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based on the idea ˜˜that a healthy economy must incessantly expand or
grow,™™³⁹ whereas the closed model is predicated on satiated plenitude.
Of course, both medical models of the male body promulgate proper
regulation of expenditure, whether the regulatory mechanism involves
prudent hoarding or prudent spending in appropriate venues, that is,

The constitution of the bachelor invalid
venues which are ideally heterosexual, marital, coital, and reproduc-
tive.
Ralph™s investment in Isabel raises two sets of questions about his ill
health and the vicarious way of being associated with it. Assuming a
closed energy system, one might ask: does Ralph™s emotional and
¬nancial spending constitute a pro¬‚igate spilling of his seed (money), a
reckless, promiscuous, and even ˜˜perverted™™ expenditure of his limited
resources, or is it a way for him prudently to make use of his limited
physical energies? Assuming an open energy system, one might ask:
does Ralph™s ˜˜spending™™ constitute a proper, therapeutic expenditure, a
necessary, if vicarious, venting of male energies that would otherwise
˜˜back up™™ and hasten his demise, or does his illness itself signal that he is
improperly channelling his resources in ways that are overstimulating
and themselves pathological? James™s text leaves these questions unan-
swered. The impossibility of adjudicating with any certainty among the
possible answers raised by these questions, either separately or taken
together, results from the tensions within and between the closed and
open economies of the male body in this ±° novel. When Ralph
asserts that ˜˜It™s impossible for a man in my state of health to spend
much money, and enough is as good as a feast™™ (©, p. µ·) and asks his
father to ˜˜kindly relieve me of my super¬‚uity and make it over to Isabel™™
(©, p. ±), he indicates that his investment in Isabel is therapeutic, or at
least nontoxic, under either bodily economy. But Mr. Touchett™s
anxiety about the ˜˜immoral[ity]™™ (©, p. ) of Ralph™s way of ˜˜tak[ing]
an interest™™ (©, p. ) in Isabel suggests the possibility that his vicarious
investment in her is less than salutary in its e¬ects on Ralph and Isabel
alike. Mr. Touchett™s perplexed observation that ˜˜Young men are very
di¬erent from what I was. When I cared for a girl “ when I was young “ I
wanted to do more than look at her™™ (©, p. ) also indicates a perceived
shift in styles of male heterosexual desire, as well as a tension between
models of male embodiment that are both chronologically consecutive
and simultaneous.
The ambiguities raised by the novel™s competing models of the male
body are compounded by other, related but not identical, ambiguities
raised by two competing models of manhood that bear on Ralph™s
consumptive masculine subjectivity: civilized manliness versus primi-
tive masculinity. As discussed in chapter ±, Gail Bederman among
others has compellingly mapped the incomplete and uneven shift from
mid-nineteenth-century civilized manliness characterized by emotional
and physical self-restraint, to turn-of-the-century primitive masculin-
 Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
ity, a style of bourgeois manhood that partook of behavior and prin-
ciples including roughness of manner, bodily excess, and sexual unre-
straint. Admittedly, it is di¬cult to see the primitive man in Ralph, so
¬rmly does his cultured urbanity seem to place him in the camp of
civilized manliness; his aesthetic sensibility and his riches are more
suggestive of aristocratic than working-class manhood. If any charac-
ter in the novel is a likely candidate for the new, primitive masculinity,
it would surely be Caspar Goodwood, with his ˜˜hard manhood™™ (©©,
p. ) and his way of ˜˜show[ing] his appetites and designs too simply
and artlessly™™ (©, p. ±µ). But Ralph™s specular and speculative invest-
ment in Isabel can nonetheless be understood along the lines of either
of these models of manhood: either as a form of masculine self-regula-
tion, self-restraint, even as self-renunciation, or as a self-indulgent and
self-asserting way of ful¬lling his own vicarious desires (a tendency
associated both with the aristocratic libertine and the working-class
tough). While they are often mutually exclusive of each other, primi-
tive and civilized styles of manhood strikingly come together, for
example, in one of Ralph™s attempts to see behind Isabel™s mask and
thereby to help her:

