Henry James Contribution as A Novelist

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      Henry James is an important figure in every study of novel. It is so because he had no static set of values or theories about novel at any stage. His was a case of continuous development, assimilation pruning. He came out with new theories of fiction. As a theorist and a scholar James was the architect of modern novel.

Various Influences

      In his own lifetime James had the opportunity to study all the later mutations of the novel form the English Victorians, the Russians, French realism and naturalism and two whole epochs of pure aestheticism. His sojourn in France for one year helped him a lot in learning much about the novel as the novel might be. Flaubert too had a great influence on him. It was from Flaubert that he learned about the ultimate emptiness of even the most perfect work of art that pretended to an absolute moral indifference. From Zola he learned that art and science were two different quantities, and that art was at least a quantity that was not to be amassed through perspiration alone. James’s ideas and thoughts were deeply influenced by Hawthorne too. James himself acknowledged the debt especially in his essay on Hawthorne, Hawthorne is the best heir and the best critic of Puritanism. The morbidity and the brooding intensity of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville is replaced by a tragic mood of innocence confronting experience in James’s novels. James does retain something of the stern Puritan ethic in his writings. We find James’s women characters having a fear of the physical. Isabel Archer runs away from Caspar Goodwood just after he has kissed her. Such a reaction of Isabel has its root in the respect and reverence that she has for monogamy. This can also be regarded as a projection of James’s own prudery but to give it a Lawrencean interpretation as Dorothea Krooke has done would be going to an extreme. James like Hawthorne believed in according to suffering the mystical status of purgatory.

      But James was not a pure borrower; he improved on Hawthorne. The psychological or mythological situations of Hawthorne's novels, become social and ethical situations in James. James’s female characters to are an improvement—Hester Prynne is a symbolic character but in a marginal way, whereas Isabel Archer symbolizes American innocence and does not represent an allegorical idea in the least whereas Hester Prynne does it. The social pressure too is not all that real, pervading and demanding as it is in James. It is this factor which nourishes the passion for freedom. Unlike Hawthorne, James’s characters don’t have unlimited choices. Social factors like greed, malice, curiosity etc. are the determining factors of people’s destiny and freedom. In Richard Chase’s phraseology, in Henry James, the American ‘romance’ and the European ‘novel’ come together. Hawthorne lacked not only Henry James’s sophistication but also his vivid grasp of people and social ethos, but this does not, however, lessen Hawthorne’s importance in the shaping of Henry James’s mind and art.

      Hawthorne influenced James also in the artistic dimensions of a novel. James learnt from Hawthorne the use of symbolic or poetic images. But whereas, Hawthorne’s symbolism expresses the psycho-spiritual attitude, in James it emphasizes the cultural and historical interests. Besides this James’s comic sense is a feature which is nearly absent from Hawthorne’s works.

      Finally, Hawthorne’s concern with recording the infinite shades of human feelings and his psychologizing profoundly influenced Henry James—nowhere more so than in ‘the meditative vigil’ of The Portrait of a Lady, where Isabel Archer takes stock of her position with reference to Gilbert Osmond and Madame Merle. At the same time, James shares with Hawthorne a certain faith in intuition—is not Isabel Archer’s intuitions of the true nature of the relationship between Gilbert Osmond and Madame Merle and Lambert Itrether’s intuitions of the true nature of Chad Newsone’s actual relationship with Madame de Vionnet, to Roger Chillingworth’s intuitive knowledge of the relationship between Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester Prynne and his resolve to break into this secrecy ?

James’s Influence

      Though different authors influenced James’s mind and art, he himself was a great innovator. He influenced the novel form to the extent that the ‘Jamesian novel’ came into being. We have talked about his theories of fiction in the essay entitled Henry James Theories of Fiction and now we will try and find out how far-reaching was James’s influence on Modern Theories of Novel. Henry James’s self-conscious and committed artistry stood out in the England of ‘natural’ geniuses like Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy whose plots and characters often verged on the improbable or the crude. There are no superfluous characters in James, no imported pathos or humor, no miracles of chance and fate. If they are present, they are always subordinate to the evolution and working out of the plot.

      James never forgot the difference between life and art. He believed that life is chaotic and art is selective. “It is the art that makes life, makes importance, for our consideration and application of these things, and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process”, wrote James at the close of his life. He also believed in the organic growth of art or in the theory of Donne i.e. art grows from within — some mysterious forces are at work and make the writer do what they desire. Nothing is imposed in the sense that a writer does not self-consciously choose a subject, a theme but everything comes from within with a sudden release of an idea. This is a transmutation of the romantic theory of organic growth of poetry: This idea of meaningful art had a deep influence on the minds of people like F. R. Leavis, Percy Lubbock and E. M Forster.

      Henry James never approved of art for art’s sake. He Relieved that art is Aiot merely craftsmanship ; for craftsmanship and beauty, if imposed for their own sake, have absolutely no meaning. A moral vision should always undergirt a work of art. It is the moral vision which accounts for the greatness of Tolstoy over Flaubert. Such a view is bound to have a significant appeal to F. R. Leavis and Lionel Trilling who believe that each genuine work of art has its own morality because a good artist cannot help but be moral, though not necessarily moralistic. F. R. Leavis’s ‘The Great Tradition’ and Percy Lubbock’s ‘The Craft of Fiction’ embody the Jamesian standards of ‘a vital capacity for experience, a kind of reverent openness before life, and a marked moral intensity allied to a deeply evolving artistic form.’ If Jane Austen and George Eliot are James’s predecessors, then Joseph Conrad is his legitimate successor. Conrad’s essay on James is a sufficient example. Lionel Trilling who had a deep-seated concern for the liberal tradition in America and a keen awareness of the cultural inferiority of America to Europe, learnt a lot from Henry James and a further elucidation of James’s views and concerns awaits the reader in Lionel Trilling’s essays ‘Morality and the Novel’ and ‘Politics and the Novel’.

      The social criticism implicit in James’s own novels—especially those of the early and the middle period - also had a great influence, especially on T. S. Eliot who has followed Henry James’s lead in this branch of humanity. It is in this context that one can understand F. R. Leavis’s pregnant statement : “He (Henry James) imagined a civilization finer than any he knew. It was Henry James’s - art to establish the aristocracy of the spirit in the modern world - a direction adopted by Joseph Conrad also and the final affirmation of art symbolized the triumph of the aristocracy of the spirit.”

      T. S. Eliot called James “a workshop critic”—an artist discussing his theories, his method and his motivations in a series of enchanting prefaces appended to the New York Edition of his novels. These different theories influenced to a great extent novelists like Mrs. Edith Wharton, Dorothy Sayers, P. Hartle, Graham Greene and Angus Wilson.

The ‘inward life’ enchanted him

      E. M. Forster believed that Henry James knew nothing about the power of characterization. But, Joseph Beach in his book ‘The Method of Henry James’ came out with a balanced approach. James was interested not in a simple story but in the inward life. James’s exclusive concern with inward life explains ‘the dominance of ethical considerations’. This concern with inward life also determined James’s choice of situations and characters. James’s characters allot no importance to the utilities. They attach supreme importance to the faculty of intelligence or insight, the faculty of perceiving ‘values’ beyond those utilities upon which, everyone agrees.

James’s Morality

      F. R. Leavis defines James’s moral concern as an interest by which he means ‘the kind of profound concern having the urgency of personal problems of, and felt as moral problems of more than personal significance. This urgency comes from the very nature of the interaction between different types of character, and the outcome of a sense of renunciation or sacrifice is an indication of the moral excellence of both the character and the writer. F. R. Leavis and Wilson have brought a charge of sentimentality against the weaker part of James’s novels; According to Wilson the prim and slightly cold Americans with their bourgeois puritanism emerge as ambassadors of light and purity in the corrupt world of Europe. This black and white representation of America and Europe shows the Americans as virtuous and morally light and the Europeans as brilliant and diabolically clever. This is extremely true of the novels like Daisy Miller and The Ambassadors. But for James’s best novels - The Europeans, The Portrait of a Lady, Washington Square and Roderick Hudson—this observation is not true. Here the European characters or the American characters are not totally good or totally evil. Hence, The Portrait of a Lady is James’s best novel, with its emphasis on the moral intricacy according to F. R. Leavis. In the end when Isabel decides to go back to Osmond we can infer that the ultimate values of renunciation and acceptance shown by Isabel are a projection of the novelist’s own Puritan outlook. Thus we can say, that concreteness of detail and interaction of character, not nationalities, produce morally important situations in James.

      In his later works James came to be occupied with what seemed to him the irremediable antagonisms of interest between people who loved and enjoyed life without scruples, without any inhibitions and the people who live marginally because they are curbed by scruples, inhibitions etc. There are two aspects of beauty, for James, and both attract him. He understood the point of view of the devotees of both, but his deep-seated conviction was that they cannot have both at the same time.

James made rich use of Irony, Symbolism, Myth etc.

