The Golden Bowl NOTES

In compiling these I have tried to concentrate on those points which will, I hope, enhance the reader’s appreciation and understanding of the novel. It was probably from Balzac that Henry James learned the technique of using historical, artistic, and other references in order to give an extra dimension to his work. (It is particularly noticeable in The Golden Bowl that, once the characters and the main themes are firmly established, the number of references diminishes dramatically.) It is for the sake of this extra dimension that I have gone into such allusions in some detail.

I have also offered translations of all the foreign words and phrases; if good linguists find these superfluous, they need not, of course, refer to them.




1. (p. ref) gageure. Wager.

2. (p. ref) louche. Dubious.

3. (p. ref) The Golden Bowl. Only five years had elapsed since the original edition of the novel. The author seems, in fact, to have made only minor alterations to the text, the most noticeable of which is the substitution throughout of the longer forms was not, could not, etc. by the apostrophized forms.


Chapter 1

1. (p. ref) Imperium. Empire. A recurring theme in James. (See e.g. note to p. ref.)

2. (p. ref) victorias. Light, four-wheeled carriages.

3. (p. ref) galantuomo. Gentleman.

4. (p. ref) ‘form’. Behaviour.

5. (p. ref) basse-cour. Farmyard.

6. (p. ref) bêtises. Stupidities.

7. (p. ref) morceau de musée. Museum (i.e. choice) piece.

8. (p. ref) cinquecento. Sixteenth century.

9. (p. ref) cars (U.S.). Railway carriages.

10. (p. ref) gilded the pill. Such touches of anti-Semitism may jar on the modern reader, but were probably taken for granted by James’s contemporaries.

11. (p. ref) Alexander . . . Darius. Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.) of Macedon, who conquered the Persians under Darius III. James is here presenting Adam Verver as a despoiler of empires. Adam also, like Alexander, made his achievements while still comparatively young.

12. (p. ref) Gordon Pym. This allusion introduces a new theme: that of voyages of exploration and discovery. Cf. the Golden Isles, p. ref.

Chapter 2

1. (p. ref) de part et d’autre. By both parties.

2. (p. ref) ‘old England’. The name of a famous shop in Paris selling typically English clothes, including mackintoshes (‘articles in india-rubber’).

3. (p. ref) sposi. Spouses, i.e. the Prince’s sister and her husband.

4. (p. ref) Golden Isles. In Greek mythology, these islands were situated at the farthest limits of the western world. Here grew the golden apples guarded by the Hesperides. They were also known as the Isles of the Blessed, where favoured mortals were allowed to dwell after death (or, exceptionally, late in life).

5. (p. ref) Ecco! That’s it!

6. (p. ref) quattrocento. Fifteenth century.

7. (p. ref) lightning elevator (U.S.). High-speed lift.

8. (p. ref) Machiavelli. Used loosely by Mrs Assingham in its sense of ‘schemer’. However, her companion explores this allusion to the great Italian statesman (author of The Prince, 1513) rather less superficially.

9. (p. ref) rococo. i.e. extravagant.

10. (p. ref) tableau-vivant. The representation of a painting, historic scene, etc., by silent and motionless actors.

11. (p. ref) the Queen of Sheba. A reference to the Biblical episode (1 Kings X) in which the Queen’s visit to Solomon and the magnificence of her train are described in some detail.

12. (p. ref) revendeuse. A secondhand dealer. The themes touched on in this paragraph will re-emerge in the visit to the antique shop in Chapter 6.

13. (p. ref) Northwest Passage. From the sixteenth century onwards explorers had attempted to find a route along the north coast of America from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but the first actually to complete the passage was Amundsen in his expedition of 1903–6. This is a good example of James’s topicality.

14. (p. ref) Pocahontas (1595–1617). The daughter of an Indian chief in Virginia. She married an English colonist and went with him to live in England, where she died.

15. (p. ref) doyenne. The oldest or most senior woman.

16. (p. ref) ‘Est-elle toujours aussi belle?’ ‘Is she as beautiful as ever?’

Chapter 3

1. (p. ref) Barbarians. Originally, the tribes outside the Roman Empire.

2. (p. ref) balia. Nurse.

3. (p. ref) contadini. Peasants.

4. (p. ref) podere. Farm.

5. (p. ref) Friday. Unlucky, since it was the day of Christ’s death.

