The Golden Bowl - Volume One, Book First, Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

This Study Guide consists of approximately 40 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Golden Bowl.
This section contains 975 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)

Volume One, Book First, Chapter 1 Summary

Henry James' novel "The Golden Bowl" tells the story of the marriage of two couples and the impact the prior relationships of these couples have on each other. The story revolves around a beautiful, but cracked, golden bowl and the secrets this bowl allows to surface. Maggie, the heroine of the book, goes into full battle mode to keep her husband, but protect others from her knowledge of an adulterous affair. As the novel ends, all Maggie's husband can see is her, proving to Maggie that her battle and the sacrifices that were made were worth her efforts.

This introductory chapter opens with the Prince visiting some of his favorite places in London while contemplating his upcoming marriage. The idea of language is discussed between Maggie and the Prince. While Maggie is ashamed of how good the Prince's English is compared to her handling of the language, especially since it is her native language. The Prince insinuates there are qualities to be admired more than speech. These qualities include the goodness of Maggie and her father. Maggie argues that her father would have liked the Prince regardless of what language he spoke.

The Prince also indicates to Maggie that there are two sides of him. One of these sides is comprised of his family its history. While Maggie and her father know much about this history, the Price feels they do not know him well as an individual person. Maggie admits she has learned much about her future husband from the books she has read about his family. She seems to indicate that it is this history that made her care for the Prince. When she questions where he would have been without this history, the Prince states that he would perhaps have been in a position where he had more money.

In the course of this chapter Maggie and the Prince also discuss the romantic outlook Americans have of life and the world around them. Maggie makes the comment that her father's outlook on life is the most romantic of any with which she has ever come in contact. Her father is hoping to leave his native city a museum, or a collection of items, put together by his own hands. Maggie tells the Prince that he is one of the rarest and most valuable additions to this collection.

Meanwhile, the Prince searches his own conscience and his reasons for marrying Maggie. While he believes himself not to be deceitful or a hypocrite, he admits to himself that he wishes to use this opportunity, and Maggie's father's money, to make a new name and a new history for himself. As he continues to contemplate the changes his new union will bring about, the Prince decides to go visit his old friend Fanny Assingham.

It is Fanny who introduced the Prince to Maggie and who is the one to whom the Prince credits his upcoming marriage. As he rides in the carriage, the Prince contemplates his worth in terms of monetary value. He also muses on the idea that his life seems to be separated by a curtain that divides the known from the unknown. While he is unsure what surprises may be in store for him once this curtain is drawn, he feels he is sure of his relationship with Fanny. He has faith she will steer him in the right direction since she has so far.

Volume One, Book First, Chapter 1 Analysis

Chapter one introduces the reader to some very important background for this novel. For instance, the Prince, a native of London is preparing to marry Maggie Verver, the daughter of an American collector. The marriage appears to be a career move on the part of both parties. Maggie sees the Prince as a valuable part of her father's collection. His most important and most interesting aspects to her are his history and his lineage. The Prince, on the other hand, believes his marriage to Maggie will increase his monetary value. He at last sees himself in the company of people with money. The prince does not share Maggie's high opinion of his background and his family's history. He believes his background is full of infamy and that his marriage to Maggie will be a step up in the world. Note that both the Prince and Maggie see the marriage in terms of its ability to benefit them in a monetary way. Although the Prince admits he liked Maggie from the first time he met her, there is really no importance placed on love in the relationship.

In addition to giving the groundwork for the book, this chapter also introduces some of the main themes of the book. The idea of marriage and the utilization of this relationship is the central theme of the book. The idea of innocence versus worldliness also comes into play as Maggie transforms from the innocent creature that she appears to be in this first chapter. While the Prince is more worldly in his ways and appears to have a better grasp of the way things really are, it is perhaps hinted by his claim to Maggie that he is neither deceitful or a hypocrite that he is indeed both of these things.

Important things to note in this chapter include James' description of the Prince's marriage as an entrapment. James portrays this event as if the Prince is being locked up with no hope of release. Goodness, particularly the goodness of Maggie and her father are also described as characteristics that hedge one in. This idea of entrapment continues throughout the novel. Note also that the Price is referred to only by his title in this first chapter. This strengthens the idea that his importance to the Ververs' is only in his status as royalty, and not as an individual person.

This section contains 975 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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