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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Peculiar Influences
"The Europeans", dating from 1878, is one of Henry James's early novels, and also one of his shortest. It involves a common theme in James's writing, the differences between the customs and manners of Europe and those of America. The book is essentially a comedy of love and marriage, and shows the influence of Jane Austen, a writer whom James greatly admired. The...
Published on 30 Mar 2011 by J C E Hitchcock

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2.0 out of 5 stars Dull lives represented in all their dullness
New England, 1870s. Siblings Eugenia and Felix – American, but brought up in Europe - come back to their family in the U.S. after Eugenia’s separation from her aristocratic husband. Their wealthy cousins, the Wentworths, welcome them as a novelty, and give them a nearby house to live in. Cousin Gertrude is being courted by local clergyman Mr Brand, with whom...
Published 4 months ago by Bob Ventos


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Peculiar Influences, 30 Mar 2011
By 
J C E Hitchcock (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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"The Europeans", dating from 1878, is one of Henry James's early novels, and also one of his shortest. It involves a common theme in James's writing, the differences between the customs and manners of Europe and those of America. The book is essentially a comedy of love and marriage, and shows the influence of Jane Austen, a writer whom James greatly admired. The "Europeans" of the title, the brother and sister Felix Young and Eugenia Munster, are Americans by ancestry, but have lived in Europe since their early childhood, moving from one country to another. The novel describes what happens when they travel to America to meet their cousins, the Wentworth family who live just outside Boston.

When the two siblings arrive, Mr. Wentworth, the widowed patriarch of the family, warns his household that they are to be exposed to "peculiar influences" which will necessitate "a great deal of wisdom and self-control". Together with the young Unitarian minister Mr. Brand, it is Mr. Wentworth, a well-to-do Harvard-educated lawyer, who is the book's main representative of the Puritan tradition of New England. His outlook on life is very different from that of his nephew and niece. Felix, a young artist, describes his uncle as "a tremendously high-toned old fellow; he looks as though he were undergoing martyrdom, not by fire but by freezing". Whereas Felix is gay (in the original sense of that word), carefree and light-hearted, the old man is austere, devout and deeply serious.

The differences between Eugenia and her relatives are perhaps even greater. She is the morganatic wife of a minor German princeling who now wishes to divorce her for political reasons, a situation which Mr. Wentworth regards with some distaste, although he is too polite to say so. Her main reason for coming to America is to seek out a wealthy American husband to take the place of Prince Adolf, and forms an attachment to Robert Acton, a cousin of the Wentworth family on the other side, who has made a fortune through trading with China. Used to life in the courts of Europe, however, she begins to wonder whether she can ever be satisfied with the provincial life of New England.

The arrival of Felix and Eugenia gives rise to a complicated pattern of romantic entanglements. Felix falls in love with his cousin Gertrude, Mr. Wentworth's younger daughter, who is also being courted by Mr. Brand. Besides her attachment to Robert, Eugenia also exercises a fascination over Mr. Wentworth's wayward son Clifford. Clifford, however, is also interested in Robert's attractive younger sister Lizzie. (The nineteenth century clearly did not share modern concerns about the desirability of marriages between cousins). Gertrude's rival for the affections of Mr. Brand is her own sister Charlotte.

According to the critic F.R. Leavis, a great admirer of James, "The Europeans, the visiting cousins, are there mainly to provide a foil for the American family", the book being a essentially a study of American, specifically New England, attitudes. Felix and Eugenia, coming from the upper-class and Bohemian beau-monde of Continental Europe, cannot be said to be representative of European society as a whole- if, indeed, one can speak of such a thing as "European society as a whole". Nevertheless, they represent values which are very different from those of the Wentworth family; they are more open and more inclined to act on their feelings. The Americans, by contrast, are more reserved, more openly religious and (paradoxically, given that they represent the New World as against the Old) more traditional in outlook.

These distinctions are by no means absolute. Clifford, for example, who has been suspended from Harvard for drunkenness, clearly does not share his father's puritanical bent. Gertrude's decision to marry Felix rather than Mr. Brand, who would have been her father's preference, represents a triumph for the "European" values of feeling and independence over the "American" ones of duty and family loyalty. (When we first see Gertrude she is avoiding attendance at church, suggesting that there may be a rebellious streak in her). Of the three Wentworth children the one closest to their father in outlook is Gertrude's older sister Charlotte, who does indeed later marry Mr. Brand. Nevertheless, as Leavis also points out, James is not condemning or endorsing either New England or Europe; he sees as much to admire as to criticise in the New England ethos.

The writing, with its intricate sentences, Latinate vocabulary and detailed descriptions of people and places, is characteristic of James's work, although that this early stage of his career his style had not become as dense and florid as it was to do in some of his later works. James himself did not have a particularly high opinion of this book, regarding it as "thin" and "empty", although others have taken a more positive view, notably Leavis who called it a "masterpiece of major quality". My own view would be closer to Leavis's than to James's. If it is "minor James", as some have characterised it, it is as good as the major works of many other novelists. Like Austen, James was able to use a comparatively slight story of romance as a vehicle for some penetrating insights into the psychology of his characters and into the society in which they lived.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cultural differences acutely observed, 9 Aug 2010
The Europeans was one of James's early books and at 150 pages you cannot expect too many finely developed sub-plots. Instead, what we get is a novel that concentrates all its efforts on exploring the cultural differences between Madame Munster and her brother, upper class expatriate Americans, born and brought up in Europe, and the wealthy American cousins they come to stay with in Boston. The book does not take sides as to which culture is best but elegantly describes the different approaches to life, and to social relations in particular, that come about as a result of being brought up on separate continents. Baroness Munster (the morganatic wife of a German prince) and her artistic younger brother are high on culture, education and the social graces, but low on cash and to an extent trapped by their formal upbringing. The American cousins on the other hand are wealthy and much freer and relaxed with each other socially - men can mix easily with women - and yet are held back by their Puritan background from enjoying the fruits of their labours. So, both have cultural plusses and minuses, and the book illuminates in a delightful manner how each side learns about the other and, in doing so, how they begin to examine and learn about themselves as well. A light but artful novel.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like A Whispered Gossip Behind A Cotton Gloved Hand, 4 Aug 2004
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There has long been a comparison perceived between the works of Henry James and Edith Wharton. However this likeness is not particularly evident when it comes to The Europeans, for this is a novella that seems more like an American Jane Austen, written on a three inch by two inch square of ivory with a exuberant whirl of young people all seeming to be lovesick for another member of their circle in this tight microcosm of 19th C society. In those days of course, it was quite normal to be madly in love with and marrying your first cousin - in this modern age, we wouldn't dream of it!
The two Europeans of the title, Felix and Eugenia come to the US looking for their relations and as luck would have it, find them. There is certainly something satisfyingly delicious about the chase for true love, but just when I was expecting everything to fall into place, and each to get their man/woman... there was a little twist at the end, where one does not get their man/woman, souring the cake a little but giving an unexpected dose of a little more interest to this work.
In short - a nice swift enjoyable read, ideal for a long journey.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful, 25 May 2011
By 
Joanna Reesby (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
I am a great lover of 19th century literature from the US or the UK. Whether it is the time and thought given to the observation of behaviours and feelings of characters during a much more slowpaced, leisurely period (and whether people therefore responded to situations in a more or less intense manner) - and what we have in common with such characters 100 plus years later - I cannot say. A mix of both I should think. But in most cases, the Emma Woodhouses, the Mrs Bennetts and Newland Archers are recognisable as people we may meet today. However, in this case, I struggled to comprehend fully many of the players.

I did enjoy this book but had to work to do so. Indeed, I had to go back and reread it to get to the nub of the message. At first blush, it does feel a little inconsequential as to story and motive; almost as if a thin transparent veil has been drawn over the story - so we strain to get to the meaning and essence of the characters. But it warrants further examination - if just to try and appreciate Madame Munster, her true nature and the impact she has on those whom she encounters. Who is she - stripping away the sophistication and worldliness. Is she a worthy person? Is she intelligent? Has she a kind bone in her body? A collation of manners? or is she merely a calculating manipulative gold digger? I fear I still do not know. Gertrude is also somewhat of an enigma, a naive innocent who nevertheless shapes her destiny with far more success than Eugena, whereas the men seem to be very much more straight foward and defined primarily by their response to the women in the book.

I did appreciate the twist - the frustration felt by Eugena that her plans came to naught despite all her cleverness and manipulation, whereas the impulsive and sincere Felix gets his reward. Perhaps that was the moral - directness and sincerity are not the sole provenance of either the Old or the New world and should trump worldliness, affectation and contrivance. Amen to that.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Dull lives represented in all their dullness, 5 April 2014
This review is from: The Europeans (Paperback)
New England, 1870s. Siblings Eugenia and Felix – American, but brought up in Europe - come back to their family in the U.S. after Eugenia’s separation from her aristocratic husband. Their wealthy cousins, the Wentworths, welcome them as a novelty, and give them a nearby house to live in. Cousin Gertrude is being courted by local clergyman Mr Brand, with whom her sister Charlotte is secretly in love. But Bohemian, happy-go-lucky Felix falls in love with Gertrude instead, and tells Mr Brand that it’s Charlotte who actually loves him. Meanwhile, family friend Robert Acton falls for Eugenia, but she turns him down.

