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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine early James, 28 Mar 2010
Keris Nine - See all my reviews
This review is from: Roderick Hudson (Classics) (Paperback)
Henry James's first full-length novel (1875) features a classic Jamesian situation, an entertaining, witty and tortuous examination of romantic feelings that are caught up in a frenzy of youthful impetuousness, ambition and artistic genius, complicated by the social expectations of others and the unfathomable workings of the female mind. If it isn't entirely successful on those terms, lacking the kind of precision that James would become better known for in later novels, there is however an interesting subtext to the story where James considers that other topic of interest to him regarding notions of identity from a European and an American perspective and whether there is any compatibility between them.

Such matters are considered not so much through the titular character as through the figure of Rowland Mallet, a young man from New England, with no fixed place in the world, no great ambitions, no woman or love in his life and no genius of his own. As a buyer and importer of European art however, he can however recognise genius in others and is particularly taken by an exquisite piece of sculpture by a young local man, Roderick Hudson. Believing that he can do something to encourage such talent, he proposes taking the young inexperienced man on an extended trip to Rome, taking him away from his law studies and the quiet dullness of New England life and hopefully through his patronage, see his ability mature towards delivering the masterpieces he is confident lie within.

Mallet almost immediately regrets his decision to leave Northampton however, since in the days before their departure he meets and is taken by Mary Garland, the demure daughter of a minister, a cousin of Roderick and his mother, but his feeling are further conflicted when the young sculptor, galvanised by the impending trip, himself proposes and becomes engaged to Miss Garland. Mallet's faith in Roderick's talent however proves to be well founded, and even though the young man shows a tendency towards dissipation while discovering the wonders of Europe, his ability flourishes during his stay in Rome, creating a number of works that are well received. Rowland must reluctantly accept the impulses and drives of artistic genius, but when Hudson threatens to throw it all away for the extraordinarily beautiful Christina Light, Mallet knows he must intervene and find a way of doing so that doesn't reveal or hinder his own interests.

Miss Light is a typically complex, beautiful and intriguing Jamesian heroine (and brought back for The Princess Casamassima), but here in his first novel he doesn't quite get to grips with her character. Hudson too is rather predictable in his playing the part of impetuous youth, while Mallet is a little more likeable and intriguing, but not particularly complex, hesitant, always maddingly reasonable (even in the remarkable having-it-all out with Roderick conversation at the end of the novel), but remaining an outsider to events in the usual Henry James manner and never coming fully to life. The problems with characterisation suffer perhaps from James's attempt to make his characters conform to types so that he can examine the respective qualities of American and European ideals. The question considered is whether the greater breadth of history, art and culture necessarily broadens the mind and enriches its New World visitors, or whether they would not be better cultivating their own beauties, personified in the figure of Miss Garland - not as immediately glamorous and captivating, but with distinct qualities of their own. James would rather seem to think so, but doesn't pretend that the thrall of Europe isn't persuasive also. It's this question, perhaps more than the romantic situations which have a tendency towards melodrama that arises here as it does in the subsequent The American, that make Roderick Hudson still a fine and enjoyable early work from the master.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The higher he flew.........., 6 April 2012
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This review is from: Roderick Hudson (Classics) (Paperback)
James' second novel sets its American protagonists in Europe, destination for the fashionable rich of the late nineteenth century holidaying among the architectural and artistic gems of the Old World, a theme to be repeated in several later novels including The Portrait of a Lady. Compared with that masterpiece, the novel is a little slow to develop, although it makes up for this in depth and from Chapter eight when arrival of the capricious and alluring Christina Light fires the tension which permeates the rest of the narrative.

Roderick Hudson, an attractive young sculptor from a modest background in the Eastern United States, impresses Rowland Mallet with a particularly brilliant figure of a youth drinking from a gourd. Mallet, a rich amateur connoisseur of the arts and an inveterate sojourner in Europe, senses a bright future for the young man and persuades Hudson to accompany him to Rome in order to settle down and draw inspiration from the classics.

After a promising start however, Hudson's loss of motivation and associated moral decline leads mentor and protégée into mutual conflict, exacerbated by Mallet's disgust for Hudson's cavalier treatment of his fiancée Mary Garland having fallen under the spell of Christina Light. Mallet, himself in love with Mary, is the personification of generosity, and his efforts to rekindle his protégée's talent cause us to wonder at his patience in the face of the churlish treatment he receives from the young sculptor. The tragedy is that the meteoric Hudson isn't by any means all bad, for as well as lack of moral fibre and lapses into bad temper he has charm and sensibility.

Paradoxically Rowland Mallet figures more than Roderick Hudson, for James uses the former as a central hub for the plot. Sometimes priggish, a defect more than compensated for by charisma, tact and loyalty, Mallet elicits our sympathy in his generosity, and his altruistic efforts to prevent Hudson from deserting Mary for Christina. One feels James too has sympathy for him as in the final chapter Mallet is given the novel's last line.

As the story unfolds against the spellbinding beauty of the ancient city, James weaves his own magic in a rich brew of finely drawn scenes, not least the romantic meeting of Mallet with Christina Light and Hudson in the Coliseum, couched in the unadorned prose (for the times) that characterised his earlier novels. It's James before his style became convoluted.

Thinking back over the novel in making this review,the reviewer realised what a good book this is.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the effort, 3 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Roderick Hudson (Classics) (Paperback)
An underrated book as not the easiest book to read, but worth the effort.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Film star?, 15 Feb 2013
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This review is from: Roderick Hudson (Kindle Edition)
I have read other novels by this author and can't wait to read this one. It will make a good read on holiday.
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Roderick Hudson (Classics)
Roderick Hudson (Classics) by Henry James (Paperback - 27 Mar 1986)
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