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Lady Barbarina

Henry James

Book Overview: 

Rich and beautiful American girls heading to England to find themselves noble titles through marriage, and using their New World wealth to prop up the waning strength of the aristocracy, was almost a staple of late Victorian literature. "The Buccaneers," Edith Wharton called them, and their day is not over yet. In Lady Barbarina, however, Henry James explores the obverse of this old tale: what if the wealth is in the hands of an American man, in love with the beautiful daughter of an old and titled (but no longer so very rich) family? Legal marital settlements, common in England, less so in America, can be a problem. Think of them as the Victorian equivalent of modern pre-nuptial contracts, introducing a note, not of suspicion perhaps, but of cautious prudence in what otherwise might be seen as a match of pure love. For all their similarities, Britain and the United States remain divided by three thousand miles of open water.

In the Siege of London, James once again writes of an American trying to settle in England. The woman at the center, however, is not a product of the Boston or New York upper classes, but of the American West, and is thus distinguished from the characters of many of his other transatlantic works

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .ckson however quitted the house with the sense he had made great concessions.

His host and hostess passed into a small morning-room and—Lord Canterville having taken up his hat and stick to go out again—stood there a moment, p. 61face to face.  Then his lordship spoke in a summary manner.  “It’s clear enough he wants her.”

“There’s something so odd about him,” Lady Canterville answered.  “Fancy his speaking so about settlements!”

“You had better give him his head.  He’ll go much quieter.”

“He’s so obstinate—very obstinate; it’s easy to see that.  And he seems to think,” she went on, “that a girl in your daughter’s position can be married from one day to the other—with a ring and a new frock—like a housemaid.”

“Well that, of course, over there is the kind of thing.&nb. . . Read More

Community Reviews

A great collection of stories revolving around the theme of marriages between citizens of a young America and an old-world English aristocracy; in his characterization of the two worlds, Henry James destroys both American and European cultures and casts its best mind to hell and heel.