Henry James and Harold Frederic:
Two Views of the American 1870s
Nor were the
In the literary world, although many writers had turned away from earlier romantic attitudes, they were not as yet prepared to wholly embrace “reality” in literature. Writers watched as “old faiths were meeting new doubts and artists were struggling to find the forms to contain this turbulence” (1). In view of the prevailing currents of nationalism and optimism, Henry James described the mood of the 1870s as a “romantic vision of the real” (2). In spite of the fact that the general reading public was not much interested in realism but preferred dime novels and Horatio Alger tales, writers such as Henry James and William Dean Howells strove to develop a literature that could be identified with the actual spirit of the time.
Because the decade of the 1870s produced very few important works of fiction, critics have often passed over some of these early attempts at realism in favor of the later critical realism that appeared in the 1880s and 1890s. Roderick Hudson, one of these early works, was considered by James to be his first successful novel, and in spite of his own later criticism of the work, he thought well enough of it to include it in the first volume of his famous New York Edition. Viewed within the framework of the doctrines that prevailed in America in the 1870s, Roderick Hudson provides “a charming chapter in a phase of American cultural history (3). Robert Falk asserts that in Roderick Hudson, James “successfully transformed some of the provincialisms, pruderies, and insularities of the period into enduring literature” (4).
During these earliest years of American literary realism, most American writing exhibited a self-conscious nationalism that was subject to the dictates of prevailing Puritan morality and genteel propriety. By the 1890s, however, this self-consciousness gave way to a greater acceptance of the realistic elements of life, and writers were able to write social criticism in a way that had been denied to those who had written so soon after the Civil War.
One of the younger writers of this later period was Harold Frederic. He, like Henry James, had gone to Europe to live, as many artists and writers of the period had done. Unlike James, however, Frederic’s attempts at writing “international” novels were largely unsuccessful. It has been said that “Frederic, writing in England, wrote well only when he wrote of America, and of that small section of America—upper New York State and the Mohawk Valley—which he knew well” (5).
The Damnation of Theron Ware, the last
In 1958, John Henry Raleigh suggested that The Damnation of Theron Ware, at least in part, is really the story of Roderick Hudson told in a strictly American setting. He pointed out that many of the characters and themes in the earlier James work have direct counterparts in the novel by Frederic written nearly 20 years later (7). Investigation has revealed, however, that no detailed comparison of the two novels has been made. The prominent Frederic scholar, Thomas F. O’Donnell, writes, “Wouldn’t it be interestingly ironic—in view of Frederic’s reported dislike of James—to find that in DTW he, Frederic, was doing even approximately what HJ had done twenty years earlier in Roderick! . . . I don’t know of anything done or being done on this idea” (8).
This study will examine these two works on the basis of their recognizable parallels in literary philosophy, plot development, themes, characterization, setting, and technique, with an emphasis on the social climate of the 1870s as it is revealed within the novels. In Roderick Hudson and The Damnation, we find two artists’ views of the “Gilded Age” that clearly manifest the turmoil of the period. James’ novel is a contemporary study of the age, while Frederic’s was written in retrospection—yet both speak unmistakably from the decade of the 1870s, providing us with valuable insights in to American life as it existed in the years just after the Civil War.
Both James and Frederic can be placed securely within the literary movement known as “Realism” because both men based their writing on the “realistic method” advocated by William Dean Howells. The touch stones of realistic writing include the “dramatic” interaction of characters, an interest in the commonplace, selection of details according to a moral pattern or scale of values, a faithful recording of the life one knows, an immersion in one’s own experience, and a rejection of the false and sentimental (9).
Even as the
A comparison of the plots of the two novels reveals remarkable similarities. In both stories, the protagonist is a young American “innocent” who dreams of one day becoming great. He is a “romantic” who is highly sensitive to the world of nature. He initially loves a simple, unaffected American girl. Presently, he is introduced into a new situation where he experiences the influence of a culture strangely different from his own. His lofty idealism is met by sophisticated scoffers. Under the influence of this new culture, he asks questions about individual freedom while exhibiting a great deal of egotism. The turning point in his life occurs when he meets a beautiful woman who is a representative of the other “foreign” culture. He is at once stimulated and quickened and views himself as being an altogether “different” person than he had been previously. Unfortunately, he is used by this woman as a mere object of amusement.
Meanwhile, he neglects his work for his passion and now views his family and associates as “boring.” He eventually alienates himself from society. His powers of reason are affected, and he turns his back on his formerly-held values, finding himself uprooted from his previous social and familial ties. He lives now only for his illusion.
Ultimately, he is spurned by the woman he admires, and he suffers a complete spiritual collapse. As a result, he becomes totally insensitive to nature and experiences a feeling of deep alienation as he attempts to pursue the woman in an attempt to recover his spirit. His family tries to come to his aid, but the attempt to restore him is unsuccessful. He expresses a “death wish” and describes his immense suffering to a close friend. His final degeneration reaches its climax in his physical and/or spiritual death.
Both Roderick Hudson and The Damnation of Theron Ware exist on three historical and cultural levels: first, they emanate clearly from late 19th-century America; second, they are concerned with the perennial theme of much serious American literature: what is the identity and the nature of “the American,” and what is his relationship to Europe?; and, third, they are metaphorical statements about the essential polarities of all human existence (10). At least four corresponding themes are evident in the two novels: 1) the problem of individual freedom; 2) the “international theme” of culture vs. culture; 3) the fall from innocence; and, 4) the problem of duality, both within man and within the world.
In Roderick Hudson, James emphasizes the problem of freedom of the individual will and man’s share in determining his own destiny. Although Roderick has imagination and creative ability, he lacks self-control. He says, “There’s something inside of me that drives me. A demon of unrest!” Later, he says, “What am I, what are the best of us, but a desperate experiment? Do I more or less idiotically succeed—do I more or less sublimely fail? I seem to myself to be the last circumstance it depends on.” The will, to Roderick, is an abyss and a riddle, and he doubts that one can even know that he has a will. He states, “I believe there’s a certain group of circumstances possible for every man, in which his power to choose is destined to snap like a dry twig.” Rowland Mallet, his friend and mentor, replies, “The power to choose is destiny. That’s the way to look at it.”
suggestion that it is vitally important as to how one looks at life reflects
the strain of pragmatic thought that prevailed in
Likewise, in The Damnation, the question is also one of individual freedom. According to George W. Johnson, “If Theron will simply accept the contradiction between pastoral duty and personal attitude, he can find both professional power and individual freedom” (12). But because Theron cannot accept the contradiction, he is spiritually destroyed. In his lament to Sister Soulsby, the evangelistic fund-raiser, Theron exclaims, “There isn’t an atom left anywhere of the good man I used to be. And, mind you, I never lifted a finger to prevent the change . . . . Was it all a sham, or does God take a good man and turn him into an out-and-out bad one? . . . Or isn’t there any God at all—but only men who live and die like animals?” Theron wonders whether he had ever been able to alter his course or whether his life had always been completely outside of his control.
