Published in 1904, The Golden Bowl is the last completed novel of Henry James. In it, the widowed American Adam Verver is in Europe with his daughter Maggie. They are rich, finely appreciative of European art and culture, and deeply attached to each other. Maggie has all the innocent charm of so many of James' young American heroines. She is engaged to Amerigo, an impoverished Italian prince; he must marry money, and as his name suggests, an American heiress is the perfect solution.
The golden bowl, first seen in a London curio shop, is used emblematically throughout the novel. Not solid gold but gilded crystal, the perfect surface conceals a flaw; it is symbolic of the relationship between the main characters and of the world in which they move.
Also in Europe is an old friend of Maggie's, Charlotte Stant, a girl of great charm and independence, and Maggie is blindly ignorant of the fact that she and the prince are lovers. Maggie and Amerigo are married and have a son, but Maggie remains dependent for real intimacy on her father, and she and Amerigo grow increasingly apart. Feeling that her father has suffered a loss through her marriage, Maggie decides to find him a wife, and her choice falls on Charlotte. Charlotte's affair with the prince continues, and Adam Verver seems to her to be a suitable and convenient match. When Maggie herself finally comes into possession of the golden bowl, the flaw is revealed to her, and, inadvertently, the truth about Amerigo and Charlotte.
Fanny Assingham (an older woman, aware of the truth from the beginning) deliberately breaks the bowl, and this marks the end of Maggie's innocence. She is no pathetic heroine-victim, however. Abstaining from outcry and outrage, she instead takes the reins and maneuvers people and events. She still wants to be with Amerigo, but he must continue to be worth having and they must all be saved further humiliations and indignities. To be a wife she must cease to be a daughter; Adam Verver and the unhappy Charlotte are banished forever to America, and the new Maggie will establish a real marriage with Amerigo.
For those who love Henry James, The Golden Bowl is often a favorite. For those who don’t, it may be better tolerated than some of the others. Whichever category is yours, this version is an ideal place to revisit your position on The Master. Katherine Kellgren does a miraculous job with James’s famously endless sentences. She keeps the rhythm and structure of each one clear without losing sight of its emotional content and its pace within the story - a feat something like running a hurdle course. Best of all, she creates vivid characters and makes the tensions among them truly absorbing as a sweet, rich American father and daughter find themselves in the toils of European sophisticates and in crisis everyone behaves beautifully.
“Katherine Kellgren does a miraculous job with James’s famously endless sentences. She keeps the rhythm and structure of each one clear without losing sight of its emotional content and its pace within the story—a feat something like running a hurdle course. Best of all, she creates vivid characters and makes the tensions among them truly absorbing as a sweet, rich American father and daughter find themselves in the toils of European sophisticates and in crisis everyone behaves beautifully.” (AudioFile)
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Wonderful story, poor reading
Simon Prebble does a very good introduction.
I would not try another of Katherine Kellgren's readings.
The American characters sounded fine. The problem for me is that the Italian Prince is spoken with an accent which sounds east European and absolutely no similarity to a real Italian speaking English. The accent is so totally wrong that I found it impossible to continue listening. A shame as it is one of my favourite books.
Sticking to print, for now
Can't get beyond page 92.
The shop scene, which I listened to three times, and read over twice. I believed it to be pivotal, but Katherine Kellgren failed to help me mark the moment.
It probably depends on what Katherine is reading - a manual or sections from the encyclopedia perhaps? I never got to hear this Simon person at all.
Yes, I found a different audiobook company!
I am new to audiobooks and am still trying to figure out what works in audio and what seems not to work (any better) when read out loud. I was hoping, with the help of audio recordings, to get through my long list of must-read-classics a little faster, supported by the animation of a narrator. But the going has been slower than anticipated - for the Classics, at least. (At the same time, I have discovered more modern works, for which I would never have taken out the time to read in print.)
