The Golden Bowl is a 1904 novel by Henry James. Set in England, this complex, intense study of marriage and adultery completes what some critics have called the "major phase" of James' career. The Golden Bowl explores the tangle of interrelationships between a father and daughter and their respective spouses. The novel focuses deeply and almost exclusively on the consciousness of the central characters, with sometimes obsessive detail but also with powerful insight. The title is a quotation from Ecclesiastes 12:6, "…or the golden bowl be broken, …then shall the dust return to the earth as it was".
Prince Amerigo, an impoverished but charismatic Italian nobleman, is in London for his marriage to Maggie Verver, only child of the fabulously wealthy American financier and art collector, Adam Verver. Amerigo meets Charlotte Stant, a former mistress of his, and they go shopping for a wedding present for Maggie. They find a curiosity shop where the Jewish shopkeeper offers them an antique gilded crystal bowl. But the rather anti-Semitic Prince declines to purchase the bowl because he suspects it contains a hidden flaw.
After Maggie's marriage she is afraid that her father has become lonely. She persuades him to propose to Charlotte, unaware of the past relationship between Charlotte and Amerigo. Adam's proposal is accepted, and soon after the wedding, Charlotte and the Prince find themselves thrown together because their respective spouses seem more interested in their father-daughter relationship than in their marriages. The Prince and Charlotte finally consummate an adulterous affair.
Maggie eventually begins to suspect Amerigo and Charlotte. This suspicion is intensified when she accidentally meets the shopkeeper and buys the golden bowl. Uncomfortable with the high price she paid for the bowl, the shopkeeper visits Maggie and confesses to overcharging her. At Maggie's home he sees photographs of Amerigo and Charlotte. He tells Maggie of the pair's shopping trip on the eve of her marriage and their intimate conversation in his shop. (They had spoken Italian, but he happens to understand the language.)
Maggie now confronts Amerigo, and then begins a secret campaign to separate the Prince and Charlotte while never letting her father know of their affair. She lies to Charlotte about not having anything to accuse her of, and she gradually persuades her father to return to America with his wife. Amerigo appears impressed by Maggie's delicate diplomacy, after he had previously regarded her as rather naive and immature. The novel ends with Adam and Charlotte about to depart for America, while Amerigo can "see nothing but" Maggie and embraces her.