Regarding the theme of cultural collision, Leon Edel states that Roderick Hudson may be considered to be the first important “international” novel in American literature (13). James himself says in his “Preface” to the novel that he is trying, as a painter does, to catch the “related state, to each other, of certain figures and things.” These “figures” and “things” are of New England and Rome, and in Roderick Hudson, James creates “a new international type, as beautiful as she was strange—a complete feminine expatriate” (14).
Similarly, although the story is about a young minister’s struggles, John Henry Raleigh feels that “The Damnation is concerned not so much with the religious as with the cultural. . . .While most of its principal characters are connected with a religion, no one, except Alice Ware, seems to believe in God, at least in any literal sense./. . . And the real problems in the novel are not religious but are rather Jamesian and cultural, not whether God exists but how should man live” (15). To Frederic, the “pragmatic” attitude toward life seems to be a valid method for surviving in a world of irreconcilable extremes.
Roderick’s “fall” or degeneration, James does not make him solely responsible
for his failure. The young artist is overwhelmed, it is true, by his passion
for Christina, but she also has a part in the drama by her negative treatment
of him. James gives her a rather dominant role in Roderick’s decline, the
original idea for which may have come from any number of writers. Cornelia P.
Kelley suggests that the germ for the story probably came from the life of the
French painter, Henri Regnault (16), while Viola Dunbar traces the novel to
Dumas’ L’Affaire Clemenceau-memoire de
l’accuse (17). Because other novelists of the day, such as Turgenev and
Balzac, were having relative success writing about moral failures, James felt
that perhaps the public was ready to accept novels that dealt with questions of
individual morality. For some time, the trend in
Roderick’s “fall” is the result of his allowing his passion to destroy his art. For James, it is impossible to cultivate both passion and art (18). “Instead of acting out his passion, he would let his characters do it for him. They might die of it—but he would live! He feared the Christinas of this world. In the end, Henry James discovered that his role would have to be the cultivation of art rather than the cultivation of passion. The solution was to invest all his passion in his art” (19).
the other hand, aware of the great changes occurring in America during his
lifetime, depicts in The Damnation
“the fall of intellectual America from innocence into knowledge” (20) which
introduces a terrible cosmic doubt into men’s lives. He traces not only
The intolerant provincial backgrounds of Roderick and Theron prevent them both from adequately adjusting to the seeming ambiguities of their new cultural experiences. Raleigh suggests that “Theron is [like] Roderick, the gifted but unstable young man who collapses in the face of a deeper, wider, richer culture than the one into which he had been born” (23). The two innocents find nothing in their backgrounds that they can use to cope with their changed circumstances.
Finally, both James and Frederic are concerned with the essential nature of man as he views his universe—a nature comprised of dualities that are inherent in the observer and which must co-exist in order for man to be complete. In both novels, the protagonists dream of becoming great—Roderick as a sculptor, Theron as an orator. However, the difference between the dreaming and the doing is the crucial factor in both situations. Roderick, in spite of Rowland’s strength of purpose on his behalf, is unable to realize his dream. According to Henry S. Canby, “When he makes his first success, he is not equal to the labor required for perfection. Instead, he finds it easier to become infatuated with an incredibly beautiful girl. . . . Like his art, she requires a higher bid than he can make” (24).
Theron is also unable to apply himself to the task of developing his abilities in preparation for a successful ministerial position, and he subsequently loses his grip on both the dream and the reality of his situation. Raleigh calls The Damnation a novel that has “the rather grim reminder that man is a poor creature, generally speaking, and is always being tempted to run off after pleasing illusions and to be blind to harsh realities” (25).
Similarly, George W. Johnson suggests that “the contradiction is that between two views of reality—realism and romance—neither of which can be abandoned” (26). Roderick refuses to face the realistic side of his life, and Christina says to him, “You’ve never really looked in the face the fact that you’re false, that you’ve broken your faith . . . . You’ve closed your eyes.”
likewise, “all the proper evidence is there, but there are two sets of
evidence, one for the appearance of things, and the other for the reality of
things. /. . . These ambiguities are further enhanced by the character of the
protagonist himself, who is simultaneously likable and despicable” (27). Once
Theron has been exposed to the romantic view of life, he is unable to return
successfully to reality. Like
In Theron’s fumbling search for the “truth,” he finds that “every stage of his progressive attempt to reach that ‘intellectual world’ . . . is now labeled a ‘degeneration,’ and the doors to that world are now forever barred” (28). In a speech that addresses the question of the ultimate “knowability” of truth, much as Henry James had done, Father Forbes says to Theron, “so the truth remains always the truth, even though you give a charter to ten hundred thousand separate numskulls to examine it by the light of their private judgment, and report that it is as many different varieties of something else.” As we can see, the various themes of the two novels run smoothly in parallel lines.
parallels are also found in abundance in the characters of the two novels. The
two protagonists, Roderick Hudson and Theron Ware, represent the conflicts of
art vs. passion and religion vs. passion respectively. They are both
representative of the American “fatherless man” who is profoundly affected by
the culture of
Both characters sense an expansion of their capabilities as they come under the influence of a different culture. Theron reflects, “Really, it was amazing how much wiser he had grown all at once,” while Roderick exclaims, “What an exquisite ass I was so short a time ago.” Both men feel that wonderful changes have occurred in their essential natures. Roderick says to Rowland, “I’m not a small boy nor a country lout any longer, and whatever I do I do with my eyes open.” Similarly, Theron reflects contentedly, “Yes; the former country lout, the narrow zealot, the untutored slave groping about in the dark after silly superstitions . . . was dead.”
Theron’s inability to compromise his illusory view of life in order to survive in society has earlier been noted. Likewise, Rowland says of Roderick, “He’s too confoundedly all of one piece; he won’t throw overboard a grain of the cargo to save the rest.” When Roderick learns of Christina’s engagement to Prince Casamassima, he abandons his attempt to capture in white marble the representation of the idea of Intellectual Refinement. Likewise, Theron finds his own seeking after intellectualism to be fruitless, and he is finally forced to abandon his quest.
The impact of the destruction of innocence is poignantly revealed in both novels as James and Frederic portray the effects of failure on the respective psyches of Roderick and Theron. At one point, Roderick exclaims, “I’m an angry, savage, disappointed, miserable man. . . . I’m in a state of helpless rage and grief and shame. . . . You can’t help me . . . . I’ve utterly gone to the devil.” When his friend Mary Garland tries to calm him, he declares, “I’m a dead failure, that’s all; I’m not a first-rate man. I’m second-rate, tenth-rate, anything you please.” He admits to Rowland, “Our little experiment’s a failure. . . . I recommend you to set me up there at the end of the garden and shoot me dead.” Roderick now finds his former interest in nature to be completely extinct. He laments, “Pity me, my friend; pity me! Look at this lovely world and think what it must be to be dead to it.” After his final conversation with Rowland, Roderick admits, “I’ve already been so stupid. That, you know, damns me more than anything. Certainly I can shut up shop now./. . . I’m only fit to be alone. It’s awful!”
similarly pours out his tormented thoughts to Sister Soulsby upon his return
Both James and
Frederic seem to imply that the “innocent” possesses an inherent weakness of
character that is largely responsible for his “damnation.” In a letter to his
cousin, Cecelia, Rowland Mallet writes, “He’s [Roderick’s] the most
extraordinary being, the strangest mixture of the clear and the obscure. I
don’t understand so much power . . . going with so much weakness. . . .The poor
fellow isn’t made right, and it’s really not his fault.” In a similar manner, when Alice Ware blames the
parallel is exhibited in the characters of Christina Light and Celia Madden,
who represent the “heiress of all the ages” who brings into sharp focus the
narrowness of Puritan thinking. According to Maxwell Geismar, “Christina is the
spoiled princess of the international set who flaunts her charm, her wiles, her
power, her restlessness and her emptiness” (31). Rowland says, “About Miss
Light it’s a long story. She’s one of the great beauties of all time and worth
coming barefoot to
Christina’s counterpart, Celia Madden, is a spokesperson for the 19th-century Pre-Raphaelite gospel of beauty. She defines her “Greek idea” as “absolute freedom from moral bugbears, for one thing. The recognition that beauty is the only thing in life that is worth while. The courage to kick out of one’s life everything that isn’t worth while.” Celia admits her “paganism,” saying that she is only “Catholic in the sense that its symbolism is pleasant to me.” Celia is the antithesis of American Puritan ideals as she “frankly dissociates herself from the sacrament of marriage, and proclaims her freedom to know love without it” (32). Like Celia, Christina Light is not really typical of her society either. “[Her] ideals . . . evolve not from any intellectual recognition or moral awareness on her part, but from deeper personal needs which tend to create that awareness. . . . In her search for some ideal of noble self-realization, [she] assumes different moral and dramatic postures in the way an actress might assume a given role” (33).
Christina and Celia find themselves in circumstances that periodically give rise to extreme feelings of duress from which they need emotional release. Regarding her mother’s ostentations, Christina says, “I hope she’s satisfied. It’s not my doing. I feel weary, I feel angry, I want to cry, I want to bite. I’ve twenty minds to escape into my room and lock the door and let mamma s’en tirer as she can.” In similar fashion, after Theron’s confrontation with Celia’s half-drunken brother, Celia enters the woods with Theron to weep out her rage. She “threw herself face forward upon the soft green bank. . . . Her body shook with the violence of recurring sobs, or rather gasps of wrath and grief. Her hands, with stiffened, claw-like fingers, dug into the moss and tangle of tiny/vines and tore them by the roots.”
Both women also have “systems” of morality or conduct that they follow and about which hovers an aura of mystery. Christina tells Rowland, “I say what I please, I do what I please!” When Rowland questions her sincerity in renouncing her engagement to the Prince, she replies, “What does it matter now whether I was insincere or not? I can’t conceive of anything mattering less. I was very fine—isn’t it true?” On the other hand, Celia defines her theory of life to Theron by explaining, “It is the one fixed rule of my life to obey my whims. Whatever occurs to me as a possible pleasant thing to do, straight like a flash, I go and do it. It is the only way that a person with means . . . can preserve any freshness of character. . . . The instant a wish occurs to me, I rush to gratify it.”
Controversy among critics exists as to whether James and/or Frederic actually meant for Christina and Celia to be sinister figures that represent evil and treachery. The answer may lie in the later views of the two women as they are portrayed in subsequent novels: Christina is the title character of The Princess Casamassima (1986)—here she is much more dangerous and wicked than she is in Roderick Hudson; Celia later appears in The Market Place, published in 1899 after Frederic’s death, where her evil implications are developed further. This suggests that at least the seeds of evil exist in the two characters as they appear initially.
Rather pale in contrast to Christina and
Celia are Mary Garland and Alice Ware. These distinctly American young people
embody all that Roderick and Theron seem to find attractive in women—that is,
until something more exciting comes along. Early in the novel, Roderick defends
Mary’s qualities to Rowland when the latter suggests that Roderick does not see
her as she really is. He says, “Don’t tell me she’s not a moralist! It was for that I fell in love with her—and
with security and sanity, all the ‘saving clauses,’ in her sweet, fresh
person.” Mary, the daughter of a minister and the sister of a minister,
represents an essential
Theron also feels a special delight in remembering Alice, “the bright-eyed, frank-faced, serenely self-reliant girl. . . . She was fresh from the refinements of a town seminary; she read books; it was known that she could play upon the piano. Her clothes, her manners, her way of speaking, the readiness of her thoughts and sprightly tongue . . . placed her on a pinnacle far away from the girls of the neighborhood.”
and Alice Ware both share a considerable interest in horticulture. Mary tells
Rowland that when they walk in the woods at home, it seems “as unnatural not to
know what to call the flowers as it would be to see someone in the town with
whom we shouldn’t be on speaking terms.” In The
Damnation, Alice Ware’s garden is the pride of the neighborhood, and she
spends many hours working with her gladioli, dahlias, hollyhocks, roses, and
lilies. Interestingly, as Mary and Alice become less important to Roderick and
Theron respectively, they turn to their flowers to sustain them by keeping
their hands and minds occupied. Mary hunts for Swiss wild flowers with an
enthusiasm that wins over even the inert Rowland.