He had an almost savage desire to hear her complain of her husband “ hear her
say that she should be held accountable for Lord Warburton™s defection . . . He
would have liked to warn Isabel of it “ to let her see at least how he judged for
her and how he knew. It little mattered that Isabel would know much better; it
was for his own satisfaction more than for hers that he longed to show her he
was not deceived . . . [H]er cry for help . . . was the only thing he was bound to
consider. (©©, pp. µ±“)

I would note here, following Bederman™s lead, that despite the cultural
fantasy of the essential unregulatedness of primitive masculinity, this
style of manhood is no less culturally mediated than the more patently
regulated, civilized manliness.
Since both civilized and primitive manhoods, and both open and
closed economies of the male body, are simultaneously at work and in
contention in this ±° novel, Ralph™s economic and emotional invest-
ment in Isabel both builds and diminishes his symbolic gender capital.
One plausible net result is that Ralph™s imaginary accumulations de-
pend upon and even exacerbate his physical depletion; as Ralph™s
body wastes, his fantasmatic masculine ˜˜identity,™™ rooted in the visual
vicariousness of his invalidism, becomes correspondingly ˜˜massive™™ (©,
p. ±). Such a reading assumes that Ralph™s vicariousness is essentially
µ
The constitution of the bachelor invalid
vampiristic, that Ralph feeds o¬ others, especially Isabel and even o¬
himself. The process of exchange which saps Ralph™s own lifeblood in
order to replenish his mental ˜˜sacred fount™™ thus resembles the mu-
tual transfusion between individuals that obsesses the bachelor nar-
rator of The Sacred Fount, except that in Portrait the trade-o¬ occurs
between body and mind and within one individual. Such self-con-
sumption suggests self-cannibalism as much as self-vampirism, evoking
a scenario in which the civilized man ingests his primitive counter-
part™s body, after having cooked it in the mental ˜˜stewpot or crucible
of the imagination, of the observant and recording and interpreting
mind,™™ the organ of consumption that James typically associates in his
writings with the ¬gure of the artist.⁴° I admit that this scenario of
self-cannibalism is never made explicit in James™s Portrait, though
Ralph™s odd comparison of himself to Caliban (©, p. ±), that para-
digm of primitivism, does suggest the possibility of this type of reverse
self-colonization.⁴¹
Such an interpretation, however, downplays the ways in which
Ralph™s consumption also engenders his increased sensitivity to and
sympathy for others, traits that run counter to his tendency to objectify
and consume others. While Ralph™s illness makes him the emblem of a
way of being that characterizes all of the characters in the novel, it also
distinguishes him from those others. As I will argue later, the literalized
pathology of Ralph™s consumption contributes to his portrayal as a kind
of martyr, an innocent whose death symbolically, though not unprob-
lematically, enables others to live. Ralph™s consumption allows him to
participate in the consciousnesses of others. This participation is not
merely pathological but life-giving, not merely terminal but restorative
of himself and others. In crossing the line between life and death, and in
breaching the boundaries of identity that divide self and other, the
bachelor invalid in Portrait, as in Wuthering Heights and Blithedale, stands as
a potentially revisionary ¬gure of masculine selfhood.
An example of the self/other divide as reconstituted with a di¬erence
by Ralph™s consumption can be found within Ralph himself. The
description of the onset of Ralph™s invalidism suggests his alienated
sense of self-di¬erence:
He had caught a violent cold, which ¬xed itself on his lungs and threw them
into dire confusion. He had to give up work and apply, to the letter, the sorry
injunction to take care of himself. At ¬rst he slighted the task; it appeared to him
it was not himself in the least he was taking care of, but an uninteresting and
uninterested person with whom he had nothing in common. This person,
 Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
however, improved on acquaintance, and Ralph grew at least to have a certain
grudging tolerance, even an undemonstrative respect, for him. (©, pp. µ±“)

