Throughout Henry James The Europeans, the interaction of individuals who possess vast cultural and social differences creates powerful themes of social order, conformity, tolerance, and love. The admiration of a foreign nobility, by a group of aristocratic American families demonstrates the abundance of social structure in the nineteenth century setting. Unexposed to the romantic culture of Europe, the Wentworth s hold great respect for their guests solely because of their position. In reference to Gertrude Wentworth the author states, She had never in her life spoken to a foreigner, and she had often thought it would be delightful to do so (p. 53). The previous quote displays the pure idea of speaking with a foreigner would intrigue the common individuals living in America. The manner in which the Wentworth s European cousins hold themselves in, created awe and bewilderment in their common counterparts; as evident in this statement. The cheerful off-hand tone in which her visitor related this darkly romantic tale seemed to Gertrude very strange; but it seemed also to convey a certain flattery to herself, a recognition of her wisdom and dignity. She felt a dozen impressions stirring within her (p. 57). Even after becoming fully acquainted with the family s lost cousins, it became clear that no less respect or subservience would be held for them. As witnessed in this quote, We have a Baroness among us. That’s what we must keep hold of! (p. 141). Due to the lack of experience of foreign culture, a simple family remains in a state of awe when they take in a pair of eminent guests.
Despite their differences, the characters in this book find ways to conform and tolerate each other s life style, without giving up their own dignity and principles. A less endearing and accepting character, Mr. Wentworth holds some reservations toward his newfound nephews; yet he still tries to keep open-minded, as proven by this quote:
Mr. Wentworth looked up at his daughter, who was standing beside him; he drew
her gently forward. “You must be careful,” he said. “You must keep watch. Indeed,
we must all be careful. This is a great change; we are to be exposed to peculiar
influences. I don’t say they are bad. I don’t judge them in advance. But they may
perhaps make it necessary that we should exercise a great deal of wisdom and
self-control. It will be a different tone (p. 75).
The remainder of the family s willingness to share their home with their unknown cousins shows a great level of tolerance. Adding to this, is the fact that the Wentworth family actually changed how it lived to please the Baroness. For example, they permitted the Baroness to change the decoration, and style within their own home. An act of tolerance even greater yet, occurs when Felix asks for Gertrude Wentworth’s hand in marriage; after debating the issue the father decides to allow the wedding to occur, despite the fact he desperately wanted his daughter to marry another man. On the other hand, the European contingent also conforms to better fit in with their kin. A wealthy and powerful woman, the Baroness Munster lived an extravagant life, and endured the harsh conditions without letting on to her discontentment with the situation. In a different form of tolerance, Felix, a talented artist, withstands resentment toward his fanciful and often erratic occupation. As a consequence of the disparity between the character s lifestyles, a compelling theme of tolerance emerges.
Possibly even more substantial than the theme of tolerance, the ability, or lack of ability of love to transcend cultural and social barriers reoccurs throughout the book. The love between Felix and Gertrude truly broke through the harnesses and restraints of cultural boundaries. Both found each other extremely strange and quaint. Not only in their actions, but thoughts and feelings as well. A statement about Gertrude by the author clearly displays this. Gertrude looked at him with a strange feeling. She was thinking of the great world which he knew and which she did not, and how full of brilliant talents it must be (p. 93). The powerful bond between these two even changes the severe reservations of Mr. Wentworth and the rest of the family, including her sister Charlotte when she says, He cares so much for you Gertrude Father, you must consent (p. 184). On the opposite side, the great affection Robert Acton possesses towards Eugenia cannot help her realize her mistakes. It is by her stubbornness and extreme reluctance to accept the finality of her marriage with the prince, which causes her to leave America without marrying Robert. This move, which would have given her a new source of life and happiness, is lost, and she is bound to a life of solemn loneliness, giving up joy to keep her social position. The Europeans, displays the interaction of individuals who possess vast cultural and social differences and creates powerful themes of social order, conformity, tolerance, and love.