America is in many ways interested in keeping tradition more than Europe, despite Europe having more tradition. Love is more important in Europe while America is more obsessed with money. I don’t necessarily agree with Henry James’s judgement of this idea, because arranged marriages were common in Europe during this time but less so in America, and America, though it may be obsessed with money, was giving the world its best inventions of the era, like the telephone (1876, Alexander Graham Bell) and the light bulb (1879, Thomas Edison). Surely pursuit of money actually brings to progress too. So there were definitely some ideas this book presented I didn’t agree with, but I also saw it as a unique situation and not an over-arching contrast of the two societies in all things.
This is a surprisingly quick book to read too. I listened to the audiobook in just over three hours (at double speed though), and I felt the time went by very quickly. I won’t say the book examines unique ideas or is particularly deep, but I enjoyed the story and loved the old-fashioned society feel.
Have you heard of this book? Have you read anything else by Henry James? Do you like his writing? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventures,