Longstaff’s Marriage

tutorial, critical comment, plot, and study resources

Longstaff’s Marriage first appeared in magazine form in Scribner’s Monthly for August 1878. Stories by popular writers Bret Harte and Edward Egglestone appeared in the same issue, It was then reprinted in book form amongst The Madonna of the Future and Other Stories the following year.

Longstaff's Marriage

Longstaff’s Marriage – critical commentary

The principal feature of this story is the structural symmetry and the ironic reversals of the two ‘deathbed’ scenes. In the first the proud and beautiful Diana seems to have everything to gain when Longstaff makes his appeal to her, but she rejects his offer indignantly.

We are then asked to believe in two outcomes from this episode. The first is that the shock of this rejection somehow gives Longstaff the jolt he needs to restore his own health. Since we have no medical information about his state of being during his period of decline, this is very hard to judge.

The other is that at the same time Diana somehow retrospectively falls in love with Longstaff – even though she does not see him for more than two years. This is something of a stretch, but just about plausible.

But then comes another symmetrical twist which stretches credulity – to breaking point. Diana herself develops a wasting ailment which would be acceptable if she were simply pining away for love of Longstaff and might be restored on resumption of contact with him. Her proposal to him is acceptable enough as the neat plot twist – but she really is on her death bed and dies shortly afterwards.

This seems like a gain for plot structure at the expense of plausibility. The architecture of the story is firm enough, but its content is not satisfactory.

Longstaff’s Marriage – study resources

Longstaff's Marriage The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon UK

Longstaff's Marriage The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon US

Longstaff's Marriage Complete Stories 1874—1884 – Library of America – Amazon UK

Longstaff's Marriage Complete Stories 1874—1884 – Library of America – Amazon US

Longstaff's Marriage Longstaff’s Marriage – Kindle edition

Longstaff's Marriage Longstaff’s Marriage – Paperback edition [£4.49]

Longstaff's Marriage Longstaff’s Marriage – eBook versions 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

Longstaff’s Marriage – plot summary

Diana Belfield has inherited money and divided it with her cousin Agatha Gosling. The two women travel to Europe and are in Nice for the winter season. Agatha is much given to fantasising about their fellow residents, and they see Reginald Longstaff on the promenade regularly, she assumes that he is in love with Diana.

Longstaff introduces himself to Agatha and reveals that he is dying and very much in love with Diana. He asks Agatha not to reveal this to Diana until after his death.

Agatha keeps her promise, but some time later Longstaff’s servant asks Agatha to bring Diana to Longstaff’s sick bed, where he is thought to be dying. When they go there, he makes a moving appeal to Diana, asking her to marry him. Diana insists that she finds the idea appalling and suggests that they leave Nice immediately.

Their subsequent travels deteriorate in quality, so they decide to go back to America.Two years later Diana writes to Agatha to say that she is engaged – but then breaks it off. Diana then summons Agatha to say that she is dying and wants to go back to Europe. Diana is eager to travel widely before she dies, and they end up in Rome, where they meet Longstaff again.

Diana reveals to Agatha that she has been in love with Longstaff ever since refusing his offer of marriage, and she now believes he has recovered because of the hurt she inflicted on him. The implication is that she in her turn is now ‘dying of love’.

Agatha is sent in search of Longstaff, and when he visits the dying Diana it is she who proposes to him. The next day they are married, and shortly afterwards she dies.

Principal characters
Diana Belfield a tall, attractive, proud, American heiress
Agatha Gosling her cousin
Reginald Longstaff a young Englishman from an old, high-toned family

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 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.

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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

© Roy Johnson 2013

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 Amazon.co.uk. 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.

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