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The Outcry: A Concise Summary by Henry James

The Outcry: A Concise Summary by Henry James

“The Outcry: A Concise Summary by Henry James” is a brief overview of James’s novel of the same name. The article provides a summary of the plot, characters, and themes, as well as a discussion of the novel’s critical reception. Written in James’s characteristic style, “The Outcry” is a satirical exploration of the world of art and commerce, and the tensions that arise when the two intersect. The article offers readers a glimpse into this complex and nuanced work, and highlights its enduring relevance to contemporary debates about the role of art in society.

The Outcry: A Concise Summary by Henry James

In “The Outcry,” Henry James tells the story of a wealthy Englishman named Lord Theign who becomes infatuated with a beautiful Italian woman named Mrs. Brissenden. However, Mrs. Brissenden is already engaged to another man, and Lord Theign’s pursuit of her causes a scandal among their social circle. Along the way, James explores themes of class, wealth, and the complexities of romantic relationships. Despite its relatively short length, “The Outcry” is a masterful work of fiction that showcases James’ skill at crafting nuanced characters and exploring the intricacies of human behavior.

Plot Overview

The Outcry by Henry James is a novel that revolves around the story of a wealthy American collector, Breckenridge Bender, who purchases a valuable painting from an English aristocrat, Lord Theign. The painting, which is believed to be a masterpiece by a renowned artist, causes a stir among the English aristocracy, who feel that it should have been kept within the country. The novel explores the themes of wealth, power, and social status, as well as the clash between American and English cultures. The plot takes several unexpected turns, as the characters navigate their way through the complex social and political landscape of early 20th century England. Overall, The Outcry is a fascinating and thought-provoking novel that offers a unique insight into the world of high society and the art market.

Main Characters

The Outcry by Henry James features a cast of complex and intriguing characters. The main protagonist is Lord Theign, a wealthy and aristocratic collector of art and antiques. He is a man of refined taste and impeccable manners, but also possesses a certain arrogance and sense of entitlement. Theign is obsessed with acquiring a valuable painting by the Italian master, Correggio, and will stop at nothing to obtain it.

Opposing Theign is the American millionaire, Breckenridge Bender, who also has his sights set on the Correggio. Bender is a brash and vulgar man, with little regard for social conventions or cultural refinement. He represents the new money of America, and his presence in the story highlights the clash between old and new world values.

Other important characters include Lady Sandgate, a beautiful and intelligent woman who becomes embroiled in the battle over the Correggio; and the art dealer, Gabriel Nash, who serves as a mediator between the various parties. Each character brings their own unique perspective and motivations to the story, creating a rich tapestry of human drama and intrigue.


The Outcry is set in the English countryside, in the early 20th century. The story takes place in a grand country house, owned by the wealthy and titled Lord Theign. The house is described as being “a fine old place, with a history and a character of its own.” The setting is important to the story, as it reflects the social hierarchy of the time, with the aristocracy living in grand houses and the working class living in more modest homes. The countryside setting also provides a contrast to the bustling city life of London, which is where many of the characters come from. Overall, the setting of The Outcry is an integral part of the story, providing a backdrop for the social and cultural themes that are explored throughout the novel.


One of the central themes in Henry James’ novel, The Outcry, is the clash between old and new money. The story follows a group of wealthy Americans who travel to England to bid on a valuable painting. However, tensions arise between the established aristocracy and the nouveau riche, as the Americans are seen as crass and vulgar by the English elite. James explores the idea of social class and the struggle for acceptance in a society that values tradition and lineage. Another theme in the novel is the pursuit of material wealth and the emptiness that can come with it. The characters are consumed by their desire for the painting, and their obsession with acquiring it leads to a sense of disillusionment and dissatisfaction. James critiques the superficiality of a society that places value on material possessions rather than personal relationships and emotional fulfillment.


Motifs in “The Outcry” by Henry James are prevalent throughout the novel. One of the most prominent motifs is the theme of wealth and social status. The characters in the novel are constantly striving to maintain or improve their social standing, and this is reflected in their actions and interactions with one another. Another motif is the idea of love and relationships, as many of the characters are involved in romantic entanglements that are complicated by their social status and financial situations. Additionally, the motif of art and culture is present throughout the novel, as the characters are often discussing or attending art exhibitions and cultural events. These motifs all contribute to the overall themes of the novel, which include the corrupting influence of wealth and the importance of personal relationships and connections.


One of the most prominent symbols in Henry James’ The Outcry is the painting that serves as the central focus of the novel. The painting, which depicts a beautiful woman holding a lyre, is a representation of the idealized beauty and grace that the characters in the novel are all striving for. However, as the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that the painting is also a symbol of the corrupt and superficial values that dominate the world of high society. The characters’ obsession with the painting and their desire to possess it at any cost highlights the emptiness and shallowness of their lives, and serves as a commentary on the destructive nature of materialism and greed. Overall, the painting in The Outcry is a powerful symbol that encapsulates the novel’s themes of beauty, desire, and the corrupting influence of wealth and status.


In terms of style, Henry James is known for his intricate and detailed prose. In “The Outcry,” he employs his signature style to create a vivid and nuanced portrayal of the characters and their social milieu. James’s use of interior monologue and subtle shifts in tone and perspective allow the reader to fully immerse themselves in the story and understand the complex motivations of the characters. Additionally, his attention to detail in describing the physical surroundings and objects in the story adds depth and texture to the narrative. Overall, James’s style in “The Outcry” is a masterful example of his literary prowess and ability to capture the nuances of human behavior and social dynamics.

