The Europeans is a short novel by Henry James published in 1878. It compares the behavior and attitudes of a brother and sister from Europe who visit staid relatives living in New England. Throughout this novel the aims and actions are intertwined and compared.
This novel compares life in Europe and New England through the eyes of a liberated woman and her brother who visit relatives in New England. It is their hope to better their lives which includes a morganatic wedding and a free-spirited attempt at surviving through art. The book provides a spirited comparison of how these relatives respond to each other; on the one hand trying to improve their lives as they know it, and the other maintaining strict New England values. The characterizations are vivid, but the aims of the characters are not always clear. The book ends satisfactorily but abruptly. This leaves a great deal to the reader’s imagination, but is not a serious detractor. The book aptly portrays two societies and is an easy and enjoyable read.
1. Can you explain why the same work by an author would be held as the best by some and the worst by others?
2. Who was the main character, or was there one?
3. The candidates would be: Eugenia, Felix, Gertrude, Mr. Wentworth, somebody else?
4. How was Robert Acton portrayed, especially at the end?
5. Was Eugenia really trying to seduce Clifford to get at his money?
6. Did you get the significance of a morganatic marriage ?
7. Would you enjoy visiting Mr. Wentworth’s home?
8. How do you think the union of Felix and Gertrude would end up?
9. Did you really get what Gertrude was all about?
10. Have you read other books by Henry James and if so how does this compare?
11. How did you like the ending?
12. Did you notice the long sentences with all the commas?
13. Did you see differences and similarities comparing Felix and Clifford?
The overall opinion of the group was that this book was more enjoyable than it promised to be early in the read. All thought James wrote beautifully and that the long sentences did not get in the way. One member considered the book “trivial”, but the discussion brought out points that resulted in a change of heart. This occurred after it was agreed that the book described a staid and uninteresting but hospitable household in New England beset with a visiting brother and sister from Europe who were free thinkers with one a “self -described Bohemians” with an agenda. The characters were constant-unchanging.
Imposing on distant American relatives a conniving Eugenia and an opportunistic Felix stirred up the pot in the boring Wentworth home that was overseen by a wealthy and mirthless patriarch. Eugenia was the lead character with her brother Felix close behind. The setting was a bit contrived in that the three main residences were within a short walking distance. Some thought Robert Acton was interesting, citing he went to China and was rich, while others considered him a dud. Hardly mentioned were Lizzy, and the preacher. Did Eugenia plan to seduce Clifford? One person thought she was considering it but lost interest possibly because he was boring. Why she stopped was not explained in the book. The book ended abruptly. Did the author run out of ink? All the action and characters were tied up nicely. The future of Felix and Gertrude received the most speculation with the consensus that they would do OK but were likely to continue mooching notwithstanding Gertrude’s likely inheritance. It was pointed out that Henry James the author and his brother William, a psychologist seemed to have swapped points of view when it came to look at the world. Interesting observation.
This book created some interest in reading James’s reverse of the Europe and American exchange with The American.
This was a nice change from Heart of Darkness and leaves us looking forward to My Antonia.
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