After the collapse of her marriage to an illustrious German prince, Baroness Eugenia Münster arrives in America with her brother, in search of wealthy New England relatives. The duo have an immediate impact on their American cousins, the Wentworths. The Baroness captures the eye of young Clifford Wentworth, and his girlfriend's older brother Robert; meanwhile, Felix falls for his American cousin Gertrude.
The Wentworths are overawed by their European cousins and their frivolous lifestyle. What unfolds is a delightful comedy of manners that contrasts the apparently sophisticated and light-hearted Europeans with the serious and puritanical Americans.
At times reminiscent of Jane Austen, The Europeans contains beautiful and vivid descriptions of mid-19th century upper-class New England life.
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I have a hard time getting into Henry James. This is my second try (the first was Washington Square); and so far, I’d have to say he’s a dreary writer, devoid of humor, writing about mostly uninteresting characters and incorporating the most vaporous of plots. This one involves not so much a love triangle as a love parallelogram: it works out for a couple of people and doesn’t work out for a couple of others. It could have been a lively story, but it isn’t. The changes in relationships could have come with deep self-reflection and emotional struggle, but they don’t.
Adam Sims is a good narrator and does the best he can with this dessicated crew of (mostly) New Englanders.
I’m not ready to give up on Henry James yet. When someone has a reputation like his, I tend to distrust my own responses: with all the critical praise of his work, there must be fire here somewhere. It wouldn’t be the first time that additional effort helped unlock the pleasures that an author has to offer. But I suspect one or two more novels by Henry James may be enough.