6. (p. ref) the Oratory. The Brompton Oratory in Knightsbridge, the church usually chosen for fashionable Catholic weddings.

Chapter 4

1. (p. ref) tropic islands . . . wide verandahs. Bob Assingham has been serving the far-flung British Empire.

2. (p. ref) Attila the Hun. He and his hordes ravaged the Roman Empire in the fifth century. The British Empire is here seen as destructive of older civilizations. (See also the note on pax Britannica, p. ref, Vol. II.)

3. (p. ref) the Apennines. The mountain range which runs down the spine of Italy. In fact both Rome and Florence are on the western side – but then Fanny Assingham’s references are not always exact.

4. (p. ref) Amerigo. The Prince is apparently a descendant of Amerigo Vespucci, whose explorations of the coastline of South America from 1499 to 1502 led him to realize that this was indeed a new continent, and not, as had been previously supposed, part of Asia. Fanny’s view of him as a ‘make-believe discoverer’ was then the general one: it was only in the 1920s and 30s that Vespucci’s achievements were properly recognized by historians.

5. (p. ref) ‘By that sign he’ll conquer.’ An adaptation of the motto of the Roman Emperor Constantine, who before the battle of the Milvian Bridge (312) saw in the sky a vision of a flaming cross bearing the words, ‘In this sign thou shalt conquer.’ He adopted the cross as his emblem and won the battle – and with it, the Empire.

6. (p. ref) You’ve taken part in the sack of cities. Another link between Assingham and Attila the Hun.

Chapter 5

1. (p. ref) on the huge Portland Place staircase. Scenes on staircases are significant in this novel. See, in particular, the long conversation between Fanny Assingham and her husband which occupies the whole of Chapters 10 and 11 of Book Third and which takes place almost entirely on the actual stairs or on the landing. Interestingly, characters are always observed going upstairs, never down.

2. (p. ref) antiquarii. Antique-dealers.

Chapter 6

1. (p. ref) hansom. A two-wheeled hired cab, with room for two passengers. James is always very specific about means of transport, presumably because, as here, he attaches a symbolic significance to them.

2. (p. ref) ‘rot’. Rubbish. Amerigo, like his creator, likes showing off his knowledge of contemporary English slang.

3. (p. ref) grey. A reference to the proverb, ‘At night all cats are grey.’

4. (p. ref) things consular, Napoleonic. Napoleon was created a Consul in 1799, and became Emperor of France in 1804.

5. (p. ref) temples, obelisks, arches. The first French Empire liked to reproduce the artefacts of ancient Egypt and Rome in order to authenticate its own Imperial image.

6. (p. ref) intaglios. Gemstones with an incised design, often of Imperial origin.

7. (p. ref) ricordo. Souvenir.

8. (p. ref) their foreign tongue. Charlotte and the Prince have been talking Italian. We are told in the first chapter that Amerigo finds English convenient ‘for the greatest number of relations’ and that when it came to French ‘there were discriminations, doubtless of the invidious kind, for which that language was the most apt’. Perhaps his present use of Italian seems appropriate to him in a third-rate situation.

9. (p. ref) cara mia. My dear.

10. (p. ref) per bacco! For goodness’ sake!

11. (p. ref) disgraziatamente, signora principessa. Unfortunately, Princess.

12. (p. ref) Che! Not at all! (Later in the novel it emerges that he is Jewish.)

13. (p. ref) Cos’è? What is it?

14. (p. ref) signori miei. Sir and madam.

15. (p. ref) per Dio! For heaven’s sake!


Chapter 1

1. (p. ref) the impersonal whiteness. This could be a veiled reminiscence of the voyage of Gordon Pym (see p. ref).

2. (p. ref) receipt. Recipe.

3. (p. ref) hill of difficulty. The hill encountered by travellers in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

4. (p. ref) brown holland. An unbleached linen fabric used for covering up furniture.

5. (p. ref) piazza. Square.

6. (p. ref) Keats’s sonnet. This is ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer’, of which the last lines are:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new planet swims into his ken;

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

He star’d at the Pacific – and all his men

Look’d at each other with a wild surmise –

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Chapter 2

1. (p. ref) Principino. Little prince.

2. (p. ref) pâte tendre. A play on the literal meaning of the words (tender paste) and their specialized meaning as a material for eighteenth-century porcelain.

