<<

. 17
( 47 .)



>>

the fantasy of putting another™s interest before one™s own.⁴³
In the world of this novel, of course, such a fantasy is always subject to
question, since consumer culture, like Ralph™s consumption, is notori-
ously all-consuming; as Michael Gilmore has persuasively argued, ˜˜The
possibility of genuine deliverance from the commodity world is,
nonetheless, an illusion . . . Isabel [is] never more implicated in the value
system of advanced capitalism than in [her] renunciation™™ (p. ·). Thus
one would be well justi¬ed in pointing out that Ralph bene¬ts as much
or more than Isabel in ˜˜giving up™™ his inheritance to her. One might
well also note that Ralph doesn™t die for Isabel™s sake any more than he
manages truly to understand her in this scene. The ironizing distance
between Ralph™s and Isabel™s subjectivities that taints this scene of
mutual understanding indicates the inexorable boundary-asserting
force of the commodity world™s possessive, hierarchizing, property-
based relations.
But to insist that Isabel su¬ers because of Ralph™s gift is to deny her the
agency that Ralph as patron, and James as author, are eager to grant
her. Similarly, to insist solely upon the inexorability of commodity
relations in the world of this novel is to deny the possibility of resistance,
however futile, to this all-consuming force. Such insistence misses the
possibility of another register in the novel, a shadow world that diverges
from the exploitive self-interest which is the novel™s dominant note.
Such a reading would miss, for example, the di¬erences between the
sentimental discourse that characterizes the representation of self-other
mingling in Ralph™s deathbed scene and the economic discourse used
elsewhere in the novel to evoke possessive and hierarchical mergers of
individuals. When Ralph comes to Isabel™s bedside as a ghost, for
example, the narrative gestures toward a di¬erent order of connection,
±°° Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
between individuals as well as spheres, by shifting into a palpably
spiritualist discourse:
[Ralph] had told [Isabel], the ¬rst evening she ever spent at Gardencourt, that
if she should live to su¬er enough she might some day see the ghost with which
the old house was duly provided. She apparently had ful¬lled the necessary
condition; for the next morning, in the cold, faint dawn, she knew that a spirit
was standing by her bed . . . She heard no knock, but at the time the darkness
began vaguely to grow grey she started up from her pillow as abruptly as if she
had received a summons. It seemed to her for an instant that he was standing
there “ a vague, hovering ¬gure in the vagueness of the room. She stared a
moment; she saw his white face “ his kind eyes; then she saw there was nothing.
(©©, pp. ±“±)
Ralph comes to Isabel as a ghost, summoning her to his bedside, but too
late for her to see the last of him. When ˜˜[s]he opened the door with a
hand as gently as if she were lifting a veil from the face of the dead,™™
Ralph is already gone. The narrative™s ghostly representation of this
absent presence, its conspicuous non-representation of Ralph™s death
resembles its conspicuous non-representation of Isabel™s return to Os-
mond. Just as Isabel comes to Ralph™s door too late to see him again at
the opening of the ¬nal chapter, Caspar arrives at Henrietta™s door too
late to see Isabel again at the chapter™s, and the novel™s, close. The lady
vanishes, and only the bachelor re¬‚ector, a role in which Caspar now
has replaced Ralph, remains visible to the reader™s gaze in the novel™s
¬nal scene.
Caspar joins, or replaces, Ralph in his identity as an invalid bachelor
re¬‚ector who is ¬nally unable to see the ˜˜person in the world in whom
he was most interested™™ (©©, p. ±). It is true that Ralph™s ˜˜want of
seriousness™™ (©©, p. µ) and his ˜˜love of conversation™™ (©©, p. ±), traits
explicitly linked to his invalidism, initially distinguish him from Caspar.
Isabel numbers among Caspar™s other ˜˜defects™™ the ˜˜collective re-
proach of his being too serious, or, rather, not of his being so, since one
could never be, but certainly of his seeming so,™™ and the fact that ˜˜when
one was alone with him he talked too much about the same subject, and
when other people were present he talked too little about anything™™ (©,
p. ±µ). Toward the end of the novel, however, Caspar comes to have
more in common with Ralph, belying Henrietta™s belief that Caspar is
˜˜just the opposite of™™ (©, p. ±·) Ralph. When Caspar is charged by
Isabel to be Ralph™s ˜˜caretaker™™ and by Ralph to ˜˜care™™ for Isabel, he
