tutorial, critical comment, plot, and study resources

Europe first appeared in Scribner’s Magazine for June 1899, and later the following year in the collection of stories The Soft Side published by Methuen.


Europe – critical commentary

This is a black comedy, in a somewhat similar spirit to James’s earlier story Four Meetings (1877) where the magnetic draw of European culture for Americans proves to be beyond the reach of Caroline Spencer, a New England schoolteacher. In her case she is defrauded of her life’s dream by her unscrupulous cousin.

Here too there is a family connection – but one much closer, of mother and daughters. Old Mrs Rimmel has had a successful earlier life with her celebrated husband, enjoyed her own European tour, and only had her three daughters late in life.

Now the implication is that the puritanical sense of duty that rules in their Boston household grinds the lives of the daughters into prematurely aged drudges, attending to the needs of their increasingly disoriented mother.

Europe as symbol

Europe functions as an idea, a dream of cultural riches – perhaps like some atavistic draw for the American descendents of European settlers for what might be, what could be. Certainly as someone who had lived on both contents throughout his life, James was very conscious of the European—American polarity and what it meant for both groups of people, and he frequently contrasted Europe with all types of Americans – sophisticated New Yorkers, puritannical Bostonians, gentlemanly southerners, and robust Californians.

The more suave New York narrator is able to pass between the two continents with ease, whereas the group of four Bostonian ladies are locked in an ethos of self-denying austerity. This is a strain of American culture which James had explored in greater depth before in works such as The Bostonians.

It is emphasised that the Rimmels are typical New Englanders – old Puritan stock – whereas the narrator is from New York. They have become trapped in a life-denying cycle of emotional inter-dependency. The narrator is particularly scathing about the old woman’s psychological grip on her daughters. She has had the pleasures and benefits of a European tour of her own when (much) younger, but is denying them the chance of the same experience. Only one of her daughters is able to make the break – and she never goes back

Europe – study resources

Europe The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon UK

Europe The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon US

Europe Complete Stories 1898—1910 – Library of America – Amazon UK

Europe Complete Stories 1898—1910 – Library of America – Amazon US

Europe Europe – HTML New York edition

Europe Europe – HTML version at Gutenberg

Red button The Cambridge Companion to Henry James – Amazon UK

Red button Henry James at Wikipedia – biographical notes, links

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

Europe – plot summary

Part I. After many years living in Boston as spinster ladies, Becky and Jane Rimmel are finally due to visit Europe, leaving their elderly widowed mother to be looked after by their sister Maria. Old Mrs Rimmel visited Europe many years before (in the early nineteenth century, it would seem) and the continent has been held up to the three daughters ever since as a sort of cultural Nirvanah. The ‘girls’ (who are in fact elderly) tease the story’s narrator about his knowledge of Europe and discuss the possibility of meeting up there.

Part II. However, just before their departure, their mother has a seizure, and the trip is postponed. The narrator discusses Mrs Rimmel’s immense age with his sister-in-law who is a friend of the family. Years pass by in which the narrator himself twice visits Europe, which the Rimmels claim is ‘waiting’ for them. The narrator feels angry that the three sisters are growing old, and that their mother is selfishly denying them valuable life experiences. Then suddenly Jane, the youngest daughter makes the break and travels to Europe with some friends the Hathaways. Old Mrs Rimmel begins to lose sense of time.

Part III. The Hathaways return from the European tour later that year – but they have left Jane behind, because she insists on seeing more of Europe. She has become self-assertive and rebellious, refuses to be chaperoned, and has taken to ‘flirting’. Her sister Becky is supporting her financially. The narrator is delighted by what he sees as the development of the sisters’ potential. When the narrator next visits Boston he is amazed to find Becky at his sister-in-law’s house, looking as old as her mother. He opines that Jane will never return from Europe, and Becky tells him that their mother is no longer alive.

Part IV. But when the narrator visits their home next day old Mrs Rimmel is corpse-like, but still living. She has persuaded herself that Jane has died in Europe. Becky then dies, having worn herself out with looking after her mother. The narrator visits the house again and finds Maria looking even older than her mother. She ruefully observes that she will now never visit Europe. Then old Mrs Rimmel, in what appears to be her last gasp of life, announces that Becky has gone to Europe – and the narrator agrees with her.

Principal characters
I the un-named narrator
Mrs Rimmel an elderly Bostonian widow
Becky Rimmel her eldest daughter, who dies
Maria Rimmel her daughter
Jane Rimmel her youngest daughter, who leaves

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 BostoniansThe Bostonians (1886) is a novel about the early feminist movement. The heroine Verena Tarrant is an ‘inspirational speaker’ who is taken under the wing of Olive Chancellor, a man-hating suffragette and radical feminist. Trying to pull her in the opposite direction is Basil Ransom, a vigorous young man to whom Verena becomes more and more attracted. The dramatic contest to possess her is played out with some witty and often rather sardonic touches, and as usual James keeps the reader guessing about the outcome until the very last page.

Europe Buy the book at Amazon UK
Europe Buy the book at Amazon US


Henry James What Masie KnewWhat Masie Knew (1897) A young girl is caught between parents who are in the middle of personal conflict, adultery, and divorce. Can she survive without becoming corrupted? It’s touch and go – and not made easier for the reader by the attentions of an older man who decides to ‘look after’ her. This comes from the beginning of James’s ‘Late Phase’, so be prepared for longer and longer sentences. In fact it’s said that whilst composing this novel, James switched from writing longhand to using dictation – and it shows if you look carefully enough – part way through the book.

Henry James What Masie Knew Buy the book at Amazon UK
Henry James What Masie Knew Buy the book at Amazon US


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 – 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.

© Roy Johnson 2013

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