Capturing the Real Thing
A chapter on American realism and Henry James, from A History of American Literature, by Richard Gray:
Howells never gravitated from realism to naturalism, with its emphasis on the determining influence of heredity and environment and its harrowing depiction of landscapes, social and natural, that are at best indifferent and at worst hostile to humankind. There is a fundamental benevolence, a belief in human worth and social betterment, that is caught in one of his most famous remarks in Criticism and Fiction: "our novelists concern themselves with the more smiling aspects of life, which are the more American." That remark would have elicited sardonic laughter from Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?), who was known as "bitter Bierce" and "the wickedest man in San Francisco" among his contemporaries, and seemed to revel in both titles. Born in Ohio, Bierce participated in the Civil War. The war disgusted him, prompting him to see soldiers as little more than paid assassins and, when it ended, he moved to California, where he established a reputation as a brilliant and caustic journalism. Living in England for four years from 1872, he returned to California. He then published Tales of Soldiers and Civilians in 1891, retitled In the Midst of Life in England and in the 1898 American edition. Another collection of stories, Can Such Things Be?, followed in 1893. More than half the stories in the first collection, and many in the second, deal with the Civil War; they reflect their author's feelings of revulsion for military life, and his bleak, bitterly comic view of existence in general. Some of these stories capture the vicious confusion of battle, just as, say Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty (1867) by John William De Forest (1826-1906) does. In "A Horseman in the Sky," a young Union soldier is forced by circumstances to kill a Confederate officer who happens to be his father. Others use stream-of-consciousness and suspense endings to explore the subjectivity of time. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," for example, presents the fantasy experienced by a man who is being hanged, in the final seconds of his life. And still others deploy a fluid, almost surrealistic prose style and black humor to dramatize physical and emotional violence. So, in "Chickamanga," we see a battleground strewn with corpses through the eyes of a child. The child sees but does not understand—althoguh, thanks to an ironic narrator, the reader does—until the end, when he comes across the ruin of his home and the dead body of his mother, "the greater part of the forehead ... torn away." A deaf mute, he then utters "a series of inarticulate and indescribable cries—something between the chattering of an ape and the gobbling of a turkey—a starting, soulless, unholy sound." It is the wreckage of a language, used in rsponse to the "wreck" he sees around him; he has awoken, hopelessly and helplessly, to the horror of life. The same dark light that simultaneously illuminates and shadows these stories also informs Bierce's poems, and the ironic series of definitions—such as the definition of realism quoted earlier—collected in The Devil's Dictionary. [Realism was described by Ambrose Bierce as "The art of depicting nature as it is seen by toads" and having "the charm suffusing a landscape painted by a mole, or a story written by a measuring worm"]. In 1913 Bierce traveled into war-tron Mexico to escape American civilization and to seek, he said, "the good, kind darkness." He must have found it, for he disappeared. To this day, it is not know hen, how, or exactly where he died.
At first sight, there are few connections between William Dean Howells and Henry James (1843-1916). Both saw writing as a serious vocation, and the writing of fiction as a form of artistic endeavor equal to any other. Both were influential, Howells exerting a powerful influence on his contemporaries and James mostly on his successors. Both addressed their work to what they saw as "the real thing," to use James's phrase: to the strenuous realities of material, mental, and moral existence. But the differnces between them are clear. Howells, in his very emphasis on the "commonplace," tended to concentrate on human likeness, typicality, and give priority, if not a monopoly, to the social context. James, on the other hand, was intensely interested in what he called "the special case"; that is, he chose to focus on how common moral conflicts and shared social concerns were realized in the complexities of individual experience and encountered by the individual consciousness. Howells used a variety of fictional techniques, but all of them were characterized by the directness of the journalist or historian. James, on the contrary, was what Joseph Conrad famously called him, "the historian of fine consciences." And to write this history, thoroughly and accurately, he devoted a lifetime to finding and developing the right fictional tools. "There is, I think, no more nutritive or suggestive truth," James wrote in his preface to The Portrait of a Lady (1881), "... than that of the perfect dependence of the 'moral' sense of a work of art on the amount of felt life concerned in producing it." To create that "felt life," an imaginative experience for the reader, James expermineted with narrative structure and texture, developing patterns of character or imagery and moments of epiphany—and, above all, with point of view. "The house of fiction," James insisted, "has ... not one window, but a million—a number of possible windows ... every one of which has been pierced, or is still pierceable ... by the need of the individual vision and by the pressure of the individual will." It mattered hugely, James knew, which window or windows the novelist chose to tell his tale because, in a variation of the theory of relativity or the indeterminacy or uncertainty principle of Werner Heisenberg (both of which were becoming current at the time James was still writing), what you saw depended on where you stood. James was not a moral relativist, by any means, but he became increasingly a psychological one. His constant experiments with narraive viewpoint, which were perhaps to be his major contribution to the developing aesthetics of the novel, sprang ultimately from the sense he shared with many of his contemporaries in science as well as art that our knowledge of reality is contingent on perspective.
Howells might have been more interested in social justice and the simplicities of realism than James; James might have been more concerned with a kind of secular mysticism of consciousness and the indeterminate, contingent character of the real. But it is to Howells's credit that, as critic and editor, he was among the first to recognize James's talent. "You showed me the way and opened me the door," James wrote to Howells in gratitude in 1912; "you wrote to me, and confessed yourself struck with me—I have never forgotten the beautiful thrill of that." Credit is due to Howells all the more, perhaps, because as they knew, the two men came from very different backgrounds. James was born in New York City to a wealthy, patrician family, the grandson of an Irish immigrant who had amassed a large fortune. His father, Henry James, Sr. (1811-1882), acquired a reputation as a moral and social philosopher, developing his own form of liberal Christianity and ideas for social reform in books like Christianity the Logic of Creation (1857) and Substance and Shadow; or Morality and Religion in Their Relation to Life (1863). Henry James, Sr. encouraged intellectual experiment in his sons and gave them the freedom to develop their own systems of morality adn discipline. The results were positive. While Henry was to grow up and into a dedication to literature, the eldest son William James (1842-1910) was to become the foremost American philosopher of his day, developing his ideas about psychology and religion and his view that an idea has meaning only in relation to its consequences in feeling and in action in, respectively, The Principles of Psychology (1890), The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), and Pragmatism (1907). These enlightened principles did not extend to women, however. On the contrary, Henry James, Sr. argued taht "Woman" was not truly a person but "a form of personal affection," whose mission it was to redeem man from his natural egotism and brutality. Such views, not untypical for the time, meant that Alice James (1848-1892), the youngest child and only daughter, was denied the formal education given to her brothers. Her family, while respecting her abilities—she was, among other things, an astute critic of both her famous brothers—coddled and, arguably, stifled her. She had several breakdowns during her relatively short life; and her daily journal, which she seems to have intended for publication, only appeared in 1964 as The Diary of Alice James.
After being educated by private tutors until the age of 12, Henry James went to schools in Europe and the United States. Entering Harvard Law School in 1862, he withdrew after a year. Then, with the encouragement of Howells and Charles Eliot Norton (1827-1908), a Harvard professor and translator of Dante, he began to concentrate on writing. Reviews and essays appeared in the Atlantic Monthly and the North American Review. In 1869 he returned to Europe, his first visit as an adult, first to England and then to Italy, which made a deep impression on him. It was while he was in Europe that his beloved cousin mary Temple died. How exactly this affected his later fiction is open to debate, although the situation of an attractive, lively but doomed or even fatally sick young girl certainly recurs in such novels as The Portrait of a Lady and The Wings of the Dove (1902) and in the novella Daisy Miller (1878). In any event, james's first novel, Watch and Ward, apperared serially in the Atlantic Monthly in 1871 (and in volume form in 1878). This was followed by his first collection, A Passionate Pilgrim and Other Tales (1875) and Transatlantic Sketches (1875), and his first novels of real consequence, Roderick Hudson (1876), The American (1877), and The Europeans (1878). The story "A Passionate Pilgrim" deals with the reactions of an eater American "pilgrim" when confronted with the fascinations of the complex European world of art and affairs. And James himself during this period was something of a pilgrim in Europe, which he cvame to regard as his spiritual fatherland, moving there permanently in 1875. During a year in Paris, he associated with such masters of the art of fiction as Flaubert and Turgenev, who encouraged his interest in what Flaubert called "le mot juste": the right word, the careful planning of the language and structure of the novel so as to make it an accurate register of reality. After 1876, however, he made his home mainly in London, although he maintained an American home in Massachusetts and, much later, moved to the small town of Rye in Sussex.
James was developing his ideas about his craft, and expressing them in, for instance, his well-known essay on "The Art of Fiction" (1884). He was also exploring what were to be the dominant themes of this the first stage of his career as a novelist, which lasted from roughly 1870 until 1890. There is James's interest in the mired complexities of fate and freedom, the possibly determining influences of environment and the possible power, the capacities of the human will: "don't talk about the will being 'destined'," declares a character in Roderick Hudson as a contribution to the debate, "The will is destiny itself. That's the way to look at it." There is his concern for the individual consciousness and the terms it must negotiate with society, how it maneuvers its way through moral and mental complexities. Above all, there is "the international theme," the series of contrasts James draws between Europe and America. In his book on Nathaniel Hawthorne (1879) James urged that "the good American" of his own time would be a more complicated, "more critical person" than the one of the time of his subject. He was thinking, among other things, of his own difference from the author of The Scarlet Letter, which was due, he thought, not only to the eruptions of civil conflict but to his exemplary encounter with European culture. There is a residue of "American" romanticism, as James would see it, in these novels of the first period: stories of young American pilgrims, dark family secrets, oppressive villains. But this is overlaid by habits of realism, empirical rigor, and attention to mannerly detail that James, at least, felt he owed to his European masters: to Flaubert or Turgenev, say, rather than to Hawthorne. More seriously and centrally, James was of the passionate belief that, as he puts it in his account of Hawthorne, "it takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature"—and that, despite the Civil War, history "had left in the United States but so thin and impalpable a deposit that we very soon touch the hard substratum of nature." What America lacked was what, precisely, Europe had: "an accumulation of history and custom," "a complexity of manners and types," all that could form a fund of suggestion for a novelist." James even went so far as to enumerate "the absent things in American life," the "items of high civilisation" which, he felt, were nowhere to be found in his place of birth. He was less specific about what was present, apart form insisting that "a good deal remains." What was clear, however, and could be succintly stated is that he felt compelled, as a novelist, to live in Europe and, as an American novelist, to dwell on this contrast. As a result, he offered a series of increasingly sophisticated fictional negotiations between European culture and American nature, European society and the American individual, European experience and American innocence. To an extent, he was transplanting a contrast embedded in American thought, and especially that of the nineteenth century, to the international arena: a contrast articulated in the fundamental divisions of the clearing and the wilderness. But what distinguished this fiction was not merely the transplantation of content but also the transformation of form. "A novel is a living thing," James insisted in "The Art of Fiction", "all one and continuous, like any other organism and in proportion as it lives will it be found ... that in each of its parts there is something of each of the other parts." That belief vividly informed his own practice as a novelist. It stimulatied fictions in which, at best, the medium is the message, the "moral of the narrative springs from a "doing" that is subtly intricate and mutually restrained, balanced and brilliantly nuanced.
In The American, James explores the contrast between Europe and America through the story of a protagonist whose name betrays his origins and missions. Christopher Newman is an American cho reverses the voyage of his namesake Christopher Columbus and travels from his own, New World to the Old World of France during the Bourbon period. There, he finds his love fro a Frenchwoman of the nobility frustrated by her family. Jemes draws a series of sly contrasts between Newman's innocence, candor, and ignorance (especially about matters of art and social convention) and the sophistication and cunning of his European hosts. The Europeans reverses this voyage, in turn, by bringing Europeans to New England. The transatlantic contrasts multiply and are more complex here, but the fundamental distinctions remain the same. In response to the news, for instance, that one of the European visitors is "the wife of a Prince," an older American character simply responds, "We are all princes here." Daisy Miller focuses the international contrast via the story of a charming but ingenous American girl who is destroyed, first socially and then literally, by her lack of understanding of her new European surroundings. Part of the exemplary subtlety of the story comes from a symbolic pattern it shares with The American and The Europeans: contrasting American "brightness," starkness, and simplicity with European shadows, secrets, and complexities. Part of it comes from the adept use of a narrator, an obsrver whose developing interest in Daisy, mingled sympathy and criticism, affection and astonishment, and developing feelings and opinions enable the narrative to maintain a delicate balance. Typically, the story offers not so much a judgment of Daisy and all she comes to represent, as a series of essays toward a critical understanding of both, a knowledge felt along the pulses. It nicely illustrates the remark of T. S. Eliot, meant as a compliment although it hardly sounds like it, that James had a mind so fine no idea could penetrate it.
That is even more finaly illustrated by the major work of the first period, and arguably James's greatest novel, The Portrait of a Lady. It is, as James put it, the sstory of "a certain young woman affronting her destiny." Isabel Archer, a penniless orphan living in Albany, New York, is taken up by her Aunt, Lydia Touchett. She goes to England to stay with her aunt and uncle and their tubercular son, Ralph. There, she declines the proposals of both Caspar Goodwood, a rich American, and Lord Warborton, an English aristocrat. Wealthy now, thanks to an inheritance from mr. Touchett arranged for her by Ralph, she then accepts the proposal of an American expatriate, a widower and dilettante living in Florence, Gilbert Osmond. She is introduced to Osmond by another expatriate, Madame Merle, and is impressed by his taste and refinement. Soon after the marriage, however, she discovers him to be selfish, sterile and oppressive. She also finds that Osmond's young daughter, Pansy, is actually the daughter of Madame Merle and that this was the reason for the woman's introducing her to Osmond and promoting the marriage. Despite Osmond forbidding her, Isabel leaves for England when she hears Ralph is dying, and is at his side when he dies. Despite a last attempt from Caspar Goodwood to persuade Isabel to go away with him, though, Isabel determines to return to Osmond. And the novel closes with her accepting her destiny, or perhaps more accurately the consequences of her choices, and preparing to go back to a home that is more like a prison. Stated baldly, the story has strong elements of romance of fairytale, just like The Scarlet Letter: the awakening of a sleeping beauty, the three suitors, a villain whose "egotism lay hidden like a serpent in a bank of flowers," a heroine held captive in "the house of darkness, the house of dumbness, the house of suffocation." the sick young cousin who observes and admires her from afar before dying, the voyage of an American Adam—or, rather, Eve—and their exile from Paradise. But what distinghishes it, in the reading, is its adherence to the substantial realities of the social life and the subtle realities of the life of the consciousness. Isabel Archer is as much like the heroines of, say, Middlemarch or Daniel Deronda by George Eliot as she is like Hester Prynne: the imaginative maneuvers of the book represent as much an encounter between the American and the European as its story does. It is both of and about a collision of cultures.
One reason for the subtle but substantial reality of Isabel herself is that James focuses on her. "Place the center of the subject in the young woman's own consciousness," James tells us, in the preface, he told himself when he was writing the book. "Stick to that—for the center." As for the other characters, he explains, his aim was to "press least hard" on "the consciousness" of his "heroine's satellites, especially the male," so as to "make it an interest contributive only to the greater one. James wanted to reveal the ful implications of the developing consciousness of his protagonist. So the reader experiences a lot through her, and shares the lively animations of her mind on the move but, in addition, sees her from the outside, through the comments and often critical commentary of the narrator—and through the observations of characters like Ralph Touchett. We understand her sense of herself, her moods and changes, but we also take the measure of "the whole envelope of circumstances" in which she is implicated. Characteristically of James, the strategy is part of the debate. That phrase "the whole envelope of circumstances" is used by Madame Merle, who has adapted to a European vision sufficiently to believe that self and circumstance, the human being and his shell, are indivisible. "One's self—for other people—is one's expression of one's self," she insists. Isabel disagrees. Subscribing to the American romance of the self, she believes in freedom as an absolute and the individual as somehow separable from conditions and circumstances. "Nothing that belongs to me is any measure of me," she insists; "everything's on the contrary a limit, a barrier, and a perfectly arbitrary one." James wryly complicates this debate by intimating that his heroine's profound belief in herself, her "fixed determination to regard the world as a place of brightness, of free expansion," may itself spring from circumstance. She has grown up in a world, the new world of America, where there have been few forms of authorities, no rigorous or rigidly enforced social practices, to challenge that belief. But that complication is further complicated by the clear admiration that Isabel's "flame-like spirit" inspires in the narrator, observers such as Ralph Touchett, and the reader. There is candor and honesty here, a fundamental integrity and capacity for wonder as well as innocence, an openness that leaves her vulnerable—and, by some measures ast least, humanly incomplete.
With the characters surrounding Isabel, some are quietly developed, the reader comes to know them gradually—sometimes for good, as with Ralph Touchett, and sometimes as with Osmond and Madame Merle, for ill. Others, like Lydia Touchett, are flatter and deftly summarized when they are introduced. All, however, contribute to our understanding of the heroine and the representative character of her transatlantic encounter. A minor character such as Henrietta Stackpole, for instance, another young American woman abroad, helps the character place Isabel further; so do the sisters of Lord Warburton, "the Misses Molyneaux." Henrietta is self-confidence and independence to the point of bluster: "Henrietta ... does smell of the future," Ralph observes, "—it almost knocks one down!" The Misses Molyneaux are compliant and decorous to the point of vanishing into their surroundings. The character of Isabel is mapped out using such minor characters as coordinates, in a manner James had learned from another novelist he admired, Jane Austen. And it is mapped out, too, in Isabel's perilous voyage between the possibilities represented by her first two suitors and the alternatives they vigorously embody: America, with its devotion to individual initiative, enterprise, and possibility, and Europe, with its adherence to mannerliness, custom, and tradition, the rich fabric woven out of the past. Isabel's voyage is a literal one, to begin with, when she leaves New York for England: landscapes that here, as throughout James's fiction, have a symbolic as well as a literal application, with the starkness and simplicity of the one contrasting with the opulence and grandeur of the other. But it becomes an intensely symbolic one when Ralph Touchett tries, as he puts it, to put some "wind in her sails" by arranging for her to receive a bequest from his father.
Isabel, too, tires to put wind in the sails of someone else. She is drawn to Gilbert Osmond precisely because she believes she can help him fulfill the requirements of his imagination. With Goodword or Warurton, she would, in a sense, be embarking on a ship that has already set sail; comitting her destiny to one that had achieved full definition beforeshe appeared; she would, perhaps, be resigning herself to the authority or at least ambience of another. But with Osmond, she believes, it would be she herself who would enable the voyage, create the destiny. "He was like a skeptical voyager strolling on the beach while he waited for the tide, looking seaward yet not putting to sea," Isabel observes of the man she eventually marries. "She would launch his boat for him; she would be his providence; it would be a good thing to love him." In fact, it is not "a good thing" at all. Osmond, as it turns out, had just as firm a notion that he would be her providence, when he married Isabel. "Her mind was to be his," Isabel bitterly reflects after she has come to know her husband. "—attached to his own like a small garden-plot to a deer park." What all this adumbrates is a theme interwoven with the contrast between Europe and America, and dear to the heart of Hawthorne as much as James: the human use of human beings. The complex interplay of character focused in the figures of voyaing reminds us that to declare oneself may be to deny another.To enable is also to authorize, to will the fate of someone else; the re is only a thin membrane separating freedom from power and power from what hawthorne called the unpardonable sin.
James's response to the problem he opens up, as he examines his characters' attempts to negotiate their freedom, is a dual one, and is typical in thesense that it involves what happens in The Portrait of a Lady and how it is written .What happens is that Isabel decides to go back to Gilbert Osmond. To run away with Goodwood would suggest that Madame Merle had been right after all, and admission from Isabel that the "envelope" of her unfortunate circumstances was influential enought to make her evade the consequences of her own actions with a man she never loved. To return involves an acceptance of those consequences, and a fulfillment of a promise made earlier to Pansy, Osmond's daughter, that she would come back. It maks her victory over circumstance and over the naive ideal of freedom she had brought with her from America. That ideal had identified freedom with limitless power, the boundless pursuit of her own needs. Pursuing it, she married a man who has sought to extinguish her. Abandonind, or rather refining, it, she now sets freedom as conditional on knowledge: being clearsighted enough to choose the right course with reference to all responsibilities and probable consequences. In choosing to go back, Isabel transcends her circumstances by accepting them, keeps her word and keeps faith with herself—acceptingher responsibility for her past and future. The choice on which the novel ends depends on a subtle balance between self and circumstance, in that it involves the recognition that expression of the one properly depends on awarness of the other: that freedom is a matter of responsible, realistic self-determination. And that same balance is at work with its narrative texture. James, as he maeant to, does not yield to the determining nature of circumstance here, although he admits its irreducible reality. Nor, while emphasizing the power of consciousness, does he present that power as separate and inviolable, somehow superior to the circumstance it encounters. What he does, in his fictional practice, is what he preached in his criticism. He enters into a complex series of negotiations betwen the "moral" and the "felt life," the meaningful structures organizing experience and the contingencies, the fluid processes in which tose structures are embedded. He assets the authority of authorship, the strength of his own individual will as writer, but he also accepts tha authority, the reality of the "living thing," the imaginative experience that constitutes the story. Not only that, he shows that assertion of the one depends precisely on acceptance of the other: that, like any other living organism, the meaning of the novel is its being.
James returned to America in 1882, shortly before the death of his mother. His father died in the same year, and then in 1883 his younger brother, Wilky. his sense of attachment to his place of birth was drastically reduced by these deaths. And the second period of his writing career, broadly from the middle of the 1880s to 1900, was marked by an attachment to English settings in much of his fiction. The Princess Cassamassima (1886), for instance, is set in London and deals with all social classes, exploring the tension between private sensibility and political belief. Other works of the period include The Bostonians (1886), a satirical study of the movement for female emancipation in New England ("the situation of women," James explained, "the decline of the sentiment of sex, and the agitation on their behalf" was the most striking aspect of American life of the time); The Aspern Papers (1888), a collection of stories, and The Spoils of Poynton (1897). James made a venture into writing plays at this time, which proved disastrous. It came to a humiliating end when his play Guy Domville was given a riotous reception on its first night in 1895. The venture did, however, encourage him to develop dramatic techniques for his fiction. If the first period of James's career could be described in terms of moral realism, and the third in terms of psychological realism—although these are, necessarily, labels that do less than full justice to the sophistication of his art—then the second could be called a period of dramatic realism. James used careful manipulation of point of view, elaborate patterning of contrasting episodes and characters, and a focus on dialogue and dramatic scene to achieve here what he always sought: "the maximum of intensity," to use his own words, "with the minimum of strain." The results are powerfully evident in a novel like What Maisie Knew (1897) that explores adultery, infidelity, and betrayal. The entire story, although written in the third person, is told from the point of view of the perceptive but naive young girl Maisie, who is just 6 years old when her parents are divorced. The strategy enables James to achieve economy, intensity, and irony as he combines and implicitly compares what Maisie sees with what the narrative voice intimates.
