is a novel by British American author Henry James. It first appeared in serialized form in 1875, published across several editions of The Atlantic Monthly
before James R. Osgood and Company produced it in a multivolume collection. The story is a bildungsroman, chronicling the coming of age of the hero and the emotional, psychological, and moral growth he achieves in the process. The eponymous character is a sculptor whose work secures the patronage of a wealthy benefactor, forever changing both men's lives and destinies.
The novel opens with rich Boston bachelor Rowland Mallet making plans for his upcoming travels to Europe. He visits his cousin, Cecelia, and at her well-appointed home sees a sculpture that impresses him. Cecilia tells him it is the work of a young man—a law student—named Roderick Hudson, and she arranges for the two to meet. A lover of art but possessing no artistic talent himself, and realizing the creative influence of a city like Rome, Rowland extends a sweet offer to Roderick. He will advance him a large amount of money to make future sculptures and to sail to Italy, where Roderick will have the funds to live for at least a couple of years.
This proposal thrills Roderick. But given his close relationship with his overly doting mother, he worries what her reaction will be. Hoping to smooth things over with her, Rowland agrees to meet with Mrs. Hudson. During the visit, Rowland sets her mind at ease and convinces her to give Roderick her blessing. But, more importantly, it is at this visit that Rowland meets Mary Garland, Roderick's impoverished distant cousin who works as Mrs. Hudson's companion. Rowland falls in love with her—the first time he's ever fallen in love. Yet he is naturally shy—no one knows of his affections for Mary—and in the process of embarking on a massive trip abroad, so he doesn't declare his feelings—but hopes that he and Mary can someday be together.
On the boat crossing the Atlantic, Roderick informs him that he asked Mary to marry him. This revelation crushes Rowland. He realizes, incredulous, that it was his own kindness toward Roderick that resulted in losing the love of his life.
Once in Rome, Roderick flounders at first but eventually gains support and builds a reputation as a talented, though sometimes rough-around-the-edges figure in the local arts scene. For his part, Rowland attempts to move on from Mary and begins courting Augusta Blanchard, an American artist living in Italy.
Roderick goes to explore Europe for a bit on his own, while Rowland goes to England. Rowland writes to Mrs. Hudson and tells her that everything is going well and Roderick flourishes in the Italian art world. Then, Roderick tracks Rowland down in England and asks him to cover the gambling debts he racked up in Germany.
After the two men arrive back in Rome, a beautiful young woman named Christina Light visits Roderick's studio to view his sculptures. Though her status-minded mother intends for Christina to marry a wealthy member of the nobility, Roderick falls in love with her. Over time, Christina reciprocates his feelings. Rowland, witnessing what transpires, feels conflicted: He wants to prevent their relationship from going any further in an attempt to spare Mary's pain, but he also knows that Roderick and Christina's relationship may be the only chance he has to someday wed Mary.
One day, Rowland runs into Roderick and Christina at Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. He sees that they are truly serious about one another, and he encourages Christina to abandon the relationship. He writes to cousin Cecelia and informs her of Roderick's situation.
A wealthy man named Mr. Leavenworth commissions Roderick to make a sculpture for him. Meanwhile, a Prince proposes to Christina, and she accepts. When Roderick hears the news from Mr. Leavenworth, he refuses to complete the commission, which leads to a falling-out between Roderick and Rowland. But in a last-ditch attempt to help his friend, Rowland arranges for Mary and Mrs. Hudson to join Roderick in Italy. Christina then tells Roderick she won't marry the Prince.
Impressed by a sculpture her son makes of her, Mrs. Hudson thanks Rowland for the support he's given Roderick. Still, Roderick flounders, feeling torn between his love for Christina and his pledge to Mary; his tantrums increase in intensity and frequency.
At a party to celebrate the engagement of Mr. Leavenworth and Augusta (who still harbors feelings for Rowland), Christina shows up and insults Mary. Later, on the advice of a friend, Rowland goes to her and tries to talk her into behaving civilly. She responds by informing him that she only likes Roderick in a friendly way and that, even though she doesn't love him, she really did
marry the Prince.
Heartbroken, Roderick tells his mother of his inability to sculpt and about his overwhelming debts. The family moves to Florence, where it is cheaper to live, but Roderick's state does not improve. Despite Mrs. Hudson's desire to return Roderick to Massachusetts, Rowland convinces them to move to Switzerland. For a while, Roderick and Mary seem to grow closer, and he will no longer discuss Christina with Rowland.
But then they run into Christina and her husband, and she invites Roderick to join them in Interlaken. He asks Rowland, his mother, and Mary for the money to go and eventually receives it. After he leaves, Rowland confesses his love to Mary. On the way to Interlaken, Roderick dies in a harsh storm. Rowland, Mary, and Mrs. Hudson return to the States…and, perhaps, to the future of which Rowland has long dreamed.