The Other Henry James

The Other Henry James

by John Carlos Rowe

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822398530
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 06/01/2012
Series: New Americanists
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 427 KB

About the Author

John Carlos Rowe is Professor of English at the University of California, Irvine, and author of numerous books, including The Theoretical Dimensions of Henry James.

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The Other Henry James

By John Carlos Rowe

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1998 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-9853-0


Swept Away: Henry James, Margaret Fuller, and "The Last of the Valerii"

How did you ever dare write a portrait of a lady? Fancy any woman's attempting a portrait of a gentleman! Wouldn't there be a storm of ridicule! ... For my own part, in my small writings, I never dare put down what men are thinking, but confine myself simply to what they do and say. For, long experience has taught me that whatever I suppose them to be thinking at any especial time, that is sure to be exactly what they are not thinking. What they are thinking, however, nobody but a ghost could know. —Constance Fenimore Woolson to Henry James, February 12, 1882

Having met Margaret Fuller in 1843, Henry James Sr. wrote to Emerson, who had introduced him to her: "The dear noble woman! I shall often think of her with joy—and with hope of fuller conferences and sympathies somewhere." In the 1840s, the elder Henry James and Margaret Fuller shared interests in Swedenborg's social philosophy (rather than his mysticism) and women's rights, including rights to divorce. In view of the elder James's endorsement of Fourier's socialism, James's consistent attacks on private property, and the social imposition of institutional limits on the otherwise "infinite" self, his general philosophy agrees with Margaret Fuller's transcendentalism. Discussing Henry James Sr.'s defense of Fourier's "heterodox" views of marriage, Alfred Habegger concludes that the father's views "belonged to the radical wing of Utopian socialism." Nevertheless, Habegger argues that these "radical views" by no means included endorsement of Fuller's feminism or of other nineteenth-century women's rights activists.

Fuller's famous claim in Woman in the Nineteenth Century that "there is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman" follows the logic of transcendentalist philosophy. Yet her characteristic rejection of any essential sexual difference had obvious consequences for practical social reforms that transcendentalists such as Emerson and Henry James Sr. were not ready to accept. Emerson's 1855 lecture "Woman" supports women's rights to education, property, and the vote but concludes by urging women to seek more "spiritual" rights by "improving" and "refining" their men: "Woman should find in man her guardian." His arguments are perfectly Hegelian, insofar as Hegel insisted on the maintenance of woman's domestic role and man's public role as mediator between family and state.

Like Emerson, the elder James was not a radical for women's rights, even though in the 1840s he advocated "a new and much less restrictive sexual order." Nevertheless, alternatives to monogamy and popular acceptance of divorce did not necessarily mean for him an expansion of women's rights; the elder James's ideas about sexual liberation are bound up with nineteenth-century conventions about women's servitude to men: "Everything is calculated with certain male needs in mind, and women's own dissatisfactions and desires or liberties never once enter into the matter. Woman is man's angel, a totally different kind of being from himself." Attacked both by women's rights activists and by conservatives, Henry James Sr. would gradually abandon his "radical" views of marriage and divorce, and the history of his changing and often contradictory positions expresses well the inherent contradictions in many male transcendentalists' thinking about the changing status of women in nineteenth-century American society. By 1853, when the elder James published "Woman and 'The Woman's Movement,'" his position regarding women's rights had become so profoundly conservative that he "insisted with remarkable emphasis that women were intellectually inferior to men." Fuller's application of transcendentalist ideas to women's rights thus had the consequence of exposing the liberal hypocrisy and intellectual confusion of these male transcendentalists; it is little wonder they felt such ambivalence about her as a person and intellectual.

The elder James, Emerson, and Hawthorne are Henry James Jr.'s most influential and complex fathers. Their ambivalence toward Margaret Fuller's radicalism is repeated by Henry James Jr. in his scattered references to Margaret Fuller from early writings such as "The Last of the Valerii" (1874) and Hawthorne (1879) to William Wetmore Story and His Friends (1903). But James's repetitions are compounded by the strategic repressions they serve. In the matter of the "Margaret-ghost," as James was to name his anxiety, the repressions would entangle Oedipal rebellion of the son against the father, as well as poetic rebellion of the modern against his romantic and very American precursors, with James's critical reaction to the women's rights movement.

In his review of James Elliot Cabot's A Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson (London, 1887) in Macmillan's Magazine in December 1887 (reprinted in Partial Portraits, 1888), James characterizes Emerson's general response to Fuller in the figure of Emerson retreating, "smiling and flattering, on tiptoe, as if he were advancing." James quotes Emerson in his journals: "She ever seems to crave something which I have not, or have not for her," and James concludes that "only between the lines ... we read that a part of her effect upon him was to bore him" (American Essays, 64). Boredom is hardly an emotion we might expect Margaret Fuller to have inspired; her contemporary reputation rested on her sharp intellect, her unabashed egotism, her political convictions, and her brilliant conversation. Yet James is relying on a judgment he had expressed earlier in Hawthorne that Margaret Fuller was finally, fatally superficial: "Her function, her reputation, were singular, and not altogether reassuring: she was a talker; she was the talker; she was the genius of talk.... She has left the same sort of reputation as a great actress. Some of her writing has extreme beauty, almost all of it has a real interest; but her value, her activity, her sway ... were personal and practical." James's judgment of Fuller's writings in this context is patronizing, although perhaps no more so than his judgment of Hawthorne's work. In another sense, however, Fuller is represented as Hawthorne's complete opposite. Public and gregarious, practical and personal, James's Fuller casts in shadow Hawthorne's privacy, introspective dreaminess, and hopeless detachment from the urgencies of politics and economics.

In the previous lines, James is describing the Fuller who would become Hawthorne's model for Zenobia in The Blithedale Romance, just before James quotes Hawthorne's account in The American Notebooks of his first meeting with Fuller in the woods on his return from Emerson's house: "It is safe to assume that Hawthorne could not, on the whole, have had a high relish for the very positive personality of this accomplished and argumentative woman, in whose intellect high noon seemed ever to reign, as twilight did in his own. He must have been struck with the glare of her understanding, and, mentally speaking, have scowled and blinked a good deal in conversation with her.... We may be sure that in women his taste was conservative" (Hawthorne, 78). For each of Henry James's transcendentalist fathers, Fuller is a provocation and a riddle, even as each makes his best defensive effort to acknowledge her wit. Knowing what we do of James's vigorous efforts throughout his life and career to replace these fathers with his own authority, we might expect him to find a kindred spirit in Margaret Fuller, who challenged his father's position on women's rights, "bored" Emerson, and caused Hawthorne to "scowl and blink a good deal."

The issue here is, of course, neither solely antiquarian nor merely psychopoetic but concerns the more pressing question of James's own position on women's rights. The divergent critical views on this subject can be summarized by way of the emphases various critics place on the following characters in James's fiction. On the one hand, we have Daisy Miller, Isabel Archer, Tina Aspern, Mme. de Vionnet, Milly Theale, and Maggie Verver. Each in her own way is committed to some overt or subtle rebellion that calls into question the patriarchal authority of bourgeois society. On the other hand, we have Henrietta Stackpole, Miss Birdseye, Olive Chancellor, Verena Tarrant, and other "progressives" mocked ruthlessly by James. Critics intent on defending James as a champion of women's rights stress the first group of characters and the ways they combat the subtler effects of sexism reproduced in the psychological warfare of interpersonal relations. In this view, James's modern novel of manners focuses on the more complex fiction of bourgeois patriarchy. Other critics use the second series of characters to deconstruct the first, insofar as James's contempt for overt feminists—ranging from career women such as Henrietta to political feminists such as Olive and Verena— suggests his own fears of the New Woman and his preference for the subtler, more manageable domestic rebellion of Isabel Archer and Maggie Verver and its complement, the grand renunciations of Claire de Cintre and Milly Theale. James's "drawing-room" feminists are most often associated with artistic and imaginative powers missing from the second group of characters, who rant and lecture but rarely write or paint. Having acknowledged the interest of Margaret Fuller's writings, James might be expected to identify her with the first group of fictional characters. She wrote one of the politically most influential books of the 1840s, joined the cause of Italian independence, married Count Ossoli, a follower of Mazzini and the Republican cause, and died tragically in a shipwreck off Fire Island on her return to the United States with her History of the risorgimento in hand.

