Henry James

Lady Barberina

(written 1883, text of 1884)


by Adrian Dover

Another of James’s longer tales, Lady Barberina is a neglected minor masterpiece of his ‘international’ collection. Perhaps the rather unsympathetic characters and the author’s dry humour in depicting them have worked against its achieving the recognition it deserves, but these two features surely go hand-in-hand here and work together to the same ends? Approaching what we now see as the end of his first phase of international plots, James has reached the point where he can see clearly the faults of the inhabitants of both sides of the Atlantic. As he had written in The Madonna of the future (1873): ‘Cats and monkeys – monkeys and cats – all human life is there!’; although in this case the predominant animal is, as Tintner has pointed out, the horse. James develops his tale of the obstinate American doctor-with-a-fortune and the horsey English daughter of the aristocracy, with ironic amusement: both in his own narrative comments and, highlighted, in the characters of the expatriate Mr and Mrs Freer, whose observations of the riders in Hyde Park begin the tale. So don’t look down your nose at the self-confident young man and the vacuous young lady, but pity their respective situations and join the Freers in delighted spectatorship.

You may like to know about the exact source of the text presented here, and any errors I encountered while making the edition: these can be found in the note on the text. If you need full details of publications of this tale in James’s lifetime or of a selection of recent critical discussion about it see the bibliography, otherwise just start reading.

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part of an edition of Lady Barberina
on the Ladder : a Henry James website