There are degrees of feeling—the muffled, the faint, the just sufficient, the barely intelligent, as we may say; and the acute, the intense, the complete, in a word—the power to be finely aware and richly responsible. It is those moved in this latter fashion who ‘get most’ out of all that happens to them and who in so doing enable us, as readers of their record, as participators by a fond attention, also to get most. Their being finely aware--as Hamlet and Lear, say, are finely aware--makes absolutely the intensity of their adventure, gives the maximum of sense to what befalls them.
-Henry James on protagonist Hyacinth Robinson
The Princess Casamassima [a hard-to-find Henry James novel available here for $8.30] is the story of a brilliant, tormented young London bookbinder, Hyacinth Robinson, who becomes involved in radical politics and a terrorist assassination plot. Brought up in poverty, Hyacinth possesses a heightened aesthetic sensitivity that makes the suffering and squalor around him even more reprehensible. Soon after he commits himself to terrorist action, he meets the Princess Casamassima, and her beauty, her aristocratic, wealthy world, bring him to doubt his former faith in radical politics. Unlike the rest of James' novels, The Princess Casamassima deals directly with a violent political subject, a subject intimately familiar to us today.