In slightly different ways, Gloriani in Roderick Hudson and Father Forbes and Dr. Ledsmar in The Damnation represent worldly-wise sophisticates whose background of experience has made them pessimistic about life. They successfully serve as foils to offset the innocents’ extreme idealism. Gloriani, the cynical artist, has given his life over to modeling ugly things, indicating his disillusionment with life (35). Regarding Roderick’s art, he states, “It’s deucedly pretty. But, my dear young friend, it’s a kind of thing you positively can’t keep up, you know. . . . You’ll have at any rate to take to violence, to contortions, to romanticism, in self-defense. . . . You can’t fly; there’s no use trying.”
Father Forbes’ deep influence on Theron is not primarily religious, but historical. He tells Theron that the most empty and utterly baseless idea is that of human progress because “the human race are still very like savages in a dangerous wood in the dark, telling one another ghost stories around a campfire”—and this they call their “religions.” Forbes also represents “the happy marriage of science and mystical religion, contentedly and discreetly performing his function as spiritual leader for a flock of Irish who, so long as he administers their beloved/sacrament properly, care nothing for his private intellectual meanderings” (36).
Dr. Ledsmar in The Damnation represents the new science with its utter contempt for art. Ledsmar says, “All art, so called, is decay. When a race begins to brood on the beautiful—so called—it is a sign of rot, of getting ready to fall from the tree.” This quasi-scientific rationalism is even more deadly than Forbes’ quasi-Christian rationalism because Theron’s entire spiritual foundation rests on an emotional religion (37).
novels, we also find traces of the pragmatic attitude that pervaded
In The Damnation, the Soulsbys are the embodiments of Pragmatism. They are spokespersons for the “here and now” who tell Theron what he must do to survive in a seemingly hostile world. These two middle-aged Methodist fundraisers, who boast of having a rather dubious past and a common-law marriage, have learned to accept life as it is and to operate within its seeming contradictions through practical methods that serve their purposes well. Sister Soulsby says to Theron, “You’ve got to take folks as you find them; and you’ve got to find them the best way you can. One place can be worked, managed, in one way, and another needs quite a different way, and both ways would be dead frosts—complete failures—in a third./. . . To properly serve the cause, one must be all things to all men. . . You simply can’t get along without some of the wisdom of the serpent.” The Soulsbys are, in a real sense, “post-realistic romancers” who live by their wits in a world that often sends weaker spirits into chaos.
In the same
way that many of the characters in Roderick
Hudson have counterparts in The Damnation,
the settings of the two novels are also analogous. The residents of
explains to Rowland, “You see, what [my mother] can’t forgive . . . is your
taking me off to
Catholic Church, for Frederic, is an un-American, authoritarian power which,
The “realistic method” employed by James and Frederic has been discussed previously. However, two particularly interesting parallels in stylistic technique merit further consideration. Striking similarities can be seen in the usage of the writers’ point of view and in the extensive employment of garden and water imagery throughout the two works.
Much of the strength of both Roderick Hudson and The Damnation lies in the authors’ use of point of view in the telling of the stories. James and Frederic similarly present the drama of the action through the consciousness of one of the principal characters of each novel, a technique usually referred to as “third person limited.” The story of Roderick Hudson is told as it is viewed in and through the consciousness of Rowland Mallet, Roderick’s benefactor. This technique provides James with an opportunity to judge Roderick with both sympathy and objectivity. The reader feels not only what is happening to Rowland, but what Rowland feels is happening to other characters. This narrative approach imparts to the novel a unity that serves to make the work stronger and more compact. Rowland is present for all of the action, and his meditations between events are recorded, providing more exciting drama than would be produced by a mere surface account of the action (39). Because Rowland is not the main character, he is able to provide a degree of objectivity that would be impossible if seen through Roderick’s perception. This “center of consciousness” technique is perhaps one of James’ most outstanding contributions to the art of fiction, culminating in Lambert Strether in The Ambassadors.
Frederic, similarly, tells his story primarily through the consciousness of Theron Ware, and the reader is constantly aware of Theron’s particular stage of mental and emotional development throughout the novel. As we do in Roderick Hudson, we encounter a moral struggle, a restless inner debate, and a dialogue of the Self in the tradition of American romantic realism (40). However, as Garland Strother has indicated, Frederic is not wholly consistent in his use of point of view in The Damnation. Frederic shifts the point of view on at least three occasions. Strother says, “The function of the shifts in point of view is in each case to indicate Theron’s loss of esteem in the eyes of another character. By shifting the point of view from Theron to the other character, Frederic dramatizes clearly this loss of esteem and foreshadows Theron’s eventual damnation” (41).
By using an individual consciousness as the focal point of the narrative, both James and Frederic reveal an interest in the specific person, rather than in society at large—a tendency that is typical of the 1870s. In addition, shifts in technique away from the realistic and toward the symbolic show James’ and Frederic’s experimentation with techniques for revealing fleeting insights into new dimensions of mind and character (42).
in use of imagery between the two works is also noteworthy. The dominant imagery
throughout the two novels is that of the sea (or water) and that of the garden.
Sea imagery in Roderick Hudson
appears at least 34 times, while the garden enters the narrative at least 16
times. Both images often are used in association with the character of
Roderick. At the outset of their journey to
As Roderick continues to decline, he admits, “For the past ten days I’ve had the vision of some such fate [death] perpetually swimming before me. My mind is like a dead calm in the tropics, and my imagination as motionless as the blighted ship in the ‘Ancient Mariner!’ ” Rowland reflects on the young artist’s metamorphosis: “There swam before Rowland’s eyes a vision of the wondrous youth, graceful and beautiful as he passed, plunging like a diver into a misty gulf. The gulf was destruction, annihilation, death.” Later, the night of Roderick’s death, the rain falls about the villa “like the sound of the deeps about a ship’s sides.” When Roderick’s body is discovered, James writes that “the rain had spent its torrents upon him, and his clothes and hair were as wet as if the billows of the ocean had flung him upon the strand.”