      James made rich use of irony, symbolism, myth etc. but it was always in accordance with his vision as a novelist. James always thought the moral vision interwoven in a particular work of art to be an essential element. Irony became an important device in his technique, since as a moralist he had to discriminate between the professed and the real, between the illusion and the reality, between public morality and private ethics. Swift’s irony is ‘destructive’ because he peels off reality as well as the appearance But in The Portrait of a Lady Henry James has used irony as an instrument of the moral probe as well as a rhetorical device, to register the spoken and the tacit reaction of the speaker towards somebody or towards some object. Manfred Mackenzie feels that James has used irony in the service of melodrama. As far as the use of imagery, symbolism and myth is concerned it has been treated in various other chapters.

Henry James and his Critics

      There are very few literary figures who have been subjected to conflicting evaluations in the way Henry James has been. Leon Edel says in. the Twentieth Century Views “James has been likened to Goethe, to Shakespeare, to Racine-tmd to Marivaux. He has been called a tragic visionary and a Melodramatist:’ A rootless expatriate, who came to write “more and more about less and less”, he is also called the wisest man of his time. One critic says that he is a magician but another that he was a soporific bore, enchanted with his own words. Now he is a religious visionary and an allegorist ; now a realist and a naturalist...He is an unabashed aesthetic ; art is his religion—he is a pragmatist...He is passive and renunciatory, he is active and imaginative”. However, James was not neglected by his contemporaries; he was immediately recognized as a major writer of some sort, and within his own lifetime he received the genuinely appreciative acclaim of three very different but very important novelists-William Dean Howells, Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford. The early critical response to James’s work was that he was a deft ‘ analyst ’ of the human heart. As an ‘analyst’ he was supposed to be potentially hostile to all that was fine and spiritual in man and thus it came to be understood as a term of condemnation. Howells praised James for his scrupulous analysis of motives and feelings. Claude Bragdon, an American critic also praised James as the most modern novelist because his art was concerned with a depiction of human nature, not in its idealistic beauty but as it failed or flourished in the highly organized society. It was James’s subjects—‘the voiceless little tragedies’ of the soul ; the dilemmas of super-refined, the intellectual enthusiasms of young men, the abortive love of spinsters” which are relevant to modern life.

      T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were also all praise for James after his death in 1918. Pound’s remark was significant and penetrating. He saw James as one of the first American writers whose genius was on the side of “human liberty, personal liberty, the rights of the individual against all sorts of intangible bondage. His art was great art as opposed to over-elaborate or over-refined art by virtue of the major conflicts which he portrays”.

      After the first World War, James’s works acquired a new significance. People saw his works as opposed to barbarism, tyranny and crassness of merely utilitarian values. Eliot too, stressed his ‘dedication to an idea! of peaceful, reasonable civilization. He wrote : “James did not provide us ‘ideas’ but with another world of thought and feeling. For such a world some have gone to Dostoevski, some to Jame's, and I am inclined to think that the spirit of James so much less violent, with so much more reasonableness and so much more resignation than that of the Russian, is no less profound, and is more useful, more applicable for our future”.

      It is also necessary to examine the hostile criticism. Brooks felt that James had cut himself off from his moorings, that he had uprooted himself. He made James a symbol of all the dangers of expatriation and said : “And so many novelists of our own twenties lost their grasp of life, it struck me that the case of James was really a symbol — I mean those novelists who had grown up in the so-called expatriate religion of art with a feeling that native lands are not important. Judging by these later cases, it seemed to be disastrous for the novelist to lose his natural connection within an inherited world that is deeply his own when, ceasing to be in the pedigree of his own country, he is no longer an expression of the communal life.”

      Tony Tanner has summed up Wilson’s answer to the criticism of Brooks ; “Mr. Brooks has completely subordinated Henry James the artist to Henry James the social symbol...It is precisely because Mr. Brooks’s interest in all social and never moral that he has missed the point of James’s art.”

      Some critics are of the view that James does not depict life in his novels. As far as this view is concerned there are two ways to defend : the first, which stresses the qualitative factor, the intensity and fineness of “the felt life” in his best work ; and the second which calls attention to the breadth of social reference, in his work as a whole. Critics like Stephen Spender have criticized Jame’s novels from a left-wing point of view, stating that his novels depict a world which has become out of date.

      There are various strands of critical evaluation of James’s works and it is difficult to have a look at all of them here. We can conclude this aspect of James as a novelist by quoting the remarks of Tony Tanner : “The work of a great writer is so much deeper and wider, more inclusive, than the mind of any single critic that its one man can or should hope to dredge up all the richness and mysteries which the writer has miraculously caught and contained in his work.”

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