Henry James's classic novel, "Princess Casamassima," tells the catastrophic tale of Hyacinth Robinson, whose tragic life began in the womb of his mother, Florentine Viver, a murderer who stabs and kills Hyacinth's aristocratic father, Lord Fredrick, rendering Hyacinth a bastard. Having no father, and a mother in prison for life, Hyacinth is adopted by Amanda Pynsent, a kind and generous seamstress with little wealth and social-status. A bookbinder by trade, Hyacinth experiences the lower echelons of society on a daily basis and sympathizing with the revolutionary cause, he vows to murder any noble-man named by Hoffendahl, the anarchist-leader. However, as Hyacinth is enabled, through Princess Casamassima, to break through his social and economic constraints, he begins to regret his promise of murder. Furthermore, as he associates himself with the upper class, his fondness for their way of life, refinement, and the arts increases. Therefore, Hyacinth's character goes through a metamorphosis from an underprivileged poor individual who sympathizes with the lower class and their cause, to an individual who looses that sympathy and desires, more than anything else, to be accepted and live in the higher social and economic class. This dichotomy and the notion of rejection by both classes, produces so much anxiety in Hyacinth that in order to preserve his honor, name and prevent murder, he commits suicide.
Hyacinth's father was an English aristocrat, while his mother was from a lower-class French family. The dual nature of Hyacinth's origin functions to for-shadow his dilemma in later life. Hyacinth is adopted my "Pinnie," who is a seamstress and a hard-working lower-class women. It is apparent that Pinnie goes to great lengths and makes sacrifices in her own life for Hyacinth. In fact, "Millicent's allusion to her shrunken industry," and her financial decline are due to Miss Pynsent's "remorse at taking Hyacinth to see his mother dying in prison." This exemplifies the level of care Miss Pynsent gave to Hyacinth. Further, having a meager income and lifestyle did not hinder her decision to take Hyacinth in and raise him to the best of her ability. As Hyacinth grew, so did his contempt for his mother. When going to visit her in jail he said, "I don't want to know her." (51) And at the same time recognizes that, "she must be very low," (51) and desperate. He also yearned to have been able to stake claim to his aristocratic title. The tragedy of his mother and father being revealed to Hyacinth at an early age, planted these conflicting thoughts in his mind when he was young, and may have set the stage for his desire to be part of the upper class and his disgust for the lower class as the novel unfolds.
Hyacinth had a major psychological conflict battling away in his psyche. On one side, he had contempt and shame for his mother, who was from the lower class, while having pride, and sadness for his father, who was an aristocrat. The conflicting nature of this dilemma came into play with Miss. Pynsent, whom Hyacinth loved dearly and respected, but who was also a member of the working, lower class. Therefore, Hyacinth was at odds with which side he should associate with and as the novel unfolds this conflict is played out. In the beginning of the novel, Hyacinth, suppressing his contempt and shame for his mother and focusing on the love for Pinnie, begins to sympathize with the working man and the anarchists' cause and makes the promise of murder, that he regrets for the rest of his life. As the novel progresses, his eyes are opened up to the upper class and their way of life, and his respect and awe for his dead father takes over his psyche. In the closing of the novel, he decides to take his own life, which symbolizes victory and resolution of the ongoing battle in his psyche. Had he killed a nobleman, he would have been no different from his mother, who also killed a nobleman. In fact Hyacinth says that he doesn't want to, "place her [Florentines] forgotten pollution again in the eyes of the world." (529) Therefore, by killing himself and choosing not to assassinate a nobleman, he finally resolves his psychological conflict and puts the battle and himself to rest.
Hyacinth chose to be a bookbinder by trade and therefore was a member of the working class. As such, he was surrounded by individuals who were also working, or from the lower classes. Visiting his friends, the Poupins one day, he meets Paul Muniment, a revolutionary who speaks to Hyacinth about the cause of the workingman and the lower class. Hyacinth has many political arguments and discussions and on one such occasion meets Captain Sholto, who later functions to introduce Hyacinth to Princess Casamassima and the upper class. This introduction occurs when Hyacinth takes his girlfriend, Millicent Henning to the theater, where Captain Sholto remembering Hyacinth from the café introduces him to the Princess. This is a major turning point in Hyacinth's life. The princess is beautiful, radiant, and introduces Hyacinth to "her people." The princess is American born and married into her title. Her husband was an Italian Prince. Hyacinth's eyes were opened to this new class, which he had only heard negative things about. This is ironic because it seemed that the criticisms of the rich were by the poor or lower classes. They were initiated by individuals whose reasoning for hate may have been deeply rooted in envy. For Hyacinth it was just a matter of being involved with a group and his suppression of the hatred for his mother, and love for Pinnie, both members of the lower class. However, when he began to be accepted by the upper class, he began to realize the beauty and privilege associated with the class. His appreciation for the finer things began to grow, and his psychological respect for his aristocratic father may have taken over his psyche. It seems that Hyacinth could have gone either way. However, had he stuck to the lower class, his mental conflicts would have never played out and he would have been forced to live with an ongoing psychological battle for the rest of his life. But the Princess gave him an opportunity to explore different elements of the London social scene and his psyche. Until Princess Casamassima, Hyacinth did not have the opportunity to join the upper class and associate himself with them. He was confined to the lower class, his mother's class. In reality, Hyacinth's contempt for his mother extended over to her socioeconomic class. His grasping of the lower-class group was simply because he had no choice, or because he was not consciously aware of the decisions he was making. However, the Princess allowed him to have another option. The only problem was that even though Hyacinth had now been exposed to this upper class, he did not really have the means economically to remain among them. This conflict was further increased by Hyacinth's promise to the anarchists. He had promised the revolutionaries that he would kill a nobleman. However, after his eyes had been opened to the upper class, this murder would have gone against everything he loved and yearned to be. He had not realized it until now, but his deep-rooted contempt for his mother, and his desire to dis-associate himself from her would make it impossible for him to kill anyone. Also, when returning from his European trip, he felt isolated. He felt that his girlfriend was cheating on him with Captain Sholto and he felt betrayed by the Princess. At this point in his life, he could neither turn to the lower-class anarchists, or the upper class Princess. Both had rejected him. So the novel, in essence ends where it began. With Hyacinth in the middle. Belonging neither to the upper class nor the lower class, just the way he was born. In light of being in limbo, Hyacinth was able to resolve his ongoing psychological conflicts between rejecting his birth mother, respecting and loving his adopted mother, and honoring his birth father.
Hyacinth Robinson was a man with many conflicts. In the beginning of the novel, he was colored with many unresolved conflicts, and as the novel progressed, these psychological conflicts seemed to manifest themselves in reality. His conflict between class distinctions manifested in him making the mistake of promising to the anarchists that he would murder a nobleman of choice. Furthermore, as the novel progressed, his need to associate with his father's class, the upper class, created another conflict in that he now couldn't go through with the murder. These physical conflicts were only manifestations of the mental and psychological battles that were going on in Hyacinth's psyche. So, physically, he rejected the anarchists, which in his psyche represented his mother, and instead brought physical and mental resolution to his predicament by taking his own life. Therefore, Hyacinth conquered not only the physical streets of London and overcame his physical place in society, but also overcame the psychological problems that he was born with, but did not die with.