Eugene Pickering

tutorial, critical comment, plot, and study resources

Eugene Pickering first appeared in magazine form in The Atlantic Monthly for October—November 1874. Stories by popular writers William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, and Oliver Wendell Holmes appeared in the same magazine, as well as poetry by Bret Harte and Henry W, Longfellow, The tale was then reprinted in book form amongst A Passionate Pilgrim and Other Tales the following year.

Eugene Pickering

Bad Homburg – Germany

Eugene Pickering – critical commentary

Eugene is not only naive in the ways of the world, having been isolated and cosseted by his father for twenty-seven years, but he is also symbolically short-sighted. He is unable to ‘see’ Madam Blumenthal as the rogue female seductress. She is glamorous, experienced, bohemian, an author, and (according to Niedermeyer) something of an adventuress. What this tale represents then is yet another warning to men about the dangers of forming romantic relationships with women.

Reinforcing this ‘fear of engagement’ element in the first part of the story is the pre-arranged contract of marriage which has been created by Pickering’s father. Eugene Eugene refuses to open the letter (thinking it is a summons to the altar) and wishes to ‘live’ freely before he submits himself to what he clearly sees as the negative experience of Matrimony. This ‘fear of marriage’ motif is a theme to which James turned again and again in his tales – from The Path of Duty to Owen Wingrave

Eugene Pickering – study resources

Eugene Pickering The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon UK

Eugene Pickering The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon US

Eugene Pickering Complete Stories 1874—1884 – Library of America – Amazon UK

Eugene Pickering Complete Stories 1874—1884 – Library of America – Amazon US

Eugene Pickering Eugene Pickering – Kindle edition

Eugene Pickering Eugene Pickering – Paperback edition – Amazon UK

Eugene Pickering Eugene Pickering – 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

Eugene Pickering – plot summary

Part I   At Bad Homburg in Germany an un-named narrator sees an old acquaintance Eugene Pickering rather shyly gambling at the tables with an attractive woman who wins money. The two men meet next day, and the narrator recalls how they were schoolboy friends. Pickering has been sheltered and cosseted by an over-protective father who has recently died. He now feels liberated and full of potential, but lacking in strength.

Shortly before his death, his father has made him promise to marry Isabel Vernon, the daughter of an old business associate – a promise he feels obliged to honour. He has received a letter he has not opened, believing it to be a summons to the altar: he asks the narrator to keep it for him for a month whilst he explores his desire to live freely. He also reveals that he has an appointment to meet the glamorous Madam Blumenthal. The narrator advises him to leave Homburg immediately, but he refuses. The next day Pickering has been bowled over with enthusiasm for Madam Blumenthal and feels he has dispelled all his previous diffidence.

Part II   The narrator’s friend Niedermeyer warns him against Madam Blumenthal, saying that she is bohemian, raffish, is critical of marriage, and has been left with little money by her deceased husband. He recounts the story of a strict officer who fell in love with her , but was rejected when he asked her to give up writing novels. She claimed motives of pure art, flings her manuscript into the fire, but publishes it shortly afterwards nevertheless.

The narrator meets her at a concert and finds her very attractive. She claims to be a democrat and a ‘revolutionist’. She asks him to tell her all about Pickering. The narrator realises that Pickering is hopelessly in love with her. He has made a full declaration of love to her, but she says she will respond to him after he has more experience of life and women.

The narrator visits Madam Blumenthal in order to assess her motives and her sincerity. She asks him again about Pickering, because she fears that he is holding something back. The ‘something’ is his engagement to Isabel Vernon, which the narrator then reveals to Madam Blumenthal.

When the two men meet next day, Pickering reveals that he has renounced the promise made to his father, has told Madam Blumenthal about it, and asked her to marry him. She wants three days to decide, and goes to Wiesbaden. Niedermeyer predicts that she will turn the episode into a little romance and then drop Pickering. But Pickering sends a note from Wiesbaden saying that she has accepted him

Some days later however, the narrator visits Pickering in Cologne, where he reveals that Madam Blumenthal has gone back on her word. She was merely testing him to see how far he would go. The narrator then returns the sealed letter he has been keeping for Pickering. It turns out not to be a summons but a dismissal: the girl refused to be bound by her father’s arrangement.

The two men then travel on in Europe, Pickering recovers his spirits, and when they finally reach Venice he is planning to visit Isabel in Smyrna. Six months later he reports that she is a very charming woman.

Principal characters
I the un-named narrator
Eugene Pickering his old school friend
Mr Pickering Eugene’s father, a widower
Mr Vernon business friend of Mr Pickering in Smyrna
Isabel Vernon his daughter
Madam Anastasia Blumenthal a glamorous bohemian widow
Mr Blumenthal her poor Jewish husband
Niedermeyer an Austrian ex-diplomat, friend of the narrator

Eugene Pickering - 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.

Eugene Pickering Buy the book at Amazon UK
Eugene Pickering 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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