Princess Casamassima can be read on several levels: first, as a political and social novel, exploring the anarchistic and revolutionary underground of London in the 1880s; secondly as a psychological study of such a movement on a young man (the protagonist, Hyacinth Robinson) who may or may not be descended from the aristocracy, but whose artistic nature shines out in the midst of the London slums; and thirdly, as an examination of the conundrum whether the world of art and culture is necessarily built on the abject poverty of others. The Princess herself started as the beautiful and intelligent American Christina Light in James’s Roderick Hudson but has now come to London to escape the Neapolitan prince to whom she is unhappily married. Yet she and Robinson are only two of a larger set of characters whose commitment to an imagined revolutionary cause may be sincere or many be questionable. As is usual with Henry James, readers will have to make their own judgements. ( Nicholas Clifford)
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