Henry James' Art of Fiction
Routledge – 2005 – 184 pages
Beginning with The Portrait of a Lady, this book shows how, in developing his unique form of realism, James highlights the tragic consequences of his American heroine's Romantic imagination, in particular, her Emersonian idealism. In order to expose Emerson's blind spot, a lacuna at the very centre of his New England Transcendentalism, James draws on the Gothic effects of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe, thereby producing an intensification of Isabel Archer's psychological state and precipitating her awakening to a fuller, heightened consciousness. Thus Romanticism takes an aesthetic turn, becoming distinctly Paterian and unleashing queer possibilities that are further developed in James's subsequent fiction.
This book follows the Paterian thread, leading to "The Author of Beltraffio" and Théophile Gauthier, and thereby establishing an important connection with French culture. Drawing on James's famous analogy between the art of fiction and the art of the painter, the book explores a possible link to the Impressionist painters associated with the literary circle Émile Zola dominated. It then turns to "A New England Winter," a tale about an American Impressionist painter, and finds traces leading back to James's "initiation prèmiere." The book closes with an exploration of the possible sources of Kate Croy's "unspeakable" father in The Wings of the Dove and proposes a possible intertext, one that provides direct insight into the Victorian closet.
Elaine Pigeon obtained her PhD in English Studies in 2003 at the Université de Montréal where she currently teaches. Last year she lectured on Modernism at Concordia University, Montréal. She has had several chapters published in various books, including tow on James: Narring the Father, Lexington Books, 2000, and Depicting Desire, 2004.