Fordham Castle

tutorial, commentary, study resources, plot, and web links

Fordham Castle (1904) is at less than 10,000 words a very short story by James’s usual standards. It comes from his late period and first appeared in Harper’s Magazine in 1904. When he first recorded the germ of the idea for this tale in his notebooks (or the donnée as he liked to call it) it was ‘the American phenomenon of the social suppression of the parents’. That is, young Americans climbing the social ladder by concealing their true origins.

In his first thoughts the emphasis was on two daughters who wish to deny the existence of their mother. So it is interesting to note that by the time he came to write the story, attention had switched to the male protagonist – but James has retained the idea of denying somebody’s existence by taking up a new identity. And he retains the idea of ‘death’ in a metaphoric sense.

Fordham Castle

Longford Castle – Wiltshire

Fordham Castle – critical commentary

The most interesting element of this rather light piece of entertainment is the patterning of identities. All the principal characters have two names. Abel Taker is masquerading as C.P.Addard; his wife renames herself Mrs Sherrington Reeve; Mrs Magaw is registered at the hotel as Mrs Vanderplank, and her daughter Mattie Magaw will lose the surname she dislikes to become Lady Dunderton.

It could be argued that the story deals with a theme of people creating new identities for themselves. But Mrs Taker is acting outside the events of the narrative; we do not know if her actions are effective or not. Mrs Magaw only adopts her new persona temporarily. And Mattie secures her fiancé under her real name and will only change it following her marriage. Abel Taker however, volunteers at the end of the story to adopt his new identity of C.P.Addard, leaving his ‘old’ self dead. He is taking a leap into the metaphysical void. If we are to take its premise seriously, it’s certainly an extreme case of people seeking upward social mobility.

Fordham Castle – study resources

Fordham Castle The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon UK

Fordham Castle The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon US

Fordham Castle Complete Stories 1898—1910 – Library of America – Amazon UK

Fordham Castle Complete Stories 1898—1910 – Library of America – Amazon US

Red button The Cambridge Companion to Henry James – Amazon UK

Fordham Castle Fordham Castle – read the story on line

Red button The Prefaces of Henry James – Introductions to his work – Amazon UK

Red button The Prefaces of Henry James – Introductions to his work – Amazon US

Red button Henry James at Wikipedia – biographical notes, links

Red button Henry James at Mantex – tutorials, biography, study resources

Henry James portrait

Henry James – portrait by John Singer Sargeant

Fordham Castle – plot summary

Abel Taker a middle-aged American has agreed to separate from his wife so that she can get on in London society. He is living in a hotel on Lake Geneva under the assumed name of C.P.Addard. There he meets Mrs Magaw, an older American woman who is living under the name of Mrs Vanderplank. She is doing this for the sake of her daughter Mattie who thinks the family name is spoiling her chances of social advancement.

Both Abel and Mrs Magaw speak of their previous names and identities as people who are now dead. Meanwhile Mrs Taker, who is staying at Fordham Castle in Wiltshire, has done the same thing and has now become Mrs Sherrington Reeve.

Mattie Magaw is also staying at the Castle and becomes engaged to Lord Dunderton. Now that she has made her social mark she invites her mother there. Mrs Magaw leaves for England and invites Abel to go with her. However, he doubts that he will receive a similar invitation from his wife, declines, and resumes his status as a ‘dead person’.

Principal characters
Abel F. Taker middle-aged American – also C.P. Addard
Mrs Sue Taker his wife – also Mrs Sherrington Reeve
Mrs Magaw an American woman – also Mrs Vanderplank
Mattie Magaw her daughter, who is due to become Lady Dunderton
Madame Massin hotel proprietress

Henry James's study

Henry James’s study

Further reading


Red button Theodora Bosanquet, Henry James at Work, University of Michigan Press, 2007.

Red button F.W. Dupee, Henry James: Autobiography, Princeton University Press, 1983.

Red button Leon Edel, Henry James: A Life, HarperCollins, 1985.

Red button Philip Horne (ed), Henry James: A Life in Letters, Viking/Allen Lane, 1999.

Red button Henry James, The Letters of Henry James, Adamant Media Corporation, 2001.

Red button Fred Kaplan, Henry James: The Imagination of Genius, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999

Red button F.O. Matthieson (ed), The Notebooks of Henry James, Oxford University Press, 1988.

Critical commentary

Red button Elizabeth Allen, A Woman’s Place in the Novels of Henry James London: Macmillan Press, 1983.

Red button Ian F.A. Bell, Henry James and the Past, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1993.

Red button Millicent Bell, Meaning in Henry James, Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 1993.

Red button Harold Bloom (ed), Modern Critical Views: Henry James, Chelsea House Publishers, 1991.

Red button Kirstin Boudreau, Henry James’s Narrative Technique, Macmillan, 2010.

Red button J. Donald Crowley and Richard A. Hocks (eds), The Wings of the Dove, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1978.

Red button Victoria Coulson, Henry James, Women and Realism, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Red button Daniel Mark Fogel, A Companion to Henry James Studies, Greenwood Press, 1993.