˜˜This person™™ is, of course, Ralph himself, but the point is that he is a
new Ralph with a new identity: Ralph the consumptive invalid. While
the narrative describes him as gradually accepting of this ˜˜person with
whom he had nothing in common,™™ it is an acceptance based on an
uneasy sense of his own alterity. This sense of self-di¬erence is at once
the sign of pathology and the sign, if not of recovery, then of his learning
to live with his disease and his ˜˜other self.™™
Another version of Ralph™s self-reconciliation, a self-reconciliation
not incompatible with a fundamental sense of self-alienation, appears in
the scene of conspicuous invalidism with which the novel opens, the tea
party on the lawn at Gardencourt. The narrator obliquely notes that
˜˜the persons concerned in it were taking their pleasure quietly, and they
were not of the sex which is supposed to furnish the regular votaries of
the ceremony I have mentioned™™ (©, pp. ±“). The ¬gures composing this
tea party are, that is to say, male, an inversion of conventional gender
roles that bears on Ralph™s conspicuously gender-bending or gender-
revising consumption. The conversation of these male ¬gures is, more-
over, indistinguishable from the discourse of invalidism and the sick-
room: does Mr. Touchett want more tea? is he comfortable? does he
need his lap shawl or not? is the tea hot enough? The ˜˜Mr. Touchett™™
here is not Ralph but his elderly and ailing father, a doubling or merging
of identities made explicit by the father™s praise of Ralph™s deft attentive-
ness: ˜˜he™s not clumsy “ considering that he™s an invalid himself. He™s a
very good nurse “ for a sick-nurse. I call him my sick-nurse because he™s
sick himself™™ (©, p. ).
Mr. Touchett™s wordplay typi¬es the arch double-entendre of the
opening scene as a whole. Earlier, Mr. Touchett refers to himself and
Ralph as ˜˜two lame ducks™™ (©, p. ·): he can™t walk and Ralph himself is
˜˜not very ¬rm on his legs™™ (©, p. ). When Mr. Touchett rubs his own
legs in response to Ralph™s solicitous inquiry about whether he is cold,
he says ˜˜I can™t tell till I feel.™™ This response prompts Ralph to reply,
˜˜Perhaps someone might feel for you,™™ which Mr Touchett playfully
caps, ˜˜Oh, I hope some one will always feel for me!™™ (©, p. ). All of these
puns rhetorically amplify the doubling or permeability of self associated
with Ralph™s illness. The doubling of the ˜˜sick-nurse™™ is particularly
evocative of permeability since it suggests the intense identi¬cation of
nurse and patient which o¬sets the alienation within the self produced
·
The constitution of the bachelor invalid
by Ralph™s illness. Just as Ralph feels a certain resentful detachment
from his newly consumptive self, he also feels a certain self-asserting or
self-interested ˜˜dis-ease™™ with his father™s illness, especially at ¬rst:
Ralph had always taken for granted that his father would survive him “ that his
own name would be the ¬rst grimly called. The father and son had been close
companions, and the idea of being left alone with the remnant of a tasteless life
on his hands was not gratifying to the young man, who had always and tacitly
counted upon his elder™s help in making the best of a poor business.⁴² (©, p. µ)