Although Frederic’s use of water imagery is not as extensive as James’, he does employ such images in connection with his principal figure, Theron Ware. At one point in the novel, Dr. Ledsmar reaches into one of his water-filled tanks, drawing out a lizard that he rechristens “Rev. Theron Ware.” After his experience with Celia in the forest, Theron associates the magic of the moment with “a strange hidden pool which mortal eye had not seen before. . . . As he pictured it, there rose sometimes from among the lily-pads, stirring the translucent depths and fluttering over the water’s surface drops like gems, the wonderful form of a woman.” After Theron leaves the office of Levi Gorringe, whom he has just insulted, the irate lawyer exclaims, “I didn’t think there was such an/out-and-out cur on this whole footstool. I almost wish, by God, I’d thrown him into the canal!”
Near the end
of the novel, Theron tells Sister Soulsby that while he was in
also contain garden scenes or images that figure prominently in the two
stories. Rowland first meets Roderick in Cecelia’s garden
Roderick’s loss of innocence, the garden is no longer one of paradise but of
deception. When Christina’s mother ultimately recognizes the treachery of her
daughter, she cries, “To have nourished a serpent, sir, all these years! To
have lavished one’s self upon a viper that turns and stings her own devoted
mother!” As a result of this “serpent,” Roderick is devastated. He says, “If I
hadn’t come to
Throughout The Damnation as well, the garden appears in relation to Theron’s intellectual development. Early in the novel, Theron decides, “Ignorance was a thing to be remedied, and he would forthwith bend all his energies to cultivating his mind till it should blossom like a garden.” He views his times of study and contemplation as likely “to yield more than the ordinary harvest of mental profit.”
beautiful flower garden at the parsonage blooms majestically and seems to mock
Theron, who foolishly believes that Levi Gorringe has sent many flowering
In his “Preface” to Roderick Hudson, James admits that he had “yearned over the preliminary presentation of [his] small square patch of the American scene.” As an artist, he was deeply concerned about the conflicts of the 1870s. “The ‘complex fate’ of the American artist, James observed, was that he could not be as single-minded about the United States as the Europeans could be about their countries: all of America’s intensity was being poured into the doing of large things on a large continent (44).” It was difficult in the 1870s to defend one’s sitting at a desk writing novels when people were fashioning farms out of prairies, blasting their way through mountains, uprooting entire forests, and building transcontinental railroads. The decision for Roderick is as it was then for James—a choice between living and working in America, where the pursuit of art seemed reserved largely for women (and in men was considered to be idleness), or living and working in Europe, where art was still an honorable and civilized pursuit (45).
Harold Frederic, like James, had a lover’s quarrel with his country. He felt that Americans during the Gilded Age years had lost their basic pride. In a letter to President Grover Cleveland, dated 8 November, 1884, Frederic wrote from London, “So long had I seen and hated these modern tendencies in our people; so trivial and selfish and unworthy had seemed to me the aims and ends for which Americans worked, the gods before which they did fetish worship, and the political harangues by which/they justified themselves, that I may be said to have grown up with more indignation at, than pride in, my country and my countrymen” (46).
writers chose to expatriate themselves from their homeland, neither man could
turn his back entirely on the complex developments, problems, and successes of
In Roderick Hudson and The Damnation, we see many of the prevailing social conditions of the 1870s as James and Frederic observed them. In both novels, we see the American small town with its provincial attitudes, Puritan morality, philanthropic and/or reform issues, glimpses of the American family, the emergence of big business and the increasing spirit of materialism, cultural and ethnic conflicts, religious unrest, and the perennial controversy surrounding the role of art and the artist in society.
In spite of
James’ protests that he had not really “done” Northampton, Massachusetts, most
critics feel that James has indeed painted an accurate portrait of this
provincial New England town during the 1870s. In 1864, James had spent the
summer at Northampton, which was then a comfortable health resort, and he
remarked that it was the “only small American ville de province of which one had happened to lay up . . . a
pleased vision” (47). Maxwell Geismar suggests that James’ treatment of
In the opening
paragraph of the novel, James writes, “Her [Cecelia’s] misfortunes were three
in number; first, she had lost her husband; second, she had lost her money, or
the greater part of it; and third, she lived at
has tasted the riches of
However, whereas James is interested in the effect of the times upon the artist, Frederic is more concerned with the prevailing conditions as they affect a provincial religious thinker. Frederic draws a vivid, concentrated picture of the extremes of spiritual attitudes and development within the organized Christianity of his region by contrasting the native American Methodists (the conservative liberals) with the smaller group of first and second generation Irish (the liberal conservatives) who are gradually assuming characteristics of the middle class (49). In his youth, Frederic had seen a variety of attacks on religious orthodoxy by “discriminating thinkers who included not only biological scientists but even some widely respected clergymen. . . . By 1890, Frederic was well aware that one who entered the modern lists equipped only with the thin defensive armor of primitive Methodism was in grave intellectual and spiritual danger” (50).
For Frederic, the fall of society had a parallel in the individual—that is, innocence being exposed to disturbing knowledge. This knowledge then brings the possibilities of Good vs. Evil that can threaten emotional balances, unsettle the personality, and ultimately damn the soul (51). “Unlike his [other] New York novels, The Damnation is not primarily a study of society, but of the unsuccessful attempt of an individual to move from one intellectual level of that society to another” (52). Henry James’ concern is, likewise, not so much with society, but with the effects of society on the individual consciousness.
In the 1870s, the young American artist is still confronted with vestiges of the old Puritan morality, which cling tenaciously to people’s minds in spite of modern developments that make the old values seem somehow anachronistic. Rowland Mallet is himself a product of this old traditional thinking. F.W. Dupee asserts that Rowland’s “negations are made part of the natural history of Puritanism in America” (53). Rowland “had sprung from a stiff Puritan stock and had been brought up to think much more intently of the duties of our earthly pilgrimage than of its privileges and pleasures.” He had been made to feel that “there ran through all things a strain of right and of wrong as different, after all, in their complexion, as the texture, to the spiritual sense, of Sundays and weekdays.” Rowland’s father had always bestowed on him “more frowns than smiles” and regretted that he had made a fortune that would be Rowland’s someday. “He remembered that the fruit had not dropped ripe from the tree into his own mouth, and he determined it should be no fault of his if the boy were corrupted by luxury. Rowland, therefore, received the education of a poor man’s son” and his habits were “marked by an exaggerated simplicity which was kept up really at great expense.”
and Mr. Striker, the town lawyer, also represent the Puritan morality of
decides to leave his home and go to Europe to study and work, Mr. Striker
sneers, “Roderick is going off to
attitude toward the world outside of
attitude toward the Roman Church is indicated by her remarks to Mary Garland as
they visit one of the great cathedrals. She says, “Suppose we had to kiss that
dreadful brass toe. If I could only have kept our doorknocker at
In a similar vein, in Frederic’s work, the Puritan mind in Octavius is precisely what starts Theron on his road to rebellion. His first confrontation with narrow thinking comes when he first meets his trustee board—Loren Pierce, Erastus Winch, and Levi Gorringe. Among other things, they see to it that there is no milk delivery to the parsonage on Sundays and that Alice Ware’s sunbonnet is divested of its flowers. Brother Pierce explains, “We are a plain sort o’ folks up in these parts. . . We don’t want no book-learnin’ or dictionary words in our pulpit.” They also want no “new-fangled notions” and refuse to have such “tom-foolery” as a choir or an organ in the church. Pierce warns Theron, “Our folks don’t take no stock in all that pack o’ nonsense about science, such as tellin’ the ages of the earth by crackin’ up stones.” Nor do the Octavius Methodists subscribe to the outlandish theory that their grandfathers were all monkeys.
When Theron innocently suggests a festival or some other form of entertainment in order to raise the money needed to meet the yearly deficit, Brother Pierce declares, “Our women-folks ain’t that kind. They did try to hold a sociable once, but nobody came, and we didn’t raise more’n three or four dollars. It ain’t their line. They lack the worldly arts. As the Discipline commands, they avoid the evil of putting on gold and costly apparel, and taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus.” However, Theron quickly discovers the gap between the trustees’ public and private morality. They explain to him that the interest rates on the mortgages that they each hold are the “old” rates that were effective when the contracts were made. They have thus decided that they are “bound” by their agreements, even though the state has since lowered the rate from seven to six percent. Brother Pierce, annoyed at Theron’s interference, exhibits his “practical Puritanism” when he says, “The Lord gives us crosses grievous to our natur’ an’ we’re told to bear ‘em cheerfully as long as they’re on our backs; but there ain’t nothin’ said agin our unloadin’ ‘em in the ditch the minute we git the chance. I guess you won’t last here more’n a twelve-month.”
For some reason, Theron finds himself unwilling to “enforce” many of the “rules” of his Methodist congregation. He makes a mental resolve not to preach a sermon denouncing the street-car line for operating on the Sabbath, as has been the custom each year. He also makes no effort to appoint a committee that would censure church members who had pretended to take their children to the circus “just to see the animals,” but who had stayed to watch “with an ardent and unashamed eye,” the flying act of the Rose-Queen of the Arena.
attempts at reform, Theron is unable to alter the thinking of the provincials
of Octavius. Instead, his own character is changed, and he leaves the ministry
a broken man. As Mrs. Hudson had blamed
The years that followed the Civil War saw numerous attempts at social reform because many felt that man’s environment could be altered in such a way as to benefit mankind, both individually and collectively. The motivations for such attempts were as varied as were the proposals for change, but most, if not all, of them were based on the belief that society could be affected by the conscious effort of reform, some of which took the form of philanthropy. Both Roderick Hudson and The Damnation incorporate the philanthropy/reform idea as a feature of the times.
Rowland Mallet is financially independent, Cecelia feels that he has certain obligations
to society. She asks him what he intends to “do” in
The ruins of
Frederic’s “reformers” in The Damnation are the traveling Soulsbys, who have taken a rather unorthodox, yet business-like, approach to their work. Their modus operandi is to gather the congregation together under the pretext of conducting a revival meeting, and then on the second evening, to lock all the church doors and hold a “debt-raising” service with their literally captive audience. Sister Soulsby, who has learned well the secret of mass psychology, is highly successful at raising the needed money, but Theron is somehow bothered by her tactics, which seem to him to be unscrupulous.
In defense of her methodology, Sister Soulsby argues, “My dear friend, you might just as well say that potatoes are unclean and unfit to eat because manure is put into the / ground they grow in. . . .Either you were all to come to smash here, or the people had to be shaken up, stood on their heads. . . . It’s my business—mine and Soulsby’s—to do that sort of thing.” She tries to convince Theron that things look different from the audience than they do from behind the scenes. She says, “It only shows that everything in this world is produced by machinery—by organization. The trouble is that you’ve been let in on the stage, behind the scenes, so to speak, and you’re so green . . . that you want to sit down and cry because the trees are cloth, and the moon is a lantern. And I say, Don’t be such a goose!” She argues that she and Soulsby “do good,” so even if some of their devices may seem to be fraudulent, they are “good frauds.”
In spite of
Theron’s moral reservations about their methods, he turns to the Soulsbys in
his hour of despair. After nursing him back to health, Sister Soulsby tells
. . . .We feel as if we were George Peabody and Lady Burdett-Coutts, and several other philanthropists thrown in.”
Larzer Ziff’s analysis of the Soulsby’s place in American life merits consideration. He states, “The Soulsbys represent the possibility of social control by a meritocracy of common-sensical people who sympathize with the masses and are knowledgeable enough to translate new intellectual developments into a tongue they can understand. They stand for what can be done on the American scene with the knowledge that has destroyed innocence. . . .They foreshadow the advertising man and the mass communicator, . . . but they also foreshadow the social planner. They are Frederic’s suggestion, in opposition to Social Darwinism, that people can control the future of their society if they but yield power to the able. The old Jeffersonian ideal must be modified to meet the realities of a world in which anti-social forces are increasingly centralized and must therefore be fought by centralization” (54). Both James and Frederic acknowledge the “social obligations” of those members of society who have either the means or the methods for improving the lot of their fellow human beings.
family as revealed in the two novels seems to be a rather unstable institution
at best. In neither of the works do we find a closely-knit, solid family unit.
In sketching the family in this light, both James and Frederic acknowledge the trend
during the l870s toward the fragmentation of society and the loosening of the
traditional family ties that had long served as a primary social force in
James reveals that even Rowland Mallet’s parents had not been happy in their marriage and that Rowland’s mother had spent her life trying to admit that the marriage had been “an irredeemable error.” As a result, the Mallet family had lived their lives independently from one another. Rowland’s cousin, Cecelia, is a widow who has made a charming home for herself, “yet there was pity for him [Rowland] in seeing such a bright proud woman live in such a small dull way.” Roderick’s mother is also a widow, whose husband “drank himself to death.” She has showered all of her attentions and demands on Roderick after her only other son was killed in the Civil War. Roderick admits, however, that he has not been able to take his brother’s place and that he has ultimately been a disappointment to his mother in most respects.
Light’s family, though of American origins, has spent much of its time in
Roderick’s meeting with Christina “completes what Rome had already begun—his alienation from his native country, and his abnegation of all the sentimental ties that bind the ordinary man to his home” (55). Rowland frantically sends for Roderick’s mother and fiancée in the hope that they can exert some influence on him; meanwhile, Christina “is subjected constantly to the pressure of her mother’s desire that she give her hand to Prince Casamassima and make a ‘good’ marriage” (56). Christina, the American girl with a European education, retains her sense of duty to her mother; Roderick, the authentic native American, does not.
In The Damnation, the changing function of the American family and the breakdown of traditional family ties are easily observed in the domestic relations of the Maddens, the Soulsbys, and the Wares.
Jeremiah Madden and his wife share their ostentatious mansion with Michael and Celia, children of Jeremiah’s first marriage, and Theodore, the rebellious son of his present wife. Mr. Madden had remarried before moving to Octavius, primarily because the embarrassments of having a motherless family would hurt his social respectability and, even more important, his business prospects. The marriage has not been a fortunate one, however, because the second Mrs. Madden is narrow-minded, suspicious, vain, and sour-tempered.
Each member of the Madden family has his or her own section of the house, and each carries on his or her own activities independently of the others. Although Celia permits no open discord, no real affection exists between her and her step-mother. “Mrs. Madden still permitted herself a certain license of hostile comment when her step-daughter was not present, and listened with gratification to what the women of her acquaintance ventured upon saying in the same spirit. . . . The two rarely met, for that matter, and exchanged only the baldest and curtest forms of speech.”
Celia has her
own opinions about marriage and its traditional role in society. At one point,
Theron says to her, “One reads so much nowadays of American heiresses going to
turns to his new-found intellectual and “cultural” pursuits, he realizes that
his marriage to
Both Roderick Hudson and The Damnation clearly reveal the influence of materialism on the
American psyche. James and Frederic were aware of early stirrings in the
business arena that would ultimately have a tremendous effect on all segments
of the population. Even in the small towns, the effects of capitalism were
already evident, and concepts such as the “American Dream,” the “Protestant
Ethic,” and the “Gospel of Wealth” were direct outgrowths of this economic
In Roderick Hudson, we see two groups of
wealthy individuals: those who have inherited their money, such as Rowland
Mallet and Mrs. Light, and those who have earned their fortunes in some type of
business venture. Money, to most
Americans, seems to be a central concern. Mr. Striker boasts, “I’m a plain
practical old boy, content to follow an honorable profession in a free country.
I didn’t go to any part of
One of the principal criteria in Mrs. Light’s consideration of a suitable husband for Christina is the financial foundation of the suitor. Prince Casamassima ranks high with his marble terrace, his golden coach, and the Casamassima hereditary diamonds, which would all go to Christina if she were to marry him. Christina reveals that her “mamma writes all those things down in a little book.” Mrs. Light fears that unless Christina marries well, they will lose all social prominence. At one time, the Light family had been considered to be well off, but since the railroads had brought in the “vulgarians,” it had been impossible for them to live on the amount of money that had formerly been sufficient.
In Roderick Hudson, Mr. Leavenworth
represents the American capitalist who has made his fortune and who goes off to
In Octavius, “big business” looms as a formidable threat to the small businessmen, who see their displacement as inevitable. None of the small dealers can compete with Thurston’s, which buys in large quantities and undersells every other merchant in town—a precursor of the Wal-Mart philosophy. The town storekeepers admit that “Thurston’s” means “progress,” but they resent deeply their own loss of livelihood. Besides that, argues the bookstore proprietor, Thurston’s is destroying the book business and debauching the reading tastes of the community by catering strictly to the public’s taste for popular literature. At one point, Theron makes a mental resolve to preach a sermon on the subject of the “modern idea of admiring the great for crushing the small.”
Madden, Octavius’ richest man, is the embodiment of the “American Dream” in the
flesh. Having fled from
Perhaps one of the most dominant themes of Roderick Hudson centers on cultural conflict. Michael Swan writes in 1950, “In those early years, he [James] saw Europe very plainly as a place for the moral destruction of the innocent New Worlders who visited it. . . . Here, James saw, was drama, and he began to write Roderick Hudson. . . . It must be admitted, that James’ idea of Europe in this book is a little naïve. His Puritanism, his own innocence, in fact, comes out in his conception of Europe as a kind of wicked paradise” (57).
not the only person who feels the difference between the cultures of
Leavenworth is also quick to note differences between American women and those
ethnic conflicts are also an integral part of the community of
To the native Americans of Octavius, the “Eyetalians” of the community are not as troublesome as are the Irish. Even though the Italians are given to jabbin’ knives into each other,” they do not strike for higher wages the way the Irish do. Further cultural distinctions exist even between the divergent economic groups of Irishmen. For example, the Maddens have little to do with the Irish who live in the “shanties reared among the ash-heaps and debris of the town’s most bedraggled outskirts.” This conflict between cultures is precisely what ultimately unsettles Theron’s mind and precipitates his downfall.
James’ own training had freed him from the religious conflicts that tortured
interest in the Roman Catholic Church was not so much for its spiritual function,
but for its social role in society. “James described the Catholic Church as
‘the most impressive convention in all history.’ . . . From Rowland Mallet to
Lambert Strether in The Ambassadors, James’ Americans find relief
and solace in European cathedrals” (59). However, like Rowland, James could
likely say, “In these many months now that I’ve been in
In The Damnation as well, Frederic chronicles the currents of spiritual change and unrest that were so much a part of the post-war years. “The old ideality has failed; it cannot continue with influence in an America that has awakened to/the implications of the Darwinist philosophy and the new historical and anthropological findings about organized religion” (60). As Theron is unprepared and unwilling to accept these new currents of thought and is unable to reject them in their various and appealing forms, he brings about his own damnation by trying to reconcile them within the narrowness of his own thinking (61). He cannot accept a religion that accepts the new biblical criticism while ministering to the masses on the bases of their psychological need for some kind of belief in higher power.