There were a few funny scenes, especially between Felix and his straight-laced uncle, but the total lack of action wore on me after a while. They all do nothing, day after day, but visit each others’ houses for tea and dinner. No wonder none of them ever has anything interesting to say. There’s lots of echo-dialogue (‘Always.’ ‘Always?’) and people look at each other, and people ‘flush’, and everything’s incredibly buttoned up, and I struggled to find empathy for their narrow, parasitical, inactive world. And people falling in love with their cousins – isn’t that a little bit undesirable, not to say icky? I know that Jane Austen can make great books out of this kind of unpromising material – I suppose the feebleness of imitations like this underlines her brilliant achievement?
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2.0 out of 5 stars America v Europe, 22 Jan 2014
By 
M. barbara Thomas "techno dinosaur" (staffs england) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Europeans (Kindle Edition)
The language is hard going - like wading through treacle We hear that Eugenie is witty entertaining etc.etc. but we never hear /read it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Light-hearted masterpiece or simple "badinage"?, 27 July 2013
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This review is from: The Europeans (Paperback)
I hesitated: who am I to "dare" to criticize Henry
James and give only four stars to this novel, considered
as a masterpiece of style and wit and irony and a summit
of description of America's "Golden Age" and "New England's
silvery prime..."?

But, reading the introduction to this Penguin Classics
edition I discovered that Thomas Hardy also said that
James's" highly stylistic writing
was but a "ponderously warm manner in saying nothing in
infinite sentences"... I did not feel it so much while
reading "Wasihington Square", a novel that I liked very much.
But I had some difficulty to get through the very thin plot
of the Europeans, and found some of the dialogues between the European
visitors and their American counterparts something that we
call in french a simple "badinage": light, humourous, often
insignificant exchange of words. Playing with words.

But I'm looking forward to read other novels of Henry James.

Elisheva Guggenheim-Mohosh, Geneva, Switzerland.
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5.0 out of 5 stars great, 15 Feb 2013
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This review is from: The Europeans (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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4.0 out of 5 stars Short but sweet, 15 Jan 2013
By 
E. A. Banks (Ipswich, Great Britain) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Europeans (Kindle Edition)
I had never read any Henry James before and I selected “The Europeans” because other reviewers on Amazon had commented on the fact that this is a fairly short novel. I enjoyed it and I will definitely be tackling one of James’s longer works in the future.
The story revolves around siblings, Felix Young and his sister Eugenia, Baroness Munster, who were born and brought up in Europe even though their mother was American. It seems that Eugenia’s marriage is not a happy one and there is a possibility she will be released from it. She has clearly come to America in search of something, but she doesn’t really know what it is she seeks. The two arrive in Massachusetts in search of their American relatives and end up staying for a while in a property belonging to their Uncle, a Mr Wentworth. The story charts the process of these two very different branches of the family meeting and getting to know one another. The levels of snobbery on both sides are quite something and confirm what I have long suspected, which is that 19th Century American society was even more strait-laced than the British in the same era. This novel has a gossipy tone that will not be to everyone’s taste and the story itself is a pretty light-weight affair, but I enjoyed it immensely.
The narrative drifts along through some pleasant weather and a few minor intrigues and misunderstandings before twinkling to a halt with a couple of weddings, some disappointment and some more travelling.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Keep your powder dry for James's bigger works., 28 July 2010
A pleasant enough tale of sophisticated Europeans moving to late 19th century puritan Boston, but with limited bite and grip. James's brother condemned this book as being `slight' and James excluded it from the 1883 collection of his works - perhaps indicating that he agreed with this judgement, as I do. It is of course a well-written and thoroughly readable book with interesting characters and a nicely unstable set up. Unfortunately the wider themes of the novel, such as they are, don't take off and nor in truth does the plot. This concerns a brother and sister come to Bostonian America from Europe to meet their distant cousins.

The two sides of the family are an easy metaphor representing the literal Europe and America. Felix, the European brother and Eugena, Baroness Munster, are Bohemian, sophisticated, worldly, exotic and alive but also practically penniless and without genuine friends or family. By contrast, the Wentworths - the American cousins - are uptight but tight knit puritans who lead a simple, prosperous life in the countryside of Boston. Their world erupts with the arrival of Felix and Eugina and apparently pre-determined life paths are shaken up. There are neat endings for some of the participants in the drama, so that Felix detaches cousin Gertrude from her suitor Mr Brand and successfully manoeuvres a match for her sister Charlotte; but Eugina spends the novel deciding whether or not to consent to the divorce her noble German husband and to marry the American Robert Acton, who is bewitched by her, and her story ends ambiguously.

What is interesting is the idea that it is Europe that is the progressive, life-affirming side of the Atlantic whereas America here is a straight laced and rather dull, if decent, country. During my lifetime I would rather say that the opposite was the general view of the two regions' characters although perhaps in the last fifteen or twenty years the roles have reversed and to that extent the novel seems surprisingly up-to-date

Ultimately there is just not enough in the contrast between the two sides and the matchmaking to drive this book forward - some other element of plot and purpose was needed to make it great. There is no need to put this near the top of your Henry James reading list but, if you find yourself with this as the only book to hand, it is a pleasant enough way to pass the time.
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