takes on the role of the ˜˜sick-nurse™™ earlier associated with Ralph. And
when Caspar learns, belatedly, that Isabel has returned to Rome, he is
±°±
The constitution of the bachelor invalid
unable to move and has ˜˜added, on the spot, thirty years to his life™™ (©©,
p. ), traits that recall Ralph™s illness-associated premature aging and
his ultimate immobility on his deathbed. Henrietta™s injunction to
Caspar, ˜˜Look here, Mr Goodwood . . . just you wait!™™ (©©, p. ·), also
evokes the suspense that keeps Ralph alive. Thus, the ˜˜key to patience™™
(©©, p. ) that Henrietta believes she has given Caspar with these words
resembles the ˜˜key to the mystery™™ (©©, p. ±) of what sustains Ralph™s
life: his desire to see what Isabel will do.
Henrietta™s ˜˜Look here . . . just you wait!™™ provides the novel with
an open ending that might mean either hope or eternal despair, re-
demption or hell. Will ˜˜patience™™ give Caspar a chance, or will he be
left in eternal suspense? Does Ralph die so that Caspar might live, or is
Caspar a zombie-like reincarnation of Ralph, one who undergoes no
renewing rebirth but only an eternal death-in-life, a vampiristically
vicarious life as the undead? Of course, the open ending of the novel is
even more pointed with respect to Isabel: is her self-sacri¬ce ˜˜worth™™
anything? is it a successful form of resistance to the commodity world
or is it just the ultimate expression of subjection to it? The novel leaves
these questions unanswered, or perhaps answers them both ways.
Here, as in ˜˜Daisy Miller,™™ the ±· nouvelle that served as journeywork
for James™s more fully elaborated ±° portrait of the American girl
abroad, the traditional motif of the redemptive death of the innocent is
critiqued even while it is deployed. James overtly participates in this
traditionally moralistic plotting, while also covertly sending it up. Even
though he ˜˜signi¬es upon™™ this tradition, he also suggests that there is,
in fact, a better world beyond, an aesthetic world of intensely sympath-
etic vicariousness that transcends the lumpen, commodi¬ed fallenness
of life on this side of the veil. In James™s Portrait, this other world
beyond the pale is already present on earth in the sentimentalized
spectacle of the su¬ering male body, in the transubstantiation of selves
that occurs when Caspar assumes the onlooking though occluded per-
spective of this su¬ering male self, and when the reader is invited to do
the same.
The performance of these bachelor re¬‚ectors as witnesses, vicariously
experiencing the su¬ering of Isabel at several removes, is reiterated not
only by the readers of the text but also by its author. Other critics have
noted the variable, and gradually increasing, epistemological distance of
the authorial narrator from Isabel, a distance that corresponds to the
distance of Ralph Touchett from the ˜˜person in the world in whom he
was most interested™™ (©©, p. ±).⁴⁴ This image of the author as limited
±° Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
witness rather than omniscient creator correlates with the one that
James famously construes in his Preface to Portrait, where he represents
his own relation to his characters as an act of vicarious spectatorship, in
which the novelist looks out upon his ˜˜choice of subject™™ from within the
˜˜house of ¬ction™™ (LC, p. ±°·µ). This spectatorship is undeniably
tainted by hierarchical and possessive relations “ James notoriously
describes his ˜˜possession™™ of Isabel, her presence as a ˜˜rare little
˜piece™™™ in the ˜˜dusky, crowded, heterogeneous back-shop of the mind
[of the] wary dealer in precious odds and ends™™ (LC, p. ±°·), aligning
himself as author with Osmond as an objectifying aesthetic collector. He
also describes himself as having ˜˜waked up one morning in possession™™
of all of the novel™s subsidiary characters, whom he likens to the novel™s
hired help: ˜˜They were like the group of attendants and entertainers
who come down by train when people in the country give a party; they
represented the contract for carrying the party on™™ (LC, p. ±°±).
But James also describes these subsidiary characters as ˜˜privileged
high o¬cials . . . who ride with the king and queen™™ and as ˜˜true agents™™
with whom he enjoys relations of ˜˜con¬dence™™ and ˜˜trust,™™ relations
that depends upon their autonomy:
It was as if they had simply, by an impulse of their own, ¬‚oated into my ken, and
all in response to my primary question: ˜˜Well, what will she do?™™ Their answer
seemed to be that if I would trust them they would show me; on which, with an
urgent appeal to them to make it at least as interesting as they could, I trusted
them. (LC, ±°±)

