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Although Maggie and Charlotte have been dear friends since childhood, Maggie does not know of Charlotte and Amerigo's past relationship. Charlotte and Amerigo go shopping together for a wedding present for Maggie. They find a curiosity shop where the shopkeeper offers them an antique gilded crystal bowl. The Prince declines to purchase it, as he suspects it contains a hidden flaw.

The Golden Bowl | novel by James |

After Maggie has married, afraid that her father has become lonely, as they had been close for years, she persuades him to propose to Charlotte, who accepts Adam's proposal. Soon after the wedding, Charlotte and Amerigo are thrown together, because their respective spouses seem more interested in their father-daughter relationship than in their marriages. Amerigo and Charlotte finally consummate an adulterous affair. Maggie begins to suspect the pair.

She happens to go to the same shop and buys the golden bowl they had rejected. Regretting the high price he has charged her, the shopkeeper visits Maggie and confesses to overcharging. At her home, he sees photographs of Amerigo and Charlotte. He tells Maggie of the pair's shopping trip on the eve of her marriage and their intimate conversation in his shop.

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They had spoken Italian, but he understands the language. She begins a secret campaign to separate him and Charlotte while never revealing their affair to her father. Also concealing her knowledge from Charlotte and denying any change to their friendship, she gradually persuades her father to return to America with his wife. Amerigo says he can "see nothing but" Maggie and embraces her.

The 100 best novels: No 36 – The Golden Bowl by Henry James (1904)

In the broadest sense of the term, The Golden Bowl is a novel of education. She realises that she cannot remain dependent on her father but must accept adult responsibilities in her marriage. Amerigo is portrayed as a European snob and far from scrupulous, but he comes to respect Maggie as she works to save their marriage. He had previously regarded Maggie and Adam as little more than "good children, bless their hearts, and the children of good children. It is unclear how much Adam knows of the situation, but he appears wise and understanding of his daughter's plan for the two couples to separate.

Charlotte is a dazzlingly beautiful woman, but she may be a little "stupid," as the Prince pronounces in a harsh final judgment. She ultimately appears more bewildered than self-possessed. The Golden Bowl's intense focus on these four characters gives the novel both its tremendous power and its peculiar feeling of claustrophobia. While the book delves deeply and often brilliantly into the consciousness of Amerigo and Maggie, some critics [ who? The author Rebecca West said of it: The pun of their names is probably intended, though nobody can be sure.

Finally, critics have described the book as suffocating and unrealistic in its portrayal of the closed-in nature of the relationships, as well as saying its style was too ornate and figurative. The book had its supporters, who said that the novel is a superb dramatisation of the stresses inherent in any marriage and the sometimes circuitous methods required to overcome them.

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James' presentation of Maggie's subdued but desperate struggle is much admired for its insight and precision. These fans believe the dialogue is often brilliant in its delicate indirection, and that many scenes are realised with the full impact of James' most mature technique. In , the Modern Library ranked The Golden Bowl 32nd on its list of the best English-language novels of the 20th century. More faithful to the book than the later Merchant-Ivory film, in the US, this version was presented on Masterpiece Theatre.

First, because it addresses James's essential theme, the meeting of two great cultures, English and American, and mixes it with the sinister menace of his middle period.

A note on the text

Second, because the novel is so intensely maddeningly, some would say Jamesian, often hovering between the difficult and the incomprehensible. And finally, because his last novel places him where he belongs, at the very beginning of the 20th century. The Golden Bowl opens with Prince Amerigo, a charming Italian nobleman of reduced means, coming to London for his marriage to Maggie Verver, the only child of the wealthy widower Adam Verver, an American financier and art connoisseur.

The plot then reprises a Henry James short story of The Marriages , in which a father and daughter become hopelessly caught up in "a mutual passion, an intrigue", a complex tale of treachery and betrayal made more complex by the fact that James, who suffered acutely from writer's cramp, dictated it to a typist every morning over a period of 13 months.

Not since the blind John Milton dictated chunks of Paradise Lost to his daughters has a prominent writer expressed so much of his vision through the medium of the spoken word. Each reader will take something different from this amazing, labyrinthine, terrifying and often claustrophobic narrative.

For me, the dominant theme — very close to James's heart — is the story of Maggie Verver's education, both literal and emotional, and her subtle resolution of an impossible and perhaps dreadful situation.

At the end, Maggie has saved her marriage, and her father prepares to return to America, leaving his daughter older, wiser and apparently reconciled to her husband. American literature contains nothing else quite like The Golden Bowl. The Golden Bowl is one of the first truly 20th-century novels: