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˜˜omniscient™™ authorial narration in longer ¬ction. In the next chapter, I
will analyze James™s critical objections to ¬rst-person narration, reveal-
ing the gendered signi¬cance of his reservations, while considering the
gendered implications of the epistemological indeterminacies produced
by ¬rst-person narration and by re¬‚ector ¬gures, as embodied by the
bachelor ¬gures who appear in his shorter ¬ctions. Here, I will attend to
the narrative and thematic role of the consumptive bachelor invalid as
narrative re¬‚ector in Portrait, tracing the gendered and authorial impli-
cations of Ralph Touchett™s vicarious investments. The vexed relation
of Portrait™s bachelor invalid to the ˜˜great ¬nancial house™™ (©, p. ±) of
Touchett gives shape to the novel™s ˜˜literary form,™™ a form which James
famously envisioned as one of ˜˜a million “ a number of possible
windows™™ in ˜˜the house of ¬ction™™ (LC, p. ±°·µ).
When James justi¬es ˜˜the idea of making one™s protagonist ˜sick™™™ in
the Preface to The Wings of the Dove, that most emphatically invalid-
centered of his ¬ctions, he invokes his earlier use of Ralph Touchett as
an ˜˜accessory invalid™™:
Why should a ¬gure be disquali¬ed for a central position by the particular
·
The constitution of the bachelor invalid
circumstance that might most quicken, that might crown with a ¬ne intensity,
its liability to many accidents, its consciousness of all relations? . . . One had
moreover, as a various chronicler, one™s secondary physical weaklings and
failures, one™s accessory invalids “ introduced with a complacency that made
light of criticism. To Ralph Touchett in ˜˜The Portrait of a Lady,™™ for instance,
his deplorable state of health was not only no drawback; I had clearly been right
in counting it, for any happy e¬ect he should produce, a positive good mark, a
direct aid to pleasantness and vividness. (LC, p. ±)

James describes Ralph™s illness as enhancing his function as a narrative
device because illness provides Ralph, and therefore the author and
reader, with heightened access to experience. By prohibiting the more
mundane events and perceptions of good health, illness ˜˜crown[s] with
a ¬ne intensity™™ Ralph™s ˜˜consciousness of all relations,™™ ˜˜quicken[ing]™™
them both in frequency and quality. When James notes the ˜˜pleasant-
ness and vividness™™ produced by Ralph™s invalidism, it sounds as if he is
describing Ralph™s invalidism as a social asset as much as a ¬ctional one.
He goes on to describe this dual enhancement of Ralph™s character as a
gendered conundrum:

The reason of this moreover could never in the world have been his fact of sex;
since men, among the mortally a¬„icted, su¬er on the whole more overtly and
more grossly than women, and resist with a ruder and an inferior strategy. I had
thus to take that anomaly for what it was worth, and I give it here but as one of
the ambiguities amid which my subject ended by making itself at home and
seating itself quite in con¬dence. (LC, pp. ±“)

James identi¬es as an ˜˜anomaly™™ the salutary e¬ect of this male charac-
ter™s terminal su¬ering on other characters and on the novel, if not on
himself. The mystery behind this ˜˜ambiguity™™ comes clear in the assess-
ment, focalized in Portrait through Isabel™s consciousness, of the e¬ect of
illness on Ralph™s character: ˜˜He was so charming that her sense of his
being ill had hitherto had a sort of comfort in it; the state of his health
had seemed not a limitation but a kind of intellectual advantage; it
absolved him from all professional and o¬cial emotions and left him the
luxury of being exclusively personal™™ (©©, pp. µ“°). Isabel judges
Ralph™s illness a social asset because it ˜˜absolve[s]™™ its masculine subject
of normatively bourgeois masculine preoccupations, the ˜˜professional
and o¬cial,™™ and thereby leaves him ˜˜the luxury of being exclusively
personal.™™ For Isabel as for James, Ralph™s illness is an ˜˜advantage,™™
recalling Madame Merle™s wry estimation of Ralph as ˜˜very lucky to
have a chronic malady™™ (©, p. ±).
 Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
The corrupt but clear-seeing Madame Merle pinpoints the role of his
illness in Ralph™s masculine self-constitution:

˜˜Look at poor Ralph Touchett: what sort of a ¬gure do you call that?
Fortunately he has a consumption; I say fortunately, because it gives him
something to do. His consumption™s his carriere; it™s a kind of position. You can
`
say: ˜Oh, Mr Touchett, he takes care of his lungs, he knows a great deal about
climates.™ But without that who would he be, what would he represent? ˜Mr
Ralph Touchett: an American who lives in Europe.™ That signi¬es absolutely
nothing “ it™s impossible anything should signify less. ˜He™s very cultivated,™
they say: ˜he has a very pretty collection of old snu¬-boxes.™ The collection is all
that™s wanted to make it pitiful. I™m tired of the sound of the word; I think it™s
grotesque. With the poor old father it™s di¬erent; he has his identity, and it™s
rather a massive one. He represents a great ¬nancial house, and that, in our
day, is as good as anything else. For an American, at any rate, that will do very
well. But I persist in thinking your cousin very lucky to have a chronic malady
so long as he doesn™t die of it.™™ (©, pp. °“±)

Madame Merle describes Ralph™s illness as an avocation that, however
enervated, sustains a conspicuously leisurely American man abroad.
Providing Ralph with ˜˜something to do,™™ invalidism also provides him
with something or someone to be, with something or someone to
˜˜represent.™™ Lacking the professional a¬liation that con¬rms his fa-
ther™s ˜˜massive™™ masculine ˜˜identity,™™ Ralph makes do with an alter-
nate career in knowing a great deal about climates and cultivating his
health.
Madame Merle™s analogy to the collection of snu¬-boxes is pointed.
It has become a critical commonplace that Portrait levels its most strin-
gent criticism at a way of living that depends on the act of collecting,
on aesthetic connoisseurship of objects and aesthetic ˜˜cultivation™™ of
persons, persons who may include others as well as oneself.³² Under
such an aestheticizing regime, as Madame Merle explains to Isabel,
˜˜one™s house, one™s furniture, one™s garments, the books one reads, the
company one keeps “ these things are all expressive™™ (©, pp. ·“). If
acquaintances, friends, and even family can be numbered among one™s
expressive things, then human beings are reduced to a decidedly ob-
ject-like and material status. They become, in Marx™s formulation,
˜˜commodity fetishes.™™ The pathologized culture of consumption, the
alienated and alienating consumer culture that is the world of James™s
Portrait, is emblematized by Ralph™s illness. Ralph™s consumption is the
very ˜˜germ,™™ to use a quintessentially Jamesian metaphor, of the
novel. When selves are coextensive with self-presentation, then even

The constitution of the bachelor invalid
one™s own body is merely part of the packaging. Ultimately, the indi-
vidual™s most inner self may prove itself to be alienated, heartless,
hollow at the core.
Of course, the character in the novel who comes closest to having an
utter heart of darkness is Gilbert Osmond, whom Madame Merle
describes as being an even more identity-de¬cient American man
abroad than Ralph: ˜˜. . . he lives in Italy; that™s all one can say about him
or make of him. He™s exceedingly clever, a man made to be distin-
guished; but, as I tell you, you exhaust the description when you say he™s
Mr Osmond who lives tout betement in Italy. No career, no name, no
ˆ
position, no fortune, no past, no future, no anything™™ (©, p. ±). Lacking
even the alternate career in invalidism which compensates Ralph for his
meagerness of conventionally masculine ¬liations, Osmond is a¬„icted
with a ˜˜worse case™™ (©, p. ±) of expatriate American manhood than
Ralph himself. Osmond™s acquisition of Isabel and her fortune is the
most ruthless act of unsympathetic detachment and opportunistic ex-
ploitation in the novel, a marital merger of individual lives that is clearly
a hostile takeover. Yet virtually all of the characters in the novel, from
Ned Rosier and Pansy, to Henrietta Stackpole and Lord Warburton, to
Isabel herself, display symptoms of the aesthetic possessiveness and
exploitiveness that a¬„ict Osmond most virulently, though not as ter-
minally as they a¬„ict Ralph.
While vicariously consumptive self-constitution is limited neither to
bourgeois men nor to expatriate Americans, the novel™s bourgeois
expatriate American men “ Osmond, Ralph, and Caspar Goodwood “
do seem to su¬er more than others from their consumptive self-constitu-
tion. While one might expect Caspar Goodwood to be immune to the
condition that plagues all the characters in the novel, even this embodi-
ment of seemingly impermeable manhood turns out to be susceptible.
Introduced as an ex-Harvard athlete who can ˜˜vault and pull and
strain™™ (©, p. ±) intellectually as well as physically, and as the holder of a
patent for a mechanical cotton-spinner in that most American of indus-
tries, Caspar is characterized in strikingly phallic and aggressive terms,
culminating with his name: ˜˜There were intricate, bristling things he
rejoiced in; he liked to organise, to contend, to administer; he could
make people work his will . . . there was nothing cottony about Caspar
Goodwood™™ (©, p. ±). This initial character sketch appears to situate
Caspar outside, or above, the aesthetic consumption that a¬„icts the
others. But Caspar is merely on the supply side of what is, after all, a
consumer culture; the separation of the production of his cotton textiles
° Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
from their consumption is deceptive. Moreover, Caspar spends the
preponderance of the novel on the European side, or consumer side, of
the Atlantic. Caspar is an absentee captain of the industry that enables
the languorous, expatriate, aestheticizing consumption at which the
novel takes its most direct aim.³³
The metaphors of eating, seeing, and spending that Ralph uses to
describe his own terminal condition map out the contours of the
consumptive self in this consumer culture. Consider, for example,
Ralph™s demurral when Isabel asks him point-blank whether he, too,
intends to propose to her:

By no means. From the point of view I speak of that would be fatal; I should kill
the goose that supplies me with the material of my inimitable omelettes. I use
that animal as the symbol of my insane illusions. What I mean is that I shall
have the thrill of seeing what a young lady does who won™t marry Lord
Warburton. (©, p. ±)

Ralph speaks of killing the goose but the fatality at issue is his own. The
metaphoric energy of his utterance also seems to put Isabel in danger of
extinction “ the goose seems as much an emblem for her as it is a
˜˜symbol™™ of Ralph™s ˜˜insane illusions.™™ Isabel™s value for Ralph de-
pends upon her delivery of ˜˜the material of his inimitable omelettes,™™
upon a performance that furnishes him with ˜˜the thrill of seeing.™™ If
Ralph eats his goose, he can™t have his golden eggs too.
In the passage cited above, Ralph™s metaphor for bodily consumption
“ eating “ is linked to a ¬gure of visual consumption. If life is something
to be eaten like an ˜˜omelette,™™ then Ralph must take it in through his
eyes. By endowing Isabel with the means to ful¬ll ˜˜the requirements of
[her] imagination™™ (©, p. ±), Ralph also enables himself to meet ˜˜the
requirements of my imagination™™ (©, p. µ), to live for and through the
vicarious ˜˜thrill of seeing™™ (©, p. ±):

What kept Ralph alive was simply the fact that he had not yet seen enough of
the person in the world in whom he was most interested: he was not yet
satis¬ed. There was more to come; he couldn™t make up his mind to lose that.
He wanted to see what she would make of her husband “ or what her husband
would make of her. This was only the ¬rst act of the drama, and he was
determined to sit out the performance. (©©, pp. ±“·)

If Ralph is literally ˜˜kept alive by suspense™™ (©©, p. ±·), the suspense of
the story results in part from his initial speculative investment in the
story: ˜˜What™s the use of being ill and disabled and restricted to mere
±
The constitution of the bachelor invalid
spectatorship at the game of life if I really can™t see the show when I™ve
paid so much for my ticket?™™ (©, pp. °“±°). Ralph hasn™t simply paid
the price of his ticket, he has backed the entire show by engineering the
elder Mr. Touchett™s bequest. Thus, when Isabel brings up her decision
to marry Osmond, Ralph tells her, repeating an expression he uses
when they ¬rst discuss her inheritance, that ˜˜if you were to get into
trouble I should feel terribly sold™™ (©©, p. ·µ; see also ©, p. °).
Ralph™s fear of ˜˜feeling terribly sold™™ reveals his desire to be the active
subject rather than the passive object of economic exchange, to sell
rather than to be sold. It suggests his desire to have made a shrewd
economic investment, to have proved himself a savvy businessman
rather than a sucker, to take rather than to be taken in. These desires
suggest Ralph™s investment in activity over passivity, and in a market-
place ethos in which reciprocity is an illusory ideal at best. They also
reveal Ralph™s attempt to realign himself with a particular style of
marketplace masculinity, despite or even by virtue of his illness. Ralph™s
illness may require him to ˜˜give up work™™ (©, p. µ±), to remove himself
from the marketplace as well as from the marriage market, but he
reinserts himself into the public, productive, masculine arena of the
agora through his speculative investment in Isabel. In the speculative
market economy of the late nineteenth century, spending was a part of
business as usual: an entrepreneur or venture capitalist had to spend big
to earn big. While conspicuous consumption was in many respects
associated with bourgeois femininity, expenditure itself was hardly con-
¬ned to the dista¬, the supposedly private and feminine side, of con-
sumer culture. Thus, if Ralph™s big spending potentially undermines, or
reveals the preexisting fragility, of both his health and his manhood, it
also reinforces and even enables his participation in this normatively
masculine public arena. Ultimately, the complexities of Ralph™s mascu-
line subjectivity, and his narrative function as a re¬‚ector, are generated
by the competition between di¬erent models, or ˜˜economies,™™ of econ-
omy itself, of the body, and of manhood. I will describe these internally
con¬‚icted models and their bearing on Ralph™s identity in the order I
have listed them here.
A nascent market economy came into existence as early as the twelfth
century. But hostility to speculation based on the assumption that ˜˜it
represents the antithesis of the natural, the productive, household econ-
omy,™™ ˜˜the birth of money from money,™™ as Aristotle referred to the
particular abomination of usury, had been voiced as far back as the
seventh century B.C., and probably much further.³⁴ With the industrial
 Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
revolution and the rise of industrial capitalism in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries, suspicions about speculation intensi¬ed.³µ These
suspicions targeted especially that property which wasn™t ˜˜real™™ but
˜˜personal,™™ and particularly that category of ˜˜personal property™™ which
encompassed ˜˜incorporeal™™ articles such as stocks and bonds.³⁶ In the
nineteenth century, the imaginary alternative par excellence to the speculat-
ive capitalist marketplace was the sphere of the home, the domestic
economy which was nostalgically imagined as divorced from the vagaries,
the competitiveness, and the disorder of the modern, public marketplace.
Another equally imaginary nineteenth-century alternative was found in
the notion of a pre-, non-, or anti-capitalist model of the marketplace: a
non-speculative, ˜˜closed system™™ in which economic resources are con-
ceived as ¬nite. In such a closed economy, resources must be hoarded
prudently or spent rationally since they cannot be renewed or multiplied
through speculation, a practice that can only succeed in a market that is
based on irrationality, on ˜˜desire and disorder.™™³· Ralph has a stake, I
would argue, in all these economies: both in the anti-market ideal of the
private sphere and in the market ideal of the public sphere; both in
domestic economy and in market economy; both in a ¬nite, ˜˜closed
system™™ and in an in¬nite ˜˜open system.™™ Each of these pairings reveals
the contrast, or contest, between an economy of satiated plenitude and an
economy of insatiable demand.
The analogy to these alternative or competing models of economy
in nineteenth-century medical discourse is the ˜˜closed energy™™ model
of the male body versus the ˜˜open energy™™ model. The closed bodily
economy, which was the predominant model until late in the nine-
teenth century, conceives of unregulated male sexual ˜˜spending™™ as
debilitating, depleting to a man™s ¬nite ˜˜spermatic economy™™ and
hence to the collective ˜˜spermatic economy™™ of a class or a nation,
even of mankind as a whole. In contrast, the open bodily economy, a
medical view which came into ascendence around the turn of the
century but which never completely eradicated the earlier model, en-
courages male sexual expression, viewing such expenditure as a
necessary investment in a man™s health.³⁸ The open model of the body
is roughly analogous to the economic system of insatiable demand,

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