Toward the end of his second period, James confirmed his reputation as a writer of short stories with tales many of which were about writers and writing. Like "The Lesson fo the Master" (1888), "The Middle Years" (1893), and "The Figure in the Carpet" (1896). Again, many of these tales are fitted into life by James's ingenious, inspired use of narrative viewpoint. In "The Turn of the Screw" (1898), for example, the entire narrative depends for its intensity of terror on the fact that everything occurs in the mind of a governess, who desperately needs corroboration that she is not mad in attributing supernatural experiences to her young charges and seeing dead people. The reader is left in doubt, thanks to the possible unreliability of the narrator, as to whether or not she sees ghosts or hallucinations—and as to whether this is a Gothic story of evil or a psychological tale about repression and projection. In tis own modest fashion, "The Turn of the Screw" prepares the way for the emotional and pychological subtleties, the sense the reader has of wandering through the labyrinth of the human mind, that characterize the three major novels of the third and final period of James's career: The Ambassadors, written in 1901 and published in 1903, The Wings of the Dove (1902) and The Golden Bowl (1904). In all three, James returns to the international theme. In The Ambassadors, for instance, Lambert Strether is sent by a wealthy widow, Mrs. Newsome, to persuade her son Chad to return to Massachusetts. Gradually, however, he grows less enthusiastic about his mission, as he becomes more and more receptive to the charms of England and France. Abandoning his aims, and with them the prospect of an advantageous marriage to Mrs. Newsome—which is his promised reward, if he fulfills them—he even encourages the liaison between Chad and a charming Frenchwoman, Madame de Vionnet. It would be "the last infamy," he tells Chad, if he forsook her. "Live all you can," Strether declares to another character, when he is provoked by a sense of his own tentative life, "it's a mistake not to. It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven't had that what have you had?" Nevertheles, Strether remains detached, conent to observe rather than participate, eventually returning to his inconsequential life as a widower in Massachusetts. As he searches fro the reality of Chad's motives, and the truth of hiw own relationship to life, living, and the conflicting cultures of America and England, there is speculation, mediatation, but fundamental irresolution. Europe has its own secrecies—the liaison of Chad and Madame de Vionnet, he eventually discovers, has been an intimate one—just as America has its absuridites. Life is for living, it may be, but not for him. This story of transatlantic encounters acquires some clarity by an elaborate balancing of scene and character: there are four major scenes set in a plainly allegorical garden, for instance, in which knowledge is slowly acquired and, in the course of the action, Chad and Strether change moral places. But it also acquires a certain mystery, even opacity from James's determination to follow the smallest refinement of emotional detail, the slightest nuance of social gesture—and from a style that, in the service of this pursuit, often becomes formidably, impenetrably intricate.
In the last few decades of his life, James devoted much of his time to preparing the New York edition of his novels. He made revisions that often reflectd his later dedication to a more allusive style. A reference, in the original version of The Portrait of a Lady, to the fact that Ralph Touchett had "simply accepted the situation" of invalid was altered, for instance, to this: "His serenity was but the array of wild flowers niched in his ruin." He also wrote eighteen new prefaces for his novels. He traveled widely, and wrote about his travels in The American Scene (1907) and Italian Hours (1909). He published two volumes of autobiography, A Small Boy and Others (1913) and Notes of a Son and Brother (1914); and a third volume, The Middle Years appeared posthumously in 19197. Angered by American reluctance to become involved in World War I, he became a British citizen in 1913. But, in a sense, as T. S. Eliot was later to put it, it was not the condition of being English to which he—or, at least, part of him—aspired bu the condition of being European, "something which no born European, no person of any European nationality, can become." James anticipated the direction in which many American writers were to move in the twentieth century: in his concern with the complex fate of being an American in an international culture, his concern with the possibly limited terms of American culture and the fragments that could perhaps be rescued from the ruins of European tradition, in his growing concern with the romance and mystery of the consciousness. He assimilated the romantic tendencies that were part of the pressure of the age into which he was born, the moral rigor that was a continuing characteristic of his part of the nation; he also moved, especially in his later work, toward the modernist conviction that the truth of art and the truth of life are one and the same. A summative and seminal writer, James stands at the juncture between two centuries, and different moments in Americal writing. He was also, complexly, his own man. There is no more satisfactory way of summing up that complexity than the one James himself was probably alluding to when he called his last fragment of autobiography "The Middle Years." The title is alsothat of an earlier story, published in 1895, in which a dying writer makes a statement of faith that his creator might well have made for himself. "We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have," the writer declares. "Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art."