Skip to main content Accessibility help

Philosophy, Interpretation and The Golden Bowl

  • Peter Jones


In the first part of this lecture I aim to characterize the moral dimensions of Henry James's novel The Golden Bowl; in the second part, and for the purposes of comparison with my interpretation as well as for their intrinsic interest, I outline some of James's theoretical reflections about novels and the nature of experience, supplementing them with quotations from the work of William James.



Hide All

1 Page references to The Golden Bowl are to the Penguin Modern Classics edition (Harmondsworth, 1966).

2 The Art of the Novel: Critical Prefaces by Henry James, Blackmur, R. P. (ed.) (New York: 1962), 327, 328, 329. Page references to Prefaces will all be to the versions in this edition.

3 Ibid., 347.

4 See my ‘Pragmatism and The Portrait of a Lady’, in Philosophy and Literature 5 (1981). There is no opportunity here to discuss the parallels between The Portrait of a Lady and The Golden Bowl.Earlier versions of my discussions of the two novels were delivered in the University of Edinburgh, 1976.

5 See my discussion of Anna Karenina, in Philosophy and the Novel (Oxford, 1975).

6 Compare with Goodwood, , in The Portrait of a Lady, or Vronsky, , in Anna Karenina.

7 Among other things, Isabel Archer is said to fear herself, and her mind; various possibilities conjured up by her imagination; appearing narrow-minded; Goodwood, Mme Merle, Countess Gemini, sex: apart from her unspecified or undiagnosed fears, Maggie is said to fear herself, and her ideas; knowledge, freedom, change; being alone with her father and with the Prince; sex.

8 The Art of the Novel, 30, 31, 32.

9 Ibid., 62–63, 64, 66.

10 Ibid., 62.

11 Ibid., 66, 67.

12 Ibid., 34, 304.

13 Reprinted in Henry James: The Critical Heritage, Gard, R. (ed.) (London, 1968), 392.

14 Ibid., 393.

15 James, William, The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (New York, 1956), viii.

16 Ibid., ix, x, xi, xiii.

17 Ibid., 11.

18 Ibid., 269, 271.

19 James, William, The Principles of Psychology (London, 1890), I, 139, 402; cf. II, 619. James records that the book was completed in 1885 (II, 686).

20 Ibid., I, 478 n.

21 Ibid., I, 488, 288.

22 Ibid., II. 561, 563, 566.

23 Ibid., II. 639.

24 Ibid., II. 672, 674.

26 Philosophy and the Novel, 68.

26 Reprinted in The House of Fiction: Essays on the Novel by Henry James Edel, L. (ed.) (London, 1957), 54, 53, 51.

27 Ibid., 61.

28 Ibid., 26, 76, 25.

29 The Art of the Novel, 120; The House of Fiction, 64.

30 The House of Fiction, 79.

31 Ibid., 155.

32 But in 1884 James did argue for something like a necessary connection, although it must be stressed that he later used a different notion of ‘idea’: ‘This sense of the story being the idea, the starting-point, of the novel, is the only one that I see in which it can be spoken of as something different from its organic whole; and sonce in proportion as the work is successful the idea permeates and penetrates it, informs and animates it, so that every word and every punctuation-point contribute directly to the expression, in that proportion do we lose our sense of the story being a blade which may be drawn more or less out of its sheath’ (The House of Fiction, 39).

33 Ibid., 81.

34 Ibid., 60, 48.

35 Ibid., 53; cf. 80–81.

36 Ibid., 60.

37 Ibid., 38.

38 All readers of Henry James should study Martha Craven Nussbaum's forthcoming article in New Literary History, ‘Flawed Crystals: James's The Golden Bowl and Literature as Moral Philosophy’. I am most grateful to Professor Nussbaum for sending me a typescript of her discussion.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements
  • ISSN: 1358-2461
  • EISSN: 1755-3555
  • URL: /core/journals/royal-institute-of-philosophy-supplements
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed