A Devilish Fine Woman

The Romance of Certain Old Clothes   by Henry James (1886)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   May 27, 2014



Romance of Certain Old Clothes is about female sexual rivalry. Two sisters are deliciously jealous of one another. We are in Massachusetts in the country home of the Wingrave family [in some versions the Willoughby family]. Perdita and Rosalind [in some versions Rosalind is renamed Viola] are both attractive young women with an older brother.

Rosalind “is tall and white, with calm gray eyes and auburn tresses; a very faint likeness to the Rosalind of Shakespeare’s comedy.” And a tad plump, she is, with a cold eye on everything around her. Perdita is the sweetest and has “the cheek of a gipsy and the eye of an eager child, as well as the smallest waist and lightest foot.”



Mr. Arthur Lloyd arrives, a handsome gentleman, rich in sterling pounds,good health, well educated, and a traveler.

Poor Arthur, for he is compelled to choose between the two sisters for his bride. At one point you might wonder if the man is falling in love with both beauties. Hmmm, this smacks of an odd threesome, but we are in Victorian times in New England so that Puritan repression holds Mr. Lloyd in place.




A drama takes center stage between Rosalind and Perdita for this prize marriage, and of course for property—the theme of possessions run high as does the desire to be Mr. Lloyd’s object of beauty in fine dresses and jewels. Who does Mr. Lloyd carry off as his wife to his new estate? I’ll never tell.



Don’t miss the irony, the intrigue, the clever ambiguity that is Henry James’ signature; he gives us a well-crafted psychological ghost story, and so very Gothic. In the end, one of the sisters has a most sinister win.



imagesHenry James wrote this story when he was in his twenties and this was his first attempt at supernatural fiction.


Read The Romance of Certain Old Clothes at HenryJames.org

Listen to the audio recording (scroll to Number 9) at Librivox.org



Other Reading Web Sites to Visit


Horror Novel Reviews   Hell Horror    HorrorPalace


 Monster Librarian  Tales to Terrify       Spooky Reads

 Lovecraft Ezine      Rob Around Books    The Story Reading Ape Blog

     The Gothic Wanderer   Sirens Call Publications  The Fussy Librarian

For Authors/Writers:  The Writer Unboxed


Don’t forget to view the INDEX above of more free Tales of Terror classic authors.


First image above is by Francios Boucher 1770s.

Bottom image is by Jakab Marastoni Woman Seated before a Mirror 1840s.



Filed under fiction, ghost stories, literature, psychological horror, short stories, tales of terror

2 responses to “A Devilish Fine Woman

  1. Jay

    Hi Paula,
    I read this one back in 2011. (posted about it here http://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/the-romance-of-certain-old-clothes-a-short-story-by-henry-james/ ) – and with mega-spoilers I should warn. It wasn’t my favorite of James’ stories, but worthy of reading, certainly. I felt it was one of those ‘situational’ tragedies (sit-trags?) where Perdita and Rosalind are basically good people, yet thrown into a situation where it was virtually impossible for them to remain civil with each other.

    I might revisit this story after reading your post today. Maybe I’ll just listen to the audio at work 🙂



    • Hey Jay, Your post is excellent about this story. I agree that Henry James can be wordy. I think his style takes some getting used to. The more I read of him, the easier I get through the density. I happened to really enjoy this story, even though the ghostly event is at the end of the story. I felt the tension to get to that ghostly even propelled me on. That and the fact that because I grew up with two older sisters who competed over boyfriends, prom dresses, and jewelry hit a familiar note. I was right at home.


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