The place of
art in society has always been a subject of interest and controversy. During
the 1870s, much argument arose regarding the role of the artist in society, and
Roderick Hudson reflects some of the
ongoing debate. All of the artists depicted in the novel are Americans who have
Roderick advocates the Greek approach to art. He states, “I mean never to make anything ugly. The Greeks never made anything ugly, and I’m a Hellenist!. . .For me it’s either that or nothing. It’s against the taste of the day, I know; we’ve really lost the faculty to understand beauty in the large ideal way. We stand like a race with shrunken muscles, staring helplessly at the weights our forefathers easily lifted.”
One of the American artists who cannot accept Roderick’s “Greek idea” is Gloriani, another sculptor, who contends that there is no essential difference between beauty and ugliness and that to try to separate the elements is “a waste of wit.” According to Gloriani, there is no more use trying to be “Greek” than there is in waiting for the Muse to descend. The true artist must learn to do without both the Greeks and the Muse.
Another friend, Sam Singleton, represents the
struggling American artist in
Augusta Blanchard, another American painter, seems to be a combination of several of James’ acquaintances, according to critics—Lizzie Boott and Sarah Freeman Clarke perhaps. Miss Blanchard has her own money but is not above selling her pictures. She paints mostly flowers, but occasionally does one of a peasant woman with her back turned because she does backs well but is a little weak with faces. Miss Blanchard is admired by others for her combination of “beauty and talent, of isolation and self-support.”
In these four
artists, James presents a cross-section of the American artistic fraternity
that existed in
Leon Edel further states, “With the artists came the mere dabblers and the dilettantes. . . .There always were amateurs besides the hard workers; always dilettantes to read poems, admire pictures—and to imitate them” (63). One such dilettante in The Damnation is Celia Madden. She is an “out-and-out Greek,” who agrees more with Greek thought, the Greek theology of the beautiful and the strong, and the Greek philosophy of life than she does with modern teachings. Celia dabbles in painting, book-binding, sculpture, writing, carpentry, and music. In her apartment, Theron finds pictures of the Virgin Mary, spaced alternately between statues of unrobed figures, a spectacle that seems highly incongruous to Theron’s uninitiated artistic sense. Celia is determined that the “Greek idea” will ultimately prevail and that art, poetry, and the love of beauty will be restored to the Catholic religion as they existed before the “Fathers” extinguished them. Celia Madden is totally free to indulge her tastes for the new art, but once he is exposed to Celia’s ideas, Theron cannot turn back to his narrow ideals that have now been destroyed (64). Roderick Hudson ends with Roderick’s violent suicidal death in the stormy Italian Alps, but Lotus Snow suggests that “his physical death only complements the death of his genius” (65). Roderick himself had said earlier, “The end of my work shall be the end of my life. When I’ve played my last card I shall cease to care for the game.” Roderick’s physical death then is merely symbolic because after his spiritual degeneration, he had not really lived at all.
Regarding the ending of The Damnation, George W. Johnson feels that Theron “has no absolution, and his final dilemma is that he does not and cannot know whether he is a colossal sinner or only an average sort of man . . . He cannot know how or whether he is really damned at all” (66). As the novel ends, we see Theron preparing to go West with lofty dreams of entering the political arena and becoming a great leader. Evidence suggests, however, that the ending of the novel as it appears may have been a late addition. Frederic’s original notes for the ending read, “Soulsby & wife at deathbed—their words finish book” (67). The possibility exists that Roderick Hudson and Theron Ware, by their physical deaths, were to have carried the parallel comparison to the very end.
Considering the remarkable similarities between the two works, a natural question arises concerning Frederic’s possible awareness of the James novel and whether there could have been conscious or unconscious “borrowing” on Frederic’s part along several lines. We do know that at the time of the publication of Roderick Hudson (1876), Frederic was working as a proofreader for the Utica Herald and the Utica Daily Observer, for which he reviewed a number of the novels of William Dean Howells. By 1880, Frederic had become the editor of the Utica Daily Observer, a post that he held until the summer of 1882. It seems likely, then, that Frederic would have been aware of James’ early novels, which, in addition to Roderick Hudson, included The American, Daisy Miller, and Portrait of a Lady.
subsequently served as editor of the Albany
from 1882-1884. After this, he moved to
However, perhaps the most cogent argument for Frederic’s familiarity with James’ novels, and Roderick Hudson in particular, is the fact that Frederic reviewed Princess Casamassima in 1887. Surely he would have known about the earlier depiction of the main character as she first appears in Roderick Hudson. If so, two intriguing questions remain—was Frederic “borrowing” from James by doing essentially the same thing that James had done 20 years earlier, or are the amazing resemblances between the two novels merely a result of the “realistic method” of writing about what one knows, considering that both authors were writing about the same time period in American culture? The irony of the connection between the two works is even more poignant because Frederic openly expressed his dislike of James’ work. Perhaps James enjoys the last laugh after all.
Speculation aside, what we do know is that both James and Frederic struggled with the ancient—yet modern—problem of the freedom of the human will, the problem of the individual vs. society, the question of personal morality, and the individual’s search for ultimate truth. Although they were often critical of American attitudes, the two artists revealed both an interest in and a concern for their country, whose “growing pains” were disturbing to many artists. Whatever the relationship between the two novels, by striving to faithfully record life as they experienced it, Henry James and Harold Frederic have provided us with memorable glimpses of American life as it existed in the 1870s.
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2 Robert Falk, “The Search for Reality: Writers and Their Literature” in The Gilded
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4 Falk, 207.
5 Carter, “Introduction” x.
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8 Personal letter
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12 George W. Johnson, “Harold Frederic’s Young Goodman Ware: The Ambiguities
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13 Edel, “Introduction” xi.
14 Henry S. Canby, Turn West, Turn East (Boston: Houghton, 1951) 114.
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19 Edel, “Introduction” xiv.
20 Carter, “Introduction” xvii.
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24 Canby, 28.
26 Johnson, 367.
28 Johnson, 366.
29 Edel, “Introduction” xii.
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37 O’Donnell and Franchere, 115.
38 Edwin T. Bowden, The Themes of Henry James (New Haven: Yale U., 1956) 27.
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40 Edel, “Introduction” viii.
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