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“the best book I have ever done” – James on The Golden Bowl

JAMES, HENRY. The Golden Bowl

New York: Scribner’s, 1904

Two volumes. Original tan-rose cloth. Top edge gilt. Portion of original glassine preserved, with some offsetting. A very handsome copy. Half morocco case.

FIRST EDITION. PRESENTATION COPY inscribed “For Grace Edith Barnes, Henry James  New York  January 1st,  1905.” The recipient, Grace Edith Barnes, was the business manager, assistant, and finally executrix of American artist John La Farge. James was a close friend of the artist, who exposed the author to French novels and painted his portrait. When La Farge died in 1910, James wrote, “I think of him as one of the very small number of truly extraordinary men whom I’ve known.”

Only 2000 copies were printed; there was no prior serial publication. In 1904 James called this “the best book I have ever done.” “The Golden Bowl on every page shows clarity of intention and consummation. The prose is dense, yet fluid, and the surfeit of architectural and museum-world imagery, the gathering of social and artistic materials to suggest the fabric of civilization, combined the art of realism James had learned long ago from Balzac with the old art of the fable” (Edel).

The Golden Bowl is a novel of the daughter of an American millionaire who marries an impoverished European prince. Her friend has an affair with the prince and then marries her father, the millionaire. The relationships are sabotaged by money, greed, and jealousy.

The Golden Bowl is generally considered to be James’s most difficult and most ambitious work. “[It] is a work unique among all his novels: it is James’s only novel in which things come out right for his characters . . . . He had finally resolved the questions, curious and passionate, hat had kept him at his desk in his inquiries into the process of living. He could now make his peace with America—and he could now collect and unify the work of a lifetime” (Edel).

This is an excellent presentation copy of one of James’s greatest books.