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Originally published in 1878 'The Europeans' examines the changing attitudes of a brother and sister returning to their family in New England after a prolonged stay in Europe. Eugenia, recently separated from her husband, and Felix settle into a house gifted by their cousins, the Wentworths, and what develops are a series of short scenes featuring romantic love, unrequited love, family secrets and a glimpse into the social history and culture of the times. A small cast of characters do little but visit one another for food and drink and express themselves with limited dialogue while making jealous, bitter comparisons. Melodramatic and super slow but I enjoyed the historical background and a glimpse of life in Boston during the latter part of the 19th century.
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on 15 January 2013
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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on 14 May 2017
not great, in the vein of Jane Austen social satire (albeit different time and different place), but not nearly as good.
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on 27 May 2017
Great item, quick delivery, no problems
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on 30 March 2011
"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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on 4 August 2004
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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on 5 April 2014
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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on 23 September 2016
"The Europeans" by Henry James is a fairly short book. It tells the story of a charming Baroness and her younger brother who travel from Germany to America to find their fortunes, hoping that their exotic, sophisticated style and manners will impress the simpler Americans. They have cousins in Boston so that's where they plan to go. They know nothing of these cousins except that they are very rich.

The theme of the book is that goodness prevails and is rewarded but also that you should live your life as your nature demands, not supressed or flattened and smothered by organised religion. There are no villains, as such, in this story; it is a celebration of honesty and decency.

The narrative drive is terrific from the first page. You are immediately drawn into the world of the visitors and as anxious as they are to meet - what they hope will be - their new family. The dialogue is as you would expect from Henry James, elegant and stylish, subtle and ambiguous. The characters never seem to speak their minds outright, always hinting and suggesting, implying and inferring.

The American uncle and cousins live a very, simple, religious life, full of restrictions and demands, considering levity a weakness, always trying to do the right thing, and no thing to excess. When they meet the Europeans they are shaken out of their routine and are variously charmed, excited, worried and bewildered.

The main character is the Baroness. She is clever and manipulative from the beginning and we soon find out that she is also deceitful when it suits her purpose. Her position is a bit anomalous in that she has a husband, the Baron, who wants to divorce her on the grounds that she is a commoner. This doesn't stop her hoping for a new, better, American match. Her brother is light-hearted and optimistic, full of good humour and devoted to his sister. The American uncle is a very likable man. Upright, innocent and straight-forward, he lives a life of purity and is bothered by the fact that he's not sure he can like his new neice.

My only criticism is a very small one; I don't like some of the characters. The pace and shape of the book is perfect and I would recommend it to anyone who likes a good story. Henry James isn't fashionable any more but he is so worth reading. I give the book 4 out of 4.
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on 9 August 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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on 25 May 2011
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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