Narrative Techniques

One of the most notable narrative techniques used in “The Outcry” by Henry James is the use of multiple perspectives. Throughout the novel, James shifts the point of view from one character to another, allowing the reader to see the story from different angles. This technique not only adds depth to the characters but also creates a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty, as the reader is never quite sure whose perspective to trust. Additionally, James uses a non-linear narrative structure, jumping back and forth in time, which adds to the complexity of the story and keeps the reader engaged. Overall, James’ use of multiple perspectives and non-linear structure make “The Outcry” a compelling and thought-provoking read.


One of the most prominent literary devices used in Henry James’ “The Outcry” is irony. Throughout the novel, James employs situational irony to highlight the absurdity of the characters’ actions and beliefs. For example, the wealthy American collector, Breckenridge Bender, who is obsessed with acquiring a valuable painting, ultimately loses interest in it once he obtains it. This ironic twist emphasizes the superficiality of his desire and the emptiness of his pursuit. Similarly, the character of Lord Theign, who is initially portrayed as a refined and cultured aristocrat, is revealed to be a fraud who has no real appreciation for art. This irony serves to critique the hypocrisy and shallowness of the upper class. Overall, James’ use of irony in “The Outcry” adds depth and complexity to the novel’s themes and characters.


In “The Outcry,” Henry James explores the theme of conflict through the clash of cultures and values between the American and British characters. The novel centers around the sale of a valuable painting by a British aristocrat to an American millionaire, which causes tension and resentment among the British upper class. The conflict is further exacerbated by the American’s lack of understanding and appreciation for British traditions and customs. James skillfully portrays the clash of these two worlds, highlighting the differences in language, manners, and social norms. The novel ultimately raises questions about the nature of wealth, power, and cultural identity, and the conflicts that arise when these values collide.


The climax of “The Outcry” by Henry James is a dramatic scene in which the protagonist, Lord Theign, confronts his love interest, Lady Sandgate, about her engagement to another man. Theign, who has been pursuing Lady Sandgate throughout the novel, is devastated by the news and expresses his feelings of betrayal and heartbreak. Lady Sandgate, however, remains firm in her decision to marry the other man, leaving Theign to grapple with his emotions and the realization that his pursuit of her was ultimately futile. This scene marks the turning point of the novel and sets the stage for the resolution of the plot.

Rising Action

As the story progresses, the tension begins to rise. The villagers become increasingly agitated and vocal about their grievances with the new art exhibition. The local newspaper publishes scathing reviews, and even the mayor gets involved, calling for the removal of the offensive pieces. The artists, meanwhile, refuse to back down, insisting on their right to free expression. The conflict reaches a boiling point when a group of angry villagers storm the exhibition and destroy several of the artworks. The situation seems to be spiraling out of control, and it remains to be seen how it will be resolved.

Falling Action

As the climax of the story passes, the falling action begins to take shape. The characters begin to reflect on the events that have transpired and the consequences of their actions. The reader is given a glimpse into the aftermath of the scandal and the impact it has had on the community. The tension that once filled the air begins to dissipate, and the characters are left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. As the story draws to a close, the reader is left with a sense of resolution and closure, knowing that the characters have learned from their mistakes and are moving forward.


In the resolution of “The Outcry,” Henry James ties up loose ends and provides closure for the characters. Lord Theign, who had been struggling with financial troubles, is able to sell his valuable painting and pay off his debts. Meanwhile, Mrs. Brookenham’s affair with Captain Sholto is exposed, causing a scandal in society. However, she is able to maintain her social standing by convincing her husband to forgive her and publicly denounce the rumors. The novel ends with the characters returning to their respective lives, but with a sense of unease and uncertainty about the future. James leaves the reader to ponder the consequences of their actions and the fragility of societal norms.

Critical Reception

The Outcry by Henry James received mixed reviews upon its publication in 1911. Some critics praised James for his ability to capture the nuances of British society, while others criticized the novel for its lack of plot and character development. One reviewer for The New York Times wrote, “The Outcry is a slight work, lacking in the depth and complexity of James’s earlier novels. However, it is still a charming and entertaining read.” Another reviewer for The Guardian praised James’s “keen eye for detail and his ability to capture the subtleties of human behavior.” Despite the mixed reviews, The Outcry remains a popular novel among James’s fans and is often studied in literature courses.

Historical Context

The Outcry, a novel by Henry James, was published in 1911. This was a time when the British aristocracy was facing significant changes. The novel is set in the early 1900s, a time when the aristocracy was losing its power and influence. The novel reflects the changing social and economic conditions of the time. The aristocracy was facing financial difficulties, and many of them were forced to sell their estates. The novel also reflects the changing attitudes towards marriage and relationships. The characters in the novel are struggling to find their place in a changing society. The Outcry is a reflection of the historical context of the time and provides insight into the challenges faced by the British aristocracy during this period.

Comparisons to Other Works

In comparison to other works by Henry James, The Outcry stands out as a departure from his usual style. While James is known for his intricate character studies and psychological explorations, The Outcry is a more straightforward and lighthearted story. Some critics have even described it as a “romp” or a “farce.” However, despite its lighter tone, The Outcry still showcases James’s keen observations of human behavior and social dynamics. It also offers a unique glimpse into the world of art collecting and the high society of early 20th century England. Overall, while The Outcry may not be as complex or profound as some of James’s other works, it is still a delightful and entertaining read.


One of the most notable adaptations of “The Outcry” is the 1925 film adaptation directed by Victor Saville. The film starred British actor Ivor Novello as Lord Theign and American actress Benita Hume as Lady Sandgate. The film received mixed reviews, with some critics praising the performances and others criticizing the changes made to the plot. Another adaptation of the novel was a 2011 radio play produced by BBC Radio 4. The play starred actors such as Tom Hollander and Fenella Woolgar and was well-received by audiences. These adaptations demonstrate the enduring appeal of James’ work and the ways in which it continues to inspire new interpretations and adaptations.