Henry James pp 327-339 | Cite as

Magic and Metamorphosis in The Golden Bowl (1965)

  • Naomi Lebowitz
Part of the Modern Judgements book series (MOJU)


It is an intriguing paradox that Henry James measured his most essential realism by the world of magic. He meant his readers to see behind the appealing pictures of the innocent rich American girl in Europe the image of Cinderella and Miranda, but the image reflects on the ease of fantasy. The metamorphosis is gradual, painful, and in only one of James’s major novels completed. Only in The Golden Bowl is a princess allowed to live in the world of romance, but she does not earn her palace and her prince until her mind and her heart have gone beyond the powers of magic. James had always been fascinated with the way in which the idea of magical manipulation of life could throw into relief the anguish of moral responsibilities. When Henrietta Stackpole, in The Portrait of a Lady, begins to worry about the tarnishing image of her American princess, Isabel Archer, she playfully, but significantly, escapes to the world of magic in the hopes of recomposing her cherished portrait. In a conversation with Ralph Touchett she says of Isabel: ‘She’s not the same as she once so beautifully was.’ Ralph asks: ‘As she was in America?’ ‘Yes, in America,’ answers Henrietta. ‘Do you want to change her back again?’ queries Ralph. ‘Of course I do, and I want you to help me,’ states Henrietta. ‘Ah,’ replies Ralph, ‘I’m only Caliban; I’m not Prospero.’ ‘You were Prospero enough to make her what she has become,’ returns Henrietta.


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  1. 1.
    F. O. Matthiessen, Henry James: The Major Phase (New York, 1944 ) P. 104.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    F. R. Leavis, The Great Tradition (New York, 1954 ) P. 595.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Limited 1968

Authors and Affiliations

  • Naomi Lebowitz

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