Another of the early tales which James resurrected for his 1885 collection, Master Eustace is also another of the early tales which we now find rather too melodramatic for our taste. Viewed within the context of the nineteenth century American periodical market, for which it was written, the melodramatic aspects are perhaps less startling, however, with family secrets and violent outbursts all too common in ‘sensation fiction’. In addition, even though first published in the Galaxy, to which James tended to submit his less satisfactory efforts, the author obviously found something in the tale worth polishing up fifteen years after its first appearance. Perhaps, after the death of his parents in 1882, it brought him back some of the atmosphere of the time he wrote it: the months he spent living with his parents, and siblings William and Alice, at 20 Quincy Street, Cambridge, Mass. in 1870–1871 after his period of ‘freedom’ in Europe. There hangs about Master Eustace some of the claustrophobic confinement which James seems to have felt in the bosom of his family then.

However, a more ‘public’ reason should be sought for the ‘revival’ of this tale: perhaps we find it in the weaving of Oedipal and Hamlet themes. Throughout his fiction – not just in the apprentice days of Master Eustace – James reworks themes and situations from previous literature to his own ends, using both classic and popular models. Here, as so often, we are given a hint, in the text, of where to look for the inspiration: ‘Hamlet’ gets a passing reference in chapter 4. And if neither the personal nor the technical reasons tempt you to read this tale, there is in it, too, a distant foreshadowing of the famous The turn of the screw: the main part of the story is told by a former governess with a brief (in this case very brief) introduction by another narrator. The governess here also includes mention of the ‘conquest’ Eustace made of her when she taught him, just as Miles makes a conquest of the ‘screwy’ governess. And while on the subject of parallels, in closer chronological and publishing contexts the possible malign influence of a father is also encountered in The author of ‘Beltraffio’ (1884), which heads the 1885 Stories revived collection. Another reason for the present tale’s revival, perhaps?

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.