I am learning the difference between a text’s-text dependent on print and suited to scanning and a narrative-text that is best savoured by having it read out loud,. For now, for me, The Golden Bowl belongs to the former, which is not surprising, since here we have not much of a narrative flow. We have in James a writer who shows us he can write. What could be said flat out he prefers to work out in a round-about way. I believe there is a reason for this, but I failed to appreciate it in this recording. Katherine Kellgren's narration started to irritate me immensely (not just bore me). Why was that? I wondered long and hard.
How could I have expected anything different but steady, relentless ambling (if not beating around the bush) from this nineteenth century writer? It was no simpler to get a sense of going anywhere specific with Daisy Miller or What Masie Knew, or even The Turning of The Screw. But the Aspern Papers was a turning point for me: thanks to trying it in audio format. I was more than happy to amble along, listening to the narrator (a Librivox recording even!). I was sorry to return to my own century at the end of our walk. I am so eager to enjoy what is acclaimed as one of James’s best in the Bowl, that it frustrated me immensely when after two re-starts I threw in the towel. What was wrong with me?
The thing is we never ambled, Katherine and I: she put me on a trolley bus and drove me around the spots the Prince visited and I only sat up to pay attention when we sat down to listen in on the conversation in the salon between husband and wife, where she was forced to modulate for the (witty) dialogue. I then realised James was writing rather carefully, if without giving any pause, bombarding us with impressions you would have to cohese into a more tranquil whole at your own leisure. Katherine Kellgren had not suggested that to me.
I don’t want to give up, and I shan’t, but for now, I wish I could at least RETURN this audio narration and carry on with one of Jame’s other works (The Wings Of The Dove, perhaps, narrated by the always excellent Juliet Stevenson?) - but something about my account does not allow me to (too many returns already?). So for now an aborted attempt, although I aim to restart soon with an alternative narration I managed to find elsewhere - since Audible has no other options (Lee Ann Howlett, although probably also not my preferred narrator).
I think my personal preference would be a male narrator, with a not too overtly rhotic accent, maybe even British English to help ground us on British soil where the story takes place. I could definitely do without the Italian pastiche accent for the Prince that makes him sound a cliché of himself before he has even begun to define himself.
I am afraid I am going to write a similar review (with the same complaint regards the impossibility of return) for Lord Jim, by Conrad - but there I would have (plenty of) other narrators to choose from.
Even with the hard copy at hand for the Bowl, I was simply not managing to get beyond p. 92, which is nowhere yet, in light of the 464 pages. Yes, I returned to the print version all the time to help restore my attention, but to little avail. I never became involved and in the end the narrator irritated me with her stream of words.
In principle, there is nothing wrong with her voice, once you attune your ear to the American accent if you are a British-English speaker. Good diction, with a grasp of the text (if not the story), and you can tell from the sample, she sounds quite competent. Only I’d say she ultimately is not invisible enough to bring the characters alive. Perhaps, it is her lack of rhythm? I am afraid it is not a compliment for a narrator to say she seems to remain herself (little modulation) and after a while you realise you are listening to her and not the story she is telling.
For now, the printed version works better for me (but is slower going due to an eye complaint) but because so very little happens (it tries to set up a stream of consciousness and deliver marginal comments rather than objectively or directly narrate the character's experiences. The book form makes for a stage, rather than a film screen.) I would have liked to dream away on its musings and cadence and forgive the book its lack of dynamism thanks to an audio recording. I would not have minded a sense of tediousness or clautrophobia and stagnation, because apparently everybody feels trapped in this novel, somehow, in the vice of convention, tradition and circumstance - or the tension between that and the imminent socio-political changes (we know must take place at the turn of the century).
I am prepared to stroll very slowly through an Impressionistic painting but I don’t think the crisp patter of Ms. Kellgren is appropriate for me. Should I have grit my teeth for longer? And tried to find the male narrator mentioned; I am half intrigued.... But not enough for now.
- Aquilina Christophorus