Like Ralph, James is driven by the ˜˜primary question™™ of what Isabel
will do; like Ralph, James meets ˜˜the requirements of [his] imagination™™
by proxy; and like Ralph, James declines responsibility for being the
˜˜bene¬cent author of in¬nite woe™™ (©©, p. ±“), a label that gets
assigned to the elder Mr. Touchett through the focalized consciousness
of Isabel. As ˜˜apostles of freedom™™ (©©, p. µ), neither James nor Ralph
are fully disinterested. James himself admits in his Preface that the
autonomy he invests in his characters is a ˜˜trick™™ of his imagination:
˜˜the trick of investing some conceived or encountered individual, some
brace or group of individuals, with the germinal property and author-
ity™™ (LC, p. ±°·). While factitious, this ¬ction of autonomy allows
James to develop his method for avoiding the authorial intrusions of
telling, to show his subject via the mediating consciousnesses of his
re¬‚ectors. This willful self-dispossession grants the author a privileged, if
vicarious, access to experience which resembles that of his bachelor
±°
The constitution of the bachelor invalid
invalid re¬‚ector. In taking up residence in the house of ¬ction, James
articulates an authorial identity that draws upon the o¬-center mascu-
linity of Ralph, a bachelor invalid who represents but also renounces his
interest in the House of Touchett.
° 

An artist and a bachelor: Henry James, mastery,
and the life of art



London is on the whole the most possible form of life. I take it as an artist and a
bachelor; as one who has the passion of observation and whose business is the
study of human life . . . I had complete liberty, and the prospect of pro¬table
work . . . I took possession of London.¹


