A man of 50 returns to Florence where he is haunted by memories of a thwarted love affair. He recounts his story as a cautionary tale to a young man who is in pursuit of the daughter of the woman he once loved.
Returning to Florence after 25 years of military service, a man of fifty finds himself haunted by memories of a thwarted love affair which took place on the banks of the Arno during his youth. On enquiring after the erstwhile object of his affections, he encounters a young man in amorous pursuit of her daughter. Eager to spare his young friend the sorrow which has marred his own adult life, the man of fifty finds himself deliberating the morality of recounting his own story, which may have profound effects on the lives of the younger generation of lovers. Published a year previously to "The Portrait of a Lady", "The Diary of a Man of Fifty" touches on themes that were to dominate James' major fiction, such as the suggestibility of youth and the dubious morality of influence. With characteristic psychological insight and a youthful fluency of expression, the early James demonstrates himself already to be a master the art of fiction.