Red button Virginia C. Fowler, Henry James’s American Girl: The Embroidery on the Canvas, Madison (Wis): University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.

Red button Jonathan Freedman, The Cambridge Companion to Henry James, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Red button Judith Fryer, The Faces of Eve: Women in the Nineteenth Century American Novel, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976

Red button Roger Gard (ed), Henry James: The Critical Heritage, London: Routledge, 1968.

Red button Tessa Hadley, Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Red button Barbara Hardy, Henry James: The Later Writing (Writers & Their Work), Northcote House Publishers, 1996.

Red button Richard A. Hocks, Henry James: A study of the short fiction, New York: Twayne Publishers, 1990.

Red button Donatella Izzo, Portraying the Lady: Technologies of Gender in the Short Stories of Henry James, University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

Red button Colin Meissner, Henry James and the Language of Experience, Cambridge University Press, 2009

Red button John Pearson (ed), The Prefaces of Henry James, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.

Red button Richard Poirer, The Comic Sense of Henry James, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Red button Hugh Stevens, Henry James and Sexuality, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Red button Merle A. Williams, Henry James and the Philosophical Novel, Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Red button Judith Woolf, Henry James: The Major Novels, Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Red button Ruth Yeazell (ed), Henry James: A Collection of Critical Essays, Longmans, 1994.

Other works by Henry James

Henry James The AmbassadorsThe Ambassadors (1903) Lambert Strether is sent from America to Paris to recall Chadwick Newsome, a young man who is reported to be compromising himself by an entanglement with a wicked woman. However, Strether’s mission fails when he is seduced by the social pleasures of the European capital, and he takes Newsome’s side. So a second ambassador is dispatched in the form of the more determined Sarah Pocock. She delivers an ultimatum which is resisted by the two young men, but then an accident reveals unpleasant truths to Strether, who is faced by a test of loyalty between old Europe and the new USA. This edition presents the latest scholarship on James and includes an introduction, notes, selected criticism, a text summary and a chronology of James’s life and times.
Longstaff's Marriage Buy the book at Amazon UK
Longstaff's Marriage Buy the book at Amazon US


Henry James Washington SquareWashington Square (1880) is a superb early short novel, It’s the tale of a young girl whose future happiness is being controlled by her strict authoritarian (but rather witty) father. She is rather reserved, but has a handsome young suitor. However, her father disapproves of him, seeing him as an opportunist and a fortune hunter. There is a battle of wills – all conducted within the confines of their elegant New York town house. Who wins out in the end? You will probably be surprised by the outcome. This is a masterpiece of social commentary, offering a sensitive picture of a young woman’s life.
Henry James Washington Square Buy the book from Amazon UK
Henry James Washington Square Buy the book from Amazon US


Henry James The Aspern PapersThe Aspern Papers (1888) is a psychological drama set in Venice which centres on the tussle for control of a great writer’s correspondence. An elderly lady, ex-lover of the writer, seeks a husband for her daughter. But the potential purchaser of the papers is a dedicated bachelor. Money is also at stake – but of course not discussed overtly. There is a refined battle of wills between them. Who will win in the end? As usual, James keeps the reader guessing. The novella is a masterpiece of subtle narration, with an ironic twist in its outcome. This collection of stories also includes three of his accomplished long short stories – The Private Life, The Middle Years, and The Death of the Lion.
Henry James The Aspern Papers Buy the book from Amazon UK
Henry James The Aspern Papers Buy the book from Amazon US

© Roy Johnson 2012

Henry James – web links

Henry James  web links Henry James at Mantex
Biographical notes, study guides, tutorials on the Complete Tales, book reviews. bibliographies, and web links.

Henry James web links The Complete Works
Sixty books in one 13.5 MB Kindle eBook download for £1.92 at The complete novels, stories, travel writing, and prefaces. Also includes his autobiographies, plays, and literary criticism – with illustrations.

Henry James web links The Ladder – a Henry James website
A collection of eTexts of the tales, novels, plays, and prefaces – with links to available free eTexts at Project Gutenberg and elsewhere.

Red button A Hyper-Concordance to the Works
Japanese-based online research tool that locates the use of any word or phrase in context. Find that illusive quotable phrase.

Henry James web links The Henry James Resource Center
A web site with biography, bibliographies, adaptations, archival resources, suggested reading, and recent scholarship.

Henry James web links Online Books Page
A collection of online texts, including novels, stories, travel writing, literary criticism, and letters.

Henry James web links Henry James at Project Gutenberg
A major collection of eTexts, available in a variety of eBook formats.

Henry James web links The Complete Letters
Archive of the complete correspondence (1855-1878) work in progress – published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Henry James web links The Scholar’s Guide to Web Sites
An old-fashioned but major jumpstation – a website of websites and resouces.

Henry James web links Henry James – The Complete Tales
Tutorials on the complete collection of over one hundred tales, novellas, and short stories.

Henry James web links Henry James on the Internet Movie Database
Adaptations of James’s novels and stories for the cinema and television – in various languages. Full details of directors and actors, production features, film reviews, box office, and even quizzes.

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