plot, characters, commentary, and study resources
Louisa Pallant first appeared in magazine form in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine for February 1888, alongside contributions by William Dean Howells and George Du Maurier. It was then reprinted in book form in England and America later the same year.
Baveno – Lago di Maggiore
Louisa Pallant – plot summary
I. In the spa town of Homburg, an un-named narrator meets Louisa Pallant, a former inamorata, and Linda, her pretty young daughter. Louisa formerly rejected him in favour of Mr Henry Pallant, who has since died, leaving her short of money. Although the narrator claims to be glad to have escaped his commitment to her, he also blames her for his having remained a bachelor ever since.
II. The narrator is particularly impressed with the daughter’s social aplomb and polish, and yet surprised that her mother seems slightly disappointed with her. The narrator’s nephew Archie arrives, and gets on well with Linda.
III. Louisa warns the narrator that Archie is in danger of falling in love with her daughter, and that his mother (the narrator’s sister) would disapprove. She argues that the narrator ought to take him away, out of this danger. He at first prefers to remain in Homburg, but finally decides to leave – only to find that Louisa Pallant has already departed.
IV. The narrator is angry at this sudden disappearance and hopes for a letter of explanation, but none comes. He and Archie travel on to Switzerland where Archie receives a letter from Louisa Pallant in Baveno on Lake Maggiore. The two men follow her there, where Louisa warns the narrator that the renewal of their relations is dangerous and much to his amazement speaks critically against her own daughter.
V. Louisa warns him that Linda is cold, heartless, and has a ruthless ambition to succeed socially. He protests against this, but she insists that the girl is of her own making. She claims that Linda represents all her own faults and weaknesses, only magnified. Louisa wants to save Archie from the girl’s influence. The narrator wonders if this argument might be a bluff, and that she is saving Linda for somebody richer, with a title. But Louisa argues that princes often don’t have money, and that Linda will know all about Archie’s finances.
VI. The two men return separately to their hotel across the lake, and the narrator worries about what Louisa might have said to Archie. But next day nothing seems any different, and the narrator goes to visit the two women alone. Louisa has spoken to Archie, but will not reveal the substance of what she has said. She advises the narrator to leave immediately. When he gets back to his hotel, Archie has left for Milan and then goes on to Venice alone. Time passes. Linda marries a rich Englishman, Archie remains single, and the narrator never discovers what was said.
|I||the un-named narrator, an American bachelor|
|Charlotte Parker||the narrator’s sister|
|Archie Parker||the narrator’s young nephew, heir to a fortune|
|Mrs Louisa Pallant||a the narrator’s former lover, now a widow|
|Mrs Linda Pallant||her pretty and gifted daughter|
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Henry James at Wikipedia – biographical notes, links
Henry James at Mantex – tutorials, biography, study resources
Louisa Pallant – critical commentary
Sometimes a work of literature may contains echoes or references to another work by a different author (and the same may be true for works of art or music). They may be placed there deliberately or unintentionally. And these references may (or may not) throw extra light onto either the earlier or the later work.
Here there is a clear echo of Great Expectations (1860-61). Charles Dickens’s character Miss Havisham has been jilted at the altar and has been eaten up with bitterness ever since. As a form of revenge upon men, she trains her young ward Estella to be deliberately stony hearted. When the young hero of the novel Pip falls in love with Estella, she encourages him, then takes delight in rejecting and humiliating him.
In Louisa Pallant, the roles are similar, although the outcome is different. Louisa has been ‘engaged’ to the narrator, but has rejected him in favour of Henry Pallant. We have the impression that she chose a richer man, but her marriage has not been a success, and her husband has both died and left her without very much money.
Louisa has produced a daughter who is cold, clever, calculating, and socially ambitious. Louisa herself admits that the girl is the embodiment of her own weaknesses and flaws – but much magnified. And on the balance of events in the tale, Linda gets what she wants – a rich husband.
Fortunately, Louisa is a benign version of Miss Havisham, and she is decent enough to warn Archie against her own daughter. In fact she hints that the warning is a sort of recompense to the narrator for the distress she caused him in the past. Archie escapes in time and is spared what could have been a painful and disastrous mistake.
Henry James – portrait by John Singer Sargeant
Theodora Bosanquet, Henry James at Work, University of Michigan Press, 2007.
F.W. Dupee, Henry James: Autobiography, Princeton University Press, 1983.
Leon Edel, Henry James: A Life, HarperCollins, 1985.
Philip Horne (ed), Henry James: A Life in Letters, Viking/Allen Lane, 1999.
Henry James, The Letters of Henry James, Adamant Media Corporation, 2001.
Fred Kaplan, Henry James: The Imagination of Genius, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999
F.O. Matthieson (ed), The Notebooks of Henry James, Oxford University Press, 1988.
Elizabeth Allen, A Woman’s Place in the Novels of Henry James London: Macmillan Press, 1983.
Ian F.A. Bell, Henry James and the Past, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1993.
Millicent Bell, Meaning in Henry James, Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 1993.
Harold Bloom (ed), Modern Critical Views: Henry James, Chelsea House Publishers, 1991.
Kirstin Boudreau, Henry James’s Narrative Technique, Macmillan, 2010.
J. Donald Crowley and Richard A. Hocks (eds), The Wings of the Dove, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1978.
Victoria Coulson, Henry James, Women and Realism, Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Daniel Mark Fogel, A Companion to Henry James Studies, Greenwood Press, 1993.
Virginia C. Fowler, Henry James’s American Girl: The Embroidery on the Canvas, Madison (Wis): University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.
Jonathan Freedman, The Cambridge Companion to Henry James, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Judith Fryer, The Faces of Eve: Women in the Nineteenth Century American Novel, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976
Roger Gard (ed), Henry James: The Critical Heritage, London: Routledge, 1968.
Tessa Hadley, Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure, Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Barbara Hardy, Henry James: The Later Writing (Writers & Their Work), Northcote House Publishers, 1996.
Richard A. Hocks, Henry James: A study of the short fiction, New York: Twayne Publishers, 1990.
Donatella Izzo, Portraying the Lady: Technologies of Gender in the Short Stories of Henry James, University of Nebraska Press, 2002.
Colin Meissner, Henry James and the Language of Experience, Cambridge University Press, 2009
John Pearson (ed), The Prefaces of Henry James, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.
Richard Poirer, The Comic Sense of Henry James, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967.
Hugh Stevens, Henry James and Sexuality, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Merle A. Williams, Henry James and the Philosophical Novel, Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Judith Woolf, Henry James: The Major Novels, Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Ruth Yeazell (ed), Henry James: A Collection of Critical Essays, Longmans, 1994.
Other works by Henry James
The 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.
What 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.
The 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.
© Roy Johnson 2013
Henry James links
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