The novel tells of a clever young London bookbinder, Hyacinth Robinson, whose young mother had long ago murdered his father, Lord Frederick. Young Hyacinth begins to dabble in revolutionary politics and finally commits himself to an assassination attempt in London. Ultimately he kills himself instead, fearing among other things that his lethal mission will recall the shameful felony and incarceration of his long dead mother. But the novel is titled The Princess Casamassima!
The role of the princess in the ending is fascinating. Both her and Hyacinth are manipulated like puppets by the urbane and supremely intelligent Paul Muniment. Hyacinth has been charged to assassinate her estranged husband, Duke Casamassima, at a grand party a few days hence. By now, the princess has spent her last penny, the duke has recently cut her off her allowance, and her few friends have abandoned her. Paul says she must and will go back to the duke, a fate worse than death to this idealistic and radical young beauty.
Hours later, the princess finds Hyacinth lifeless in a pool of blood on his bed and, kneeling over him, pushes the revolver under the bed - she had pushed it out of sight with her knees.
A day after finishing the novel, it occurs to me that the Machiavellian Paul Muniment's prediction will be fulfilled, and in just the way he has planned. It's not Hyacinth who will reenact his mother's felony, but the tragic princess!
A fine novel, with more of a plot than most of Henry James'. To any one considering reading him, I can recommend this novel, What Maisie Knew and The Aspern Papers as an easy and excellent introductions to this sublime author.