"I suspect it is the tragedies in life that arrest my attention more than the other things and say more to my imagination; but on the other hand, if I fix my eyes on a sun-spot I think I am able to see the prismatic colours in it." --Henry James
The Europeans is one of his shorter, more accessible novels. It is only 12 chapters (and 164 pages) long, but it offers up several memorable characters. Like Felix Young and his older sister, Eugenia, Baroness Munster, who come to visit their American cousins, the Wentworths, and to breathe some needed life and color into their straight-laced, sober Puritan lives.
Eugenia is the driving force of the pair; she is clever, ambitious, brilliant rather than beautiful, and very European. "If she had come to seek her fortune, it seemed to her that her fortune would be easy to find." Her American cousins have never met anyone quite like her. Neither have the young men of their acquaintance--Robert Acton and Mr. Brand--who find themselves drawn to her. "When she desired to please she was...the most charming woman in the world," but "she was sometimes hard and perverse."
Felix, on the other hand, is charming, good-humoured, and genial. He is delighted by Boston and by his American cousins. Painting portraits and sketching the scenery, Felix finds beauty every where and is able to "extract entertainment from all things." Styling himself a Bohemian, he does not take life too seriously. As he himself says, "I don't think it's what one does or one doesn't do that promotes enjoyment. It is the general way of looking at life." He sees all life as an opportunity, a much different philosophy than that shared by his solemn American cousins.
The four Wentworths--Mr. Wentworth, his two daughters, Charlotte and Gertrude, and his son, Clifford--are drawn to their lively European cousins, but they're wary of them, too. Except for Gertrude. She's the kind of girl who skips church because the sky is a particular shade of blue; and she's always been restless without knowing exactly why. Her imagination runs deep and in the warmth and brilliance of Felix's and Eugenia's company, her true nature finally awakens and comes to life. She's the most changed by their visit.
I love these characters, and this story. But then, I love all of Henry James' novels. In classic literature, he reigns supreme.