Yet James shows no sympathy for Margaret Fuller, who haunts his writings as a ghost of that faded, failed transcendentalism of his father, Emerson, and Hawthorne. Even more clearly than James's Hawthorne, James's Fuller represents just what he feared he himself might become: an adept at intellectual conversation, a cosmopolitan tourist, a naive social reformer and "progressive" (that word James often marked with quotation marks): more Henrietta and Olive than Isabel or Milly. James's judgment of Fuller's limitations as a writer and intellectual are virtual paraphrases of Emerson's remarks in his portion of Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, which he edited with J. F. Clarke and William Ellery Channing in 1852. Praising the "ease with which she entered into conversation," Emerson also noted: "But in book or journal she found a very imperfect expression of herself, and it was the more vexatious, because she was accustomed to the clearest and the fullest." These anxieties surface with a vengeance in James's most sustained treatment of Margaret Fuller in William Wetmore Story and His Friends, that curious biography James wrote for the money and at the urging of the Storys' children and published in 1903. The two-volume work is a curious tangle of the sculptor William Story's romantic Rome from the late 1840s to the Civil War and James's own impressionistic recollections of his youth there in 1869 and the winter of 1873. This is the Italy so indistinguishable for James in 1903 from the general ambience of Hawthorne's The Marble Faun (1860), the little artistic circle of the Storys, the Bootts, the painter Tilton, traces of the English romantics in Italy, and a cast of James's characters throughout his career— Daisy, Tina, Amerigo, Rowland Mallet, Christina Light, Prince Casamassima. Carl Maves calls it the "sensuous pessimism" of James's romantic, doomed Italy—his early modern equivalent for the romantics' infatuation with ancient ruins.

The volume I am describing is much more than just the biography of William Story; it is James's personal history of artistic Italy, the demonic other of Robert Browning's Italy, the prelude to Pound's Italian tone in the Malatesta cantos and Eliot's "La figlia che piange." The book's imaginary frontispiece ought to be Guido Reni's Beatrice Cenci, that tourist attraction at the Palazzo Barberini, where the Storys lived. Beatrice Cenci haunted the writings of the Anglo-American romantics, and she returns in the strangest way in James's judgment of Margaret Fuller in the first volume of William Wetmore Story and His Friends. James has just described the Storys and Fuller viewing the usual tourist sights: "They do the regular old pleasant things in the regular old confident ways; at the Rospigliosi Casino first, to see Guido's 'Aurora,' and then to the Barberini Palace, unconscious as yet of their longinstallation there, to guess the strange riddle that the Cenci asks over her shoulder."

Shelley had answered the riddle of Beatrice Cenci in a manner that helped turn her into one of the favorite attractions of Victorian tourism and sexism. In Shelley's The Cenci (1819), Beatrice's complicity in the murder of her father, Francesco, represents the rebellion of all those oppressed by tyranny. Even so, it is Shelley's cautionary tale, in which he warns the reader against impetuous revenge, insisting in his preface: "Revenge, retaliation, atonement, are pernicious mistakes." With his own youthful political radicalism and the "failure" of the French Revolution in mind, Shelley uses Beatrice Cenci to illustrate the tragic fate of those who abandon patience and forbearance even in the face of cruel tyranny. Insofar as The Cenci focuses the issue of tyranny in a father's rape of his daughter, Shelley's argument for "stoic, martyr-like forbearance" on the part of the abused accords well with meliorist responses to women's rights such as Emerson's and the elder James's. For Shelley, Beatrice's innocence and beauty are defiled by both the tyranny of her father and her own desire for revenge. Even as her violation reinforces conventions of the chaste, innocent, childlike woman, so it also inspires her with the power and mystery of sexual transgression. Her rebellion thus enacts for Shelley a repetition of her father's tyranny.