3. (p. ref) Julius II and Leo X. These sixteenth-century papal patrons did in fact treat Michael Angelo very shabbily. Julius in particular, although admittedly allowing the painter a free hand with his decoration of the Sistine Chapel, persistently ignored his requests for payment.

4. (p. ref) the faith. i.e. the Roman Catholic faith.

Chapter 3

1. (p. ref) multiplied lettering. i.e. Roman numerals.

2. (p. ref) chinoiseries. Chinese ornaments and furniture. Here, however, it refers to the odd visitors that the Ververs have ‘collected’.

3. (p. ref) Palazzo Nero. A play on the literal meaning (black palace) and the associations of the name of the Roman Emperor Nero.

4. (p. ref) Vesuvius. The eruption of this volcano in A.D. 79 buried the ancient Roman towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae under cinders and mud.

Chapter 4

1. (p. ref) Vatican . . . Capitoline. Notable museums in Rome.

Chapter 5

1. (p. ref) Borgias. This Italian Renaissance family had a reputation for poisoning their enemies – and each other.

2. (p. ref) par exemple. For instance.

3. (p. ref) petites entrées. Informal visits. The expression originated in the court etiquette of the absolutist French monarch Louis XIV.

Chapter 6

1. (p. ref) befrogged. A frog is a military coat-fastening which, in addition to a covered button and a loop, involves elaborate ribbon or braid decoration on the garment itself.

2. (p. ref) Croatian, Dalmatian, Carpathian. Exotic bands were much in favour at the time; even so, such a collection seems unlikely in a single hotel – but James probably couldn’t resist the alliteration and rhyme.

3. (p. ref) meuble. Piece of furniture.

4. (p. ref) Damascene. Inlaid with gold or silver designs.

Chapter 7

1. (p. ref) porte-cochère. Main entrance.

2. (p. ref) breakfast. As we were told at the beginning of the chapter that this was a ‘noontide meal’, we take it that Adam Verver is using the word with the connotations of déjeuner, which means luncheon as well as breakfast.

3. (p. ref) feather boa. A type of stole.

4. (p. ref) ‘Cette fois-ci pour madame!’ ‘This time it’s for madame.’

5. (p. ref) Déjeunons. Let’s eat.


Chapter 1

1. (p. ref) cabotinage. Showing off, play-acting.

2. (p. ref) en très haut lieu. In the highest quarters.

Chapter 2

1. (p. ref) retentissement. Repercussion.

2. (p. ref) ignis fatuus. Will-o’-the-wisp, which leads unwary travellers astray.

Chapter 3

1. (p. ref) brougham. Closed carriage for four or five passengers.

2. (p. ref) point de repère. Reference point.

Chapter 4

1. (p. ref) ‘A la guerre comme à la guerre.’ Charlotte finds the message ambiguous, and no wonder. Literally, it means that in wartime one must act as in wartime; it may also have the less menacing meaning of ‘We must just take things as we find them.’ It also carries a hint of ‘All’s fair in love and war.’

2. (p. ref) Bowdlerised. Thomas Bowdler was an early nineteenth-century expurgator of Shakespeare. Presumably the hat was plain and unerotic.

3. (p. ref) ‘growler’. A slang word for a four-wheeled cab.

Chapter 5

1. (p. ref) da nonno To his grandfather’s house.

2. (p. ref) maîtresse de maison. Mistress of a household.

Chapter 6

1. (p. ref) bousculade. Rush, crush.

2. (p. ref) Arcadian. The Greek region of Arcady is idealized by the poets as one of simple rustic contentment.

3. (p. ref) Cornelia. A famous matron of ancient Rome.

4. (p. ref) il n’y avait pas à dire. Needless to say.

Chapter 7

1. (p. ref) bottigliera. A collection of bottles. It was the custom at house-parties to bring in the drinks tray at bedtime so that guests might help themselves to a nightcap.

2. (p. ref) galantuomini. Gentlemen.

3. (p. ref) the Fall. That of Adam and Eve. (See the reference to Eden in the Introduction.)

Chapter 8

1. (p. ref) cari sposi. Dear spouses.

2. (p. ref) bons amis. Good friends.

3. (p. ref) Cosa volete? What can one do?

4. (p. ref) Speriamo. Let’s hope.

Chapter 9

1. (p. ref) engrenage. Machinery.

2. (p. ref) les situations nettes. Clear-cut situations.