The tenderness for his father that Ralph displays in the novel™s opening
vignette suggests that he has come to a sympathetic engagement with his
father™s sick self that matches the sympathetic self-respect he has learned
to have for his own invalid ˜˜other self.™™ Ralph™s performance of the part
of his father™s ˜˜sick-nurse™™ is not a self-denying evacuation of identity,
but rather a self-ful¬lling identi¬cation with another.
Ralph™s ˜˜other self™™ also materializes in a moment of bantering with
Henrietta Stackpole. When Henrietta asks Ralph whether he will be yet
another suitor for Isabel™s hand, he ¬‚irtatiously parries that he is ˜˜in love
with Another!™™ Henrietta responds to his attempt at gallantry, ˜˜You™re
in love with yourself, that™s the Other!™™ (©, p. ±). What Henrietta sees
in Ralph is not healthy self-love, but self-centered and destructive
narcissism. Like Madame Merle, Henrietta believes that Ralph primar-
ily cultivates himself, that he participates in a closed circuit of desire in
which the self is the sole subject and object. Ralph™s spectatorship is not,
however, a hermetically sealed circuit of self-regard in which self-image
encloses an utterly empty center and other people are merely disposable
packaging. His desires are both other-centered and self-centered, disin-
terested and self-interested, nurturant and self-nurturing. His vicarious-
ness does not completely eliminate or neutralize his sympathy for others;
his role as a re¬‚ector does not completely reduce others to objects
paralyzed by the glare of his gaze.
This other e¬ect of Ralph™s onlooking is most vivid in his deathbed
scene, a spectacle-in-the-text which inverts the conventionally gendered
Victorian tableau in which a dying woman or child is mourned by a
husband, suitor, son, or father, ¬gures who play supporting roles and
also perform as the audience for the spectacle. Here, the woman is the
spectator, though also a crucial performer in the scene, and the dying
man is the spectacle to be visually consumed. Moreover, the Victorian
˜˜angel in the house™™ is re¬gured here as an ˜˜angel of death.™™ Ralph tells
Isabel that ˜˜You™ve been like an angel beside my bed. You know they
 Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
talk about the angel of death. It™s the most beautiful of all. You™ve been
like that; as if you were waiting for me™™ (©©, pp. ±“±). When Isabel
denies that she has been waiting for his death, Ralph corrects her:
˜˜There™s nothing makes us feel so much alive as to see others die. That
the sensation of life “ the sense that we remain. I™ve had it “ even I. But
now I™m of no use but to give it to others. With me it™s all over™™ (©©,
p. ±). Ralph represents himself as making the ultimate sacri¬ce, as
giving his life so that Isabel may live vicariously through witnessing the
spectacle. This donation of self is not only self-abnegating; it is also
self-ful¬lling in much the same way that we have come to understand a
particular style of bourgeois Victorian femininity: as predicated upon a
paradoxically self-assertive self-sacri¬ce. In the Christ-like performance
of the ˜˜powers of the weak,™™ the weaker one is, the more one has to give.
In other words, the trajectory of the deathbed gaze is bi-directional
and ambivalent. If Isabel watches at Ralph™s deathbed, then Ralph
watches Isabel back. His gaze, like hers, re¬‚ects both the di¬erences and
the similarities between them. The words accompanying their looks
simultaneously acknowledge and deny, simultaneously reinforce and
tear down, the boundaries between them and between life and death:

˜˜O Ralph, you™ve been everything! What have I done for you “ what can I do
to-day? I would die if you could live. But I don™t wish you to live; I would die
myself, not to lose you.™™ (©©, p. ±)

˜˜You won™t lose me “ you™ll keep me. Keep me in your heart; I shall be nearer
to you than I™ve ever been. Dear Isabel, life is better; for in life there™s love.
Death is good “ but there™s no love.™™ (©©, pp. ±“±)

The permeability of boundaries extends to the boundaries within indi-
viduals as well as those between them: ˜˜She felt a passionate need to cry
out and accuse herself, to let her sorrow possess her. All her troubles, for
the moment, became single and melted together into this present pain™™
(©©, p. ±). The melting together and becoming single occasioned by
Isabel™s ˜˜passionate need™™ resembles the mingling of Isabel and Ralph
occasioned by the spectacular intensity of their specular relations: ˜˜no-
thing mattered now but the only knowledge that was not pure anguish “
the knowledge that they were looking at the truth together™™ (©©, p. ±).
This mutual looking at a common object, like their gaze at each other,
bestows upon Ralph and Isabel an intersubjectivity that makes them
one while allowing their di¬erences:

The constitution of the bachelor invalid
˜˜Yes, he was in love with me. But he wouldn™t have married me if I had been
poor. I don™t hurt you in saying that. How can I? I only want you to understand.
I always tried to keep you from understanding; but that™s all over.™™
˜˜I always understood,™™ said Ralph.
˜˜I thought you did, and I didn™t like it. But now I like it.™™
˜˜You don™t hurt me “ you make me very happy.™™ And as Ralph said this
there was an extraordinary gladness in his voice. (©©, p. ±µ)

In this sentimental scene, the mutual understanding of ˜˜looking at the
truth together™™ is potentially redemptive. The masochistic self-renunci-
ation which ¬nally joins Ralph and Isabel most closely “ ˜˜˜Oh my
brother!™ she cried with a movement of still deeper prostration™™ (©©,
p. ±·) “ is pleasurable because painful, a su¬ering whose comfort lies in

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