It is just the sort of argument that would appeal to the subsequent Victorian sensibility that prized woman's patient endurance of oppression and often figured feminist rebellion in terms of perverse sexuality or unnaturalness. In the Victorian imagination, Beatrice Cenci typifies the ambivalent representations of woman that Nina Auerbach analyzes so well in Woman and the Demon. Writing of the mermaid, Auerbach notes her "broader spiritual resonance [with] her ancestor the serpent woman. Her hybrid nature, her ambiguous status as creature, typify the mysterious, broadly and evocatively demonic powers of womanhood in general."

This "hybrid nature" applies quite well to what James will call a few lines later in William Wetmore Story the "Margaret-ghost." Guido Reni's portrait of Beatrice Cenci narratively gives birth to James's fullest impression of Margaret Fuller, whom he had met only in the whispers of his fathers: "We succeed to generations replete with Guido's tearful turbaned parricide, but are ourselves never honestly to taste of her more, inasmuch as, tearful and turbaned as she is, she is proved, perversely not a parricide, or at least not the one we were, in tourist's parlance, 'after'" (Story, 126-27). In the case of the "tearful turbaned parricide," James is probably thinking of the popularization of Beatrice Cenci as merely an abused innocent. Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi's popular romance Beatrice Cenci (1854) sentimentalized her history by transforming her rape by her father into merely the count's unrealized desire. The event that had been the obsessive focus of romantic treatments of the doomed Cenci family was sentimentalized into an unaccomplished, albeit still profoundly evil, incestuous lust. In his Italian Notebooks, Hawthorne notes how contemporary copyists tend to sentimentalize the mysteriously ambivalent look of Guido's Beatrice:

Its peculiar expression eludes a straightforward glance, and can only be caught by side glimpses, or when the eye falls upon it casually as it were, and without thinking to discover anything, as if the picture had a life and consciousness of its own, and were resolved not to betray its secret of grief or guilt, though it wears the full expression of it when it imagines itself unseen.... The picture never can be copied. Guido himself could not have done it over again. The copyists get all sorts of expression, gay as well as grievous; some copies have a coquettish air, a half-backward glance, thrown alluring at the spectator, but nobody ever did catch, or ever will the vanishing charm of that sorrow. I hated to leave the picture, and yet was glad when I had taken my last glimpse, because it so perplexed and troubled me not to be able to get hold of its secret.

The Jamesian tourist is after the Beatrice Cenci who plotted with her lover to murder her evil father in his sleep to avenge the violation of her innocence, and it is on just this reflection that James turns to the most extended reflection on Margaret Fuller in his writings. Beatrices parricide here must refer to the threat Fuller posed to James's own Boston fathers, unmanned by her refusal to accept their authority: "The unquestionably haunting Margaret-ghost, looking out from her quiet little upper chamber at her lamentable doom, would perhaps be never so much to be caught by us as on some occasion as this. What comes up is the wonderment of why she may, to any such degree, be felt as haunting" (Story, 127).


Excerpted from The Other Henry James by John Carlos Rowe. Copyright © 1998 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents

Contents Preface Introduction: Henry James and Critical Theory Chapter 1. Swept Away: Henry James, Margaret Fuller, and "The Last of the Valerii" Chapter 2. A Phantom of the Opera: Christopher Newman's Unconscious in The American Chapter 3. Acting Lessons: Racial, Sexual, and Aesthetic Politics in The Tragic Muse Chapter 4. Textual Preference: James's Literary Defenses against Sexuality in "The Middle Years" and "The Death of the Lion" Chapter 5. The Portrait of a Small Boy as a Young Girl: Gender Trouble in What Maisie Knew Chapter 6. Spectral Mechanics: Gender, Sexuality, and Work in In the Cage Conclusion: Henry James and the Art of Teaching Notes Index

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