Davidson, Guy, 2007, Ornamental identity: Commodity fetishism, masculinity, and sexuality in The Golden Bowl, The Henry James Review, 28(1), 26-42.
The opening scene of The Golden Bowl signals the preoccupation with sex and shopping, and their overlap, that is central to the novel. Amerigo wanders idly down Bond Street, stopping now and then to look at “objects” “tumbled” together in the shop windows or experiencing similar momentary “arrests” at the faces of passing women (43). But if the inclusion of both luxury artifacts and women’s faces in the Prince’s gaze suggests that the novel will develop its interest in the interimplication of consumer and sexual desires through an emphasis on the exchangeability of the female body—a common enough topos of nineteenth-century novels, including much of James’s earlier work—the subsequent narrative upsets this expectation by presenting Amerigo himself as its pre-eminent human commodity. While the Prince is also represented, in his premarital days at least, as something of a rake and while it is the case that at crucial moments he is portrayed, or at least thought of by Maggie, as wielding all the force of an oppressive, even “feudal,” patriarchal power, it is striking how often the text recurs to his contrastive status as an object of consumption, emphasizing the passivity, objectification, and even feminization associated with such a status. The commodification of sexuality and, conversely, the erotic significance of the commodity are primarily delineated in the figuration of the Prince as a “morceau de musée” who may be bought up by Maggie and Adam in an act of imperialist expropriation, as well in the more specific metaphorical alignment of his personhood—his sexual identity—with a precious coin, a medal, or with the titular golden bowl itself. Although the Prince is marked in important ways as an anomalous male within the English context, the connections drawn in relation to him between commodity fetishism and masculine identity have ramifications for the novel’s more general treatment of gender relations and sexual desire.