Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Lisi Schoenbach

Committee Members

Mary Papke, Allen Dunn


The purpose of this study was to examine Henry James’s novels The Bostonians, The Portrait of a Lady, and The Golden Bowl in an effort to create a wider picture of the threats that James perceived were closing in on the institution of marriage at the end of the nineteenth century. The paper begins by attempting to place James’s narrative style in a suitable context by comparing it to that of other American realists and to the popular genre of domestic fiction. Then it translates the more generic discussion of his narrative stylings into a more honed focus on the specific threats that he interacts with in each novel.

The Section on The Bostonians explores how the societal division over the concept of separate spheres worked to interfere with individual marriages in an effort to determine the effects of this tension on the marital institution. In The Portrait of a Lady, the major focus lies in discovering whether the enlarged sense of independence experienced by nineteenth-century women created a general move towards a less hierarchical marital model. In The Golden Bowl, the discussion moves into how the tension caused by the weakening of the doctrine of the spheres and the burgeoning sense of independence in young women has created an alternate version of the concept of love, which becomes equated to a struggle for power.

The consensus that this paper finally draws is that while James certainly felt that the rapid changes currently occurring in America were drastically affecting the marital institution, he does not provide evidence to indicate that he believed that the institution had become outmoded or needed to be eradicated but that accommodations must be made in order to prevent the marital institution from collapsing under its own strain.

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