3. (p. ref) She had come to the sill. People leaning out of windows seem to herald turning-points in the novel. See, for example, p. ref in Vol. II, where Amerigo and Charlotte are leaning over the balcony in Portland Place.

4. (p. ref) Vengo! I’m coming!

5. (p. ref) forestieri. Foreigners.

6. (p. ref) Bradshaw. The railway guide.

7. (p. ref) Blood. People of indeterminate origin (for example the antique dealer, who denies being either English or Italian, but will not say what he is, and Fanny Assingham, who is described on p. ref as looking like a daughter of the South, or still more of the East’) are apparently people to beware of.

Chapter 10

1. (p. ref) Sphinx. This creature of Greek mythology was a winged monster with a woman’s head and a lion’s body, a close guarder of secrets, and given to devouring the unwary. The expression is also used more generally to denote an enigmatic and mysterious person.

2. (p. ref) Si bien. So much so.

Chapter 11

1. (p. ref) tout bêtement. Quite simply.

2. (p. ref) ‘painting’ Applying make-up.



Chapter 1

1. (p. ref) par exemple. Really.

Chapter 5

1. (p. ref) Longfellow. The quotation is from A Psalm of Life.

Let us, then, be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labour and to wait.

2. (p. ref) Santissima Vergine! Holy Mother of God!

Chapter 7

1. (p. ref) ‘mash’. Infatuation.

2. (p. ref) Cela s’est vu. Such things have been known to happen.

3. (p. ref) blasés. Indifferent.

4. (p. ref) Voilà. That’s it.


Chapter 1

1. (p. ref) pax Britannica. The (alleged) peace imposed under British Imperial rule. Henry James shows his awareness of the irony of the phrase by stressing the armour and weaponry of this allegorical figure.

2. (p. ref) revanche. Revenge.

3. (p. ref) les grands seigneurs. The nobility.

Chapter 2

1. (p. ref) flambeaux. Candlesticks.

2. (p. ref) the scapegoat. Maggie is thinking of Holman Hunt’s rather lurid painting with this title.

3. (p. ref) lustres of Venice. Venetian glass chandeliers.

Chapter 3

1. (p. ref) ‘slope’. Make off, go away.

2. (p. ref) nippers. Pince-nez: a pair of spectacles without side-pieces, which clip on to the nose.

Chapter 4

1. (p. ref) Baedeker. A travel guide by the author of that name.

2. (p. ref) sotto voce. Quietly.

3. (p. ref) she did cicerone. She acted as a guide.

4. (p. ref) vieux Saxe. A type of antique porcelain from Saxony.

Chapter 5

1. (p. ref) canicular. An adjective applied to the ‘dog-days’, the hottest of the year.

2. (p. ref) Io, in Greek mythology, was a mortal maiden loved by Zeus, king of the gods. In order to lie with her, he took the form of a cloud. Nevertheless, his wife Hera became suspicious. Zeus tried to protect Io by changing her into a heifer, so Hera sent a gadfly to torment the animal, and in trying to escape from it Io fled across the known world, swimming the seas which barred her way. We may feel, particularly by the end of the novel, that Io has more in common with Charlotte than with Maggie.

3. (p. ref) Ariadne, also in Greek mythology, was the daughter of the king of Crete, but betrayed her father in order to help her lover Theseus, to whom she gave a ball of thread that would help him find his way through the labyrinth of her father’s palace. (See the reference to ‘tortuous corridors’ in connection with Adam Verver, on page 129 (Volume I).) Ariadne was later abandoned by Theseus in favour of her sister, Phaedra. The latter also came to grief, as a result of falling in love with her stepson, Hippolytus, Theseus’s son by a former marriage. The parallels are not perfect, but they are close enough.


Chapter 1

1. (p. ref) Mahomet. An allusion to the proverbial saying: ‘If the mountain will not come to Mahomet, then Mahomet will come to the mountain.’

2. (p. ref) Samson. The mighty Samson, in the Bible, destroys his enemies the Philistines by pulling down their temple on both them and himself.

3. (p. ref) émigré. An emigrant, particularly one fleeing from a revolution.

Chapter 2

1. (p. ref) Figaro. The French daily newspaper.

Chapter 3

1. (p. ref) petits fours. Small cakes.

2. (p. ref) Le compte y est. They’re all there.

3. (p. ref) good things. A flawed object like the Golden Bowl would have been out of place in this setting.

* The New York edition (Charles Scribner and Co., 1909).