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The Europeans: A Sketch (Penguin Classics) Paperback – June 24, 2008

25 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0141441405 ISBN-10: 0141441402 Edition: Revised

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“He is as solitary in the history of the novel as Shakespeare in the history of poetry."—Graham Greene

About the Author

Henry James (1843-1916), born in New York City, was the son of noted religious philosopher Henry James, Sr., and brother of eminent psychologist and philosopher William James. He spent his early life in America and studied in Geneva, London and Paris during his adolescence to gain the worldly experience so prized by his father. He lived in Newport, went briefly to Harvard Law School, and in 1864 began to contribute both criticism and tales to magazines.

In 1869, and then in 1872-74, he paid visits to Europe and began his first novel, Roderick Hudson. Late in 1875 he settled in Paris, where he met Turgenev, Flaubert, and Zola, and wrote The American (1877). In December 1876 he moved to London, where two years later he achieved international fame with Daisy Miller. Other famous works include Washington Square (1880), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Princess Casamassima (1886), The Aspern Papers (1888), The Turn of the Screw (1898), and three large novels of the new century, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904). In 1905 he revisited the United States and wrote The American Scene (1907).

During his career he also wrote many works of criticism and travel. Although old and ailing, he threw himself into war work in 1914, and in 1915, a few months before his death, he became a British subject. In 1916 King George V conferred the Order of Merit on him. He died in London in February 1916.


Philip Horne has spent a decade looking at the thousands of James's letters in archives in the United States and Europe. A Reader in English Literature at University College, London, he is the author of Henry James and Revision and the editor of the Penguin Classics edition of James's The Tragic Muse.
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition (June 24, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141441402
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141441405
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #420,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Reviewer on June 30, 2010
Format: Paperback
... The Europeans seems indeed to be merely "a sketch", a practice piece, worth reading only for James's masterly prose and for occasional sparkles of wit. Or perhaps it should be taken as James's effort to 'cash in' on the perennial market for romance novels for women readers, a market that was a lucrative in the 19th C as it remains today. That latter interpretation, I confess, is hindered by the absence of passion exhibited in any the four entangled 'love stories' of the narration. Marriages do occur eventually; I hope that's not too much of a spoiler, since I won't disclose how many or whom.

One could also interpret The Europeans as a study of miscommunication. The title characters, a sister and brother whose mother was American but who have 'grown up' as thorough Europeans, come to visit their American cousins whom they've never met or known, who live quiet, sober lives in a Massachusetts village. The reader is 'encouraged' to suppose that the sister is both fleeing a milieu in Europe that has gone sour and seeking a 'fortunate' matrimonial opportunity. The American cousins and their social set are people of substantial means and insubstantial culture. Perplexed in every way by the arrival of such exotic relatives, nonetheless they generously welcome the travelers into their quaint puritanical family circle. What ensues is a minuet of misperceptions and miscues.

James seems to have learned a good deal about the structural mechanics of novel-writing in the short time between "The American" and "The Europeans". Whereas in the former, he sometimes labors over describing a character in excessive external detail, in the latter he allows his characters to portray themselves through actions and dialogue.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By H. Schneider on December 10, 2010
Format: Paperback
Written in 1878, this short novel is set some time earlier in the century, in Boston and surroundings. A pair of siblings from Europe, brother Felix and sister Eugenia, have come to America to visit their relatives, hoping to find them rich. The two can be called adventurers, gold-diggers. He is a sort of bohemian, while she is married to a German prince, who is about to get rid of her. (At the time, Germany had an abundance of princes.)
They find their relatives a large, reasonably well to do, well established family in the outskirts. The Wentworths are puzzled by the unexpected visitors, and behave with decency. There are some unmarried young cousins in the family. Felix is a charmer and reacts positively. Eugenia is a more difficult character and for her the cultural shock is a problem, as it is for the father of the Wentworth family. He is the brother of the visitors' mother. Relations were not close in the past. Eugenia's mother had run away at 20 into an unapproved marriage with a European.

Like with James' previous novel about an American in Europe, the main subject here is the loss of meaning in cross-cultural communication. That is always good for various amusements of the mild to the hilarious kind. This book is more of the mild kind, which is not meant as a criticism.
All in all, we have an interesting but not a great little novel about social affairs of the better classes in the 19th century. It lives mainly by the master's sparkling language. The people in the story are not all interesting. I would single out the two main women for being `interesting': Eugenia, the baroness, is a thoroughly discredited person who works hard at keeping up appearances, even to her brother, and probably even to herself. She lies shamelessly to everybody.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Guillermo Maynez on August 6, 2009
Format: Paperback
This minor work by James is another brick in the tall wall of his obsessive study of the cultural and behavioral differences between Europeans and Americans at the turn of the Century (XIX to XX, of course). The prose is, as always, elegant and intricate, with a rich and sophisticated language that every admirer of James enjoys so much, but it is no doubt much lighter than his masterworks. Eugenia and Felix Young, children of Americans but raised in Europe, arrive in Boston to look for their uncle Wentworth and his children. He has few memories of her departed sister, the Youngs' mother, and doesn't even remember she left two kids when she died. So the Youngs are well received but naturally elicit all kinds of suspicion. What are the refined Eugenia, married to a Baron of Münster, and the artistically inclined Felix up to? What's the objective of their visit? The members of the Wentworth household react differently, according to their own expectations, attractions, rejections, and delusions. Brother and sister become an exotic attraction, a couple of rather decadent noble people playing king and queen of a rural, puritan, and prude environment. In particular, Felix elicits the total admiration and infatuation of the young and independently-minded Gertrude. It's a funny and pleasant read, which prefigures future, more complex plots and characters by James.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 2, 1999
Format: Library Binding
Europeans presents a quick summation of why Henry James is among the most illustrious and celebrated American authors. His writing in this book surveys the interaction of European society with early, austere, and moralisitc American culture. For historians and sociologists alike, as well as avid fans of lit., James illuminates interactions of the respective characters with poised rhetorical grace, and his sketches are highly readable, understandable, and enjoyable. James can be an intimidating author to approach for people like me (a college sophomore), who are beginning to appreciate the pleasure of reading such fine authors; reading a short, yet engaging, work such as Europeans is an excellent jumping off point to a later appreciation and enjoyment of the author's more prodigious epics, such as The Portrait of the Lady. I can say that after reading Europeans, I have more confidence and comfort taking off the shelf a longer work by James, simply in knowing that I can comprehend his shorter designs. I also recommend for those like me to try out his short fiction. Concluding, reading this work has made me very excited to read further works by James, as I plan to read the entirety of his literary output. It is the brilliance and charm of Europenas that has instilled in me this excitment.
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