The Last of the Valerii

tutorial, critical comment, plot, and study resources

The Last of the Valerii first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly for January 1874. It was reprinted the following year in James’s first published book, The Passionate Pilgrim and Other Tales. It is sometimes included amongst collections of James’s ‘ghost stories’.

The Last of the Valerii

The godess Juno

The Last of the Valerii – critical commentary

This whimsical tale is sometimes included in collections of James’s ‘ghost stories’ – of which he wrote several. He was quite prepared to give qualified consideration to various forms of the supernatural – ranging from the quite demonic intensity of The Turn of the Screw to the light-hearted Sir Edmund Orme and the almost farcical satire of The Third Person

No actual ‘ghost’ inhabits The Last of the Valerii but Marco Valerio explains to the narrator how strongly he feels his Pagan ancestry as a citizen of Rome. And of course Roman history was deeply Pagan for seven centuries before the arrival of Christianity, and it was also part of the Greek empire – something that Marco acknowledges in calling his unearthed godess ‘Greek’.

It is interesting to note that at the outset of the tale, Martha offers to change her religion to Marco’s, but he protests that he is not a ‘good Catholic’. This turns out to be true in that he is far more deeply moved by Paganism. It is a neat turn of irony, given the events of the tale, that she wishes to excavate old Italy, whereas Marco thinks it should be left alone. He knows where his history is – because he feels it inside of himself. This is a story of the pre-Christian Italian past casting its influence into the present.

The Last of the Valerii – study resources

The Last of the Valerii The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon UK

The Last of the Valerii The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon US

The Last of the Valerii Complete Stories 1874—1884 – Library of America – Amazon UK

The Last of the Valerii Complete Stories 1874—1884 – Library of America – Amazon US

The Last of the Valerii The Last of the Valerii – read the original text

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

The Last of the Valerii – plot summary

The un-named narrator, an American painter, is in Rome where his god-daughter Martha is engaged to Count Marco Valerio. They offer to make sacrifices by changing religion for each other before the wedding. After the marriage the narrator is a frequent visitor to their antique villa. The couple seem idyllically happy, but the narrator finds the count emotionally empty, if polite.

Martha decides that she wants to excavate the villa’s grounds in search of antiquities, but her husband thinks that old things should be left in their place. However, when a statue of Juno is unearthed he is delighted. He becomes very possessive and secretive about the statue, and it is thought that he has confiscated a detached hand and regards it as a sort of holy relic.

Marco becomes distant from the people around him, including his wife. The narrator fears that some of Marco’s ancestral vices might re-surface, and he challenges him over his moodiness. But Marco insists that he is entirely sane and happy. Martha on the other hand is becoming increasingly unhappy.

Some time later the narrator meets Marco in the Pantheon and finds that he is deeply immersed in a form of neo-Paganism, which he sees as part of his historical birthright as an Italian.

Late one night the narrator comes across the Count prostrate in reverential worship before the statue. The excavation chief tells the narrator that such cases are common – because there are still traces of primitive belief amongst some Italians.

The narrator shares his concerns with Martha, who is sympathetic to her husband if only he will share his beliefs with her. When they go to see the statue, they discover blood on an altar that has been placed before it, and the Count is nowhere to be found.

The next day Martha and the narrator arrange for the statue to be re-buried in the grounds. This breaks the spell, and the count returns to normal, though he retains the detached hand as a memento of his relationship with the ‘Greek’ goddess.

Principal characters
I the un-named narrator, an American painter
Martha his god-daughter, a rich young American girl
Count Marco Valerio a handsome young Italian

The Last of the Valerii - 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.

The Last of the Valerii Buy the book at Amazon UK
The Last of the Valerii 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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