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Customer Review

on March 5, 2010
One of Henry James' earlier works, Confidence (1879) is set in the familiar territory of young rich Americans on extended trips in Europe, making friendships and romantic acquaintances with other Americans in the expatriate society that has been established in the glamorous settings of Italy, Germany, Switzerland and France. Less melodramatic than his previous novel, The American, and therefore showing less of the influence of European writers, Confidence rather establishes familiar Jamesian themes and explores ideas that contrast European Old World and American society, albeit in a style that is rather more light-hearted that his more notable later works, with the advantage however that it is still entertaining and more readable than some of the latter-day novels.

The story is centred on Bernard Longueville, a young man travelling freely around Europe, sketching and painting, who meets two fellow Americans in Siena - a Mrs Vivian and her daughter Angela, who he sketches while she inadvertently poses picturesquely outside a church waiting for her mother. Bernard expresses his admiration for the young woman and offers her the sketch, but is not so delicately rebuffed by the rather defensive and dismissive young woman. A few weeks later, Bernard receives a letter from his friend Gordon Wright in Baden Baden, exclaiming that he is in love and wants to be married. Bernard rushes to visit his friend and discovers that the object of his affections is none other than the same young woman he painted in Siena.

The majority of the novel explores at length Bernard's attempts to comprehend the actions and motives of Angela Vivian, a young lady who does not act like other society girls such as their rather feather-headed travelling companion Blanche Evers. This attempt to get to the bottom of this strange but undeniably fascinating young woman is initially on the request of his friend Gordon, but Longueville has difficulty coming to terms with his own feelings for Miss Vivian.

Confidence is a slight work by James, a little longer than it needs to be, but witty and entertaining all the same, delighting in the "intellectual fencing" that goes on in the realm of human interaction, relationships and communication, seeking to find truth in the less than precise - and sometimes even contradictory and deceptive - use of language. James manages to do this without over-elaboration, using some nice allusions and metaphors (losing himself to a bout of gambling, although successful, Bernard at one point realises that contrary to the impression of controlling his actions, "he had not been playing - he had been played with"), and without the extravagant verbosity, over-analysis and sometimes unendurable length of his latter works.
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