tutorial, critical comment, plot, and study resources

Adina first appeared in Scribner’s Monthly during May—June 1874. This split across two monthly issues may account for the bipartite structure of the tale. Its next appearance in book form was as part of the collection of tales Travelling Companions published in 1919 by Boni and Liveright, New York.


Albano – Giorgione (1477—1510)

Adina – critical commentary


This tale has many elements of the medieval romance or the fairy tale which James had explored around this time (one thinks of Benvolio written the following year) – the discovered gem, the Italian setting, the young girl’s elopement. In fact James draws attention to this very aspect of the tale during his own narrative:

it ought to be out of a novel – such a thing as love at [first] sight; such a thing as an unspoken dialogue, between a handsome young Italian with a wrong, in a starlit garden, and a fanciful Western maid at a window.

And yet there are elements of structural detailing and thematic unity in the narrative of a kind which James would develop in his later tales which lift it above the ordinary romance. The tales has a deeply embedded narrative logic which lifts it above this plane


The story starts in Rome, where Scrope and the narrator are based. They ride out into the countryside and encounter Angelo – as it happens, near Albano, which will feature later in the tale. Quite apart from the issue of the topaz, they learn his name, where he lives, and the fact that his uncle is a clergyman. All of these details become important later in the story.

When Mrs Waddington takes fright at the prospect of the famous Roman fever, she decamps with Adina to Albano – which is the region south of Rome which includes the papal retreat – and also L’Arricia, which is where Angelo lives. Even though Scrope has taken advantage of Angelo, they are playing on his home territory.

Angelo thus has ready local access to pay court to Adina, and his own uncle on hand to effect the early morning marriage ceremony. The romance elements are there – but they are backed up by the sort of factual details in the tradition of realistic narrative fiction which was James’s natural milieu. Angelo and Adina even go to live in Rome after the marriage ceremony – which completes the geographic symmetry.

Structure, symbol, and parallels

The most obvious feature in terms of artistic devices is Angelo and his full name – Angelo Beati – ‘blessed angel’ – because he does in the end triumph with the ‘prize’ of Adina, who he says in the end is the more valuable: “she’s worth more than the topaz”.

And when Scrope finally throws the topaz back into its historical origins in the Tiber, he is on the Ponte del Angelo, and we already know that Saint Angelo is the young Italian’s patron saint name.

There is also ironic prefigurement of the story-line in Scrope’s observation:

some knowing person would have got word of the affair, and whispered to the Padre Girolamo that his handsome young nephew had been guided by a miracle to a fortune, and might marry a contessa.

Angelo does exactly that – twice. First he attempts to impress his village girl friend Nietta with the few scudi he has gained – but nothing comes of it, because the reward is not big enough to impress her. But then he succeeds on a much bigger symbolic level by enchanting and marrying Adina.

Psychological reading

This is the story of a pretty, wayward girl who breaks her promise to marry a serious though not good-looking man, and who runs off with a penniless, albeit handsome stranger. She is not dissimilar to the deaf-mute girl in Professor Fargo who suddenly runs off with a complete mountebank and charlatan. Adina is easily swayed – at first attracted to and even engaged to an ‘ugly’ classical scholar. But lured by only smiles, glimpses, and maybe the odd message from her window, she agrees to marry somebody she hardly knows.

Even though James was only just turned thirty at the time of the story’s composition, this is one of many of his works which offers a warning against women in general and marriage in particular. It is a theme which runs through many of the tales and into the ‘late phase’ of his greatest novels.

Adina – study resources

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

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

Adina Complete Stories 1874—1884 – Library of America – Amazon UK

Adina Complete Stories 1874—1884 – Library of America – Amazon US

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

Adina – plot summary

Part I
The inner narrator and his friend Scrope are in Rome, riding in the countryside, when they encounter Angelo, a handsome young man who has just found an old gemstone in the roots of a lightning-struck tree. Scrope buys it from him at what is obviously a low price. He rationalises his opportunism, but the narrator has reservations about the transaction.

Scrope cleans and polishes the stone,, which turns out to be a golden topaz, the personal intaglio of the Emperor Tiberius. He swears the narrator to secrecy about the discovery, who in turn advises him not to even reveal the matter to a mistress.

When Scrope’s cousin Mrs Waddington arrives in Rome, he falls in love with her step-daughter Adina. Mrs Waddington and the narrator cannot understand why a pretty young girl should fall for an unattractive man such as Scrope. When they all go to Christmas Mass at St Peter’s Scrope and Adina stay out late alone. Next day Scrope reveals that he and Adina are engaged.

The narrator walks out alone next day and meets Angelo, who is eaten up with anger over the topaz and the money, none of which has done him any good. The narrator offers to help him if he can.

Part II
Scrope agrees to meet Angelo, but when they do he refuses to pay any more for the jewel. Adina says she will not wear the topaz because Tiberius was such a cruel emperor. They all meet Angelo in the Borgese gardens. He is composed, but threatens to ‘hurt’ Scrope at some point as revenge for his unfair treatment.

Mrs Waddington and Adina de-camp to Albano The narrator visits them, and on his way back to Rome meets Angelo, who lives nearby. Later he meets Adina alone, praying in a church. She begins to act strangely, and Scrope confesses to the narrator that he is worried about her. When Adina suddenly breaks off her engagement to Scrope, the narrator suspects that she has somehow fallen under the spell of Angelo. He advises Mrs Waddington to leave Albano the very next day. But the following morning a note reveals that Adina has married Angelo and already left with him.

Some time later the narrator goes to see Adina and Angelo who live in Rome. Angelo is radiantly happy, whilst Adina is ‘pale and grave’. But she says she wishes to remain with Angelo and ‘be forgotten’ by her relatives. When the narrator reveals this state of affairs to Scrope as they stroll in the city centre, Scrope throws the golden topaz into the Tiber.

Principal characters
I the un-named outer-narrator
I the un-named inner-narrator, his ‘host’
Sam Scrope their mutual friend, an ugly, cynical classical scholar
Angelo Beati a handsome young Italian
Mrs Waddington Scrope’s cousin, a widow
Adina Waddington her pretty young step-daughter from New England

Adina - Henry James portrait

Henry James – portrait by John Singer Sargeant

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 from the South 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.

Adina Buy the book at Amazon UK
Adina 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

© 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 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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