Tragic Muse

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Novel by Henry James, published in 1890.

To Paris from London comes widowed Lady Agnes Dormer, who wishes to “settle” the lives of her children: Nick, whom she desires to turn from painting to politics; Grace, a conventional girl for whom she seeks a successful marriage; and young Biddy (Bridget), who shares Nick's artistic interests, and whom she also wishes to be married. Among their acquaintances are the aesthete Gabriel Nash, who encourages Nick to paint; Peter Sherringham, a cousin in the diplomatic service, whose avocation is theatergoing; Miriam Rooth, a bold, talented girl, whose genteelly poor mother fosters her ambition to be an actress and uses Peter to obtain an introduction to the great Mme Carré, who trains the girl; and Julia Dallow, Peter's widowed sister, who loves Nick and employs her fortune to back him in a parliamentary election, which causes the family's return to England. To please his mother, Nick proposes to Julia after his election, and for a time concentrates on his political career. He drifts back to painting, however, and one day, when Miriam is posing for a portrait, Julia pays him a visit, after which she breaks their engagement. Nick resigns his seat in Parliament and devotes himself to portraiture. Although Biddy is obviously in love with Peter, the latter has become infatuated with Miriam, who develops into a fine and famous London actress. She refuses Peter, marries her leading man, Basil Dashwood, and causes Peter to pass through a period of despair, from which he emerges to fall in love with Biddy, whom he marries and takes to America. Nick has achieved a modest success as a portraitist, and the unhappy Julia, who has abandoned her political ambitions, invites him to paint her. It seems, to the immense relief of Lady Agnes, that the two may yet marry.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Henry James (1843—1916) writer

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