Thus wrote Henry James in his ¬rst American journal, glancing back-
ward in ±± to his ±· arrival in England. In representing himself as an
artist and a bachelor, James describes a double life divided between
˜˜passion™™ and ˜˜business,™™ yet joined by the single purpose of studious
observation. The appositive structure of the second sentence seems to
assign ˜˜passion™™ to the artist and ˜˜business™™ to the bachelor, suggesting
a constitutive di¬erence, a schism or struggle between two of the many
sources of identity that informed James™s sense of himself as an author.
Yet the artist and the bachelor seem here to be more compatible than
not. They are joined in harmony rather than in con¬‚ict: united by the
shared object of their gaze and particularly by the intensity that their
ways of seeing have in common. The artist and the bachelor share a
fascination with and dedication to that encompassing other, London,
which is itself a ˜˜form of life.™™
Artistry and bachelorhood were themselves ˜˜the most possible
form[s] of life™™ for James, two intricately bound aspects of masculine
authorial selfhood that James continually negotiated in his ¬ction and in
his criticism, his notebooks, and his private letters. While these identities
sometimes appear in his writings as deviations from bourgeois mascu-
line normativity, at other times they ¬gure as privileged forms of access
to hegemonic masculinity and thereby as potentially revisionary models
of normative manhood. It is worth noting that in aligning the artist with
passion and the bachelor with business, the passage from the American
journal does not fully re¬‚ect the fact that, in James™s historical moment,
bachelors were equally often associated with the self-indulgent excesses
±°
±°µ
Henry James, mastery, and the life of art
of passion and artists with the self-denying asceticism of studiousness.
But by making artist and bachelor into mutually supplementary em-
bodiments of dedication who counterbalance each other in their self-
assertions and self-e¬acements, James envisions the possibility of attain-
ing or reinventing normative masculinity via these identities.
The coupling of bachelor and artist is informed by a related but more
generalized pairing which appears even more frequently in James™s
writing: the man and the artist. In James™s writing, as in that of many
nineteenth-century male writers before him and perhaps even more
twentieth-century male writers after him, a man™s status as an artist is
often imagined as disqualifying or excluding him from full, achieved, or
dominant manhood. Both his limited commercial potential as a literary
author and his private residence in the ˜˜house of ¬ction,™™ his consuming
preoccupation with the ˜˜inner life,™™ mark the distance of the male artist
from the attainments of a more conventionally active and public ˜mar-
ketplace masculinity.™ Yet James and these other writers also imagine
artistry, paradoxically, as an alternative way for a man to ful¬ll the
requirements of hegemonic manhood; this alternative means of attain-
ing manhood inevitably revises the manhood which is its end. Both the
luxury a¬orded and the discipline demanded by the aesthetic ˜˜life of
art™™ provide alternative models for a properly regulated masculinity. By
associating literary mastery with success, often by way of the ˜˜complete
liberty™™ and ˜˜pro¬table work™™ mentioned in my epigraph, James com-
pensates for the masculine renunciations that high art was often thought
to exact.²
Though it is not apparent from my chosen epigraph, the man/artist
pairing for James is not always, or simply, a matter of intrapersonal
self-division. Just as often, the man/artist pairing shapes relations be-
tween men. Although male self-division and male“male relations were
hardly subject to identical meanings or identical regulations in legal,
medical, or other discourses of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-
century British and American culture, they often serve as ¬gures for
each other in literary discourse of this period.³ Robert Louis Stevenson™s
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (±), Oscar Wilde™s The Picture
of Dorian Gray (±±) and The Importance of Being Earnest (±µ), and
Conrad™s ˜˜The Secret Sharer™™ (±±) (the last text is discussed in the
next chapter) are all paradigmatic examples of the mutual ¬gurings of
male self-division and homoerotic/homosocial male bonds at the ¬n de
siecle. The ˜˜double lives™™ in these texts encompass both the imaginary
`
consolidation of charged relations between men within the ¬gure of a
±° Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
single man and the imaginary distribution of a single man™s self, riven by
con¬‚ict, between two male ¬gures. These and other literary ¬gurings of
˜˜double lives™™ indicate the demand for and the di¬culty of the proper
regulation of masculine identity and desire in this period. In James™s
writings, as in these other ¬ctions contemporary with his own, the
re¬‚ections that the divided self and the male couple mutually cast upon
each other are key to our understanding of the narrative use and
cultural signi¬cance of the ¬gure of the bachelor.
I will argue that the ¬gure of the bachelor, as a paradoxical exemplar
of both normative and counternormative masculinities, helped to shape
the ¬gure of the high-cultural male artist that James wished to be and, in
fact, became. In James™s mid-career tales of literary life and in his
personal papers and literary criticism, the ¬gure of the bachelor repre-
sents the tensions between man and artist as well as the compatibility of
these two identities. The relationship between these identities is enacted
both within James™s bachelor ¬gures and also between these bachelor
critics and writers and their ˜˜Masters.™™ These Masters are male author
¬gures whom the bachelor critics and writers challenge for dominance
and to whom they submit, ¬gures with whom they long to be joined not
only in rivalry but in loving fraternity. In intrapsychic dynamics and
interpersonal relations alike, the proper regulation of masculine identi¬-
cation and desire is subject to competing ideals of hierarchy/liberty and
reciprocity/equality, the constitutive tension that underlies a longstand-
ing tradition of liberal thinking. In the second section of this chapter
which discusses the gendered implications of James™s negotiations of life
and art in his criticism and ¬ction, and in the last section which explores
James™s use of bachelor ¬gures in the ¬rst-person narrated ¬ctions, ˜˜The
Aspern Papers™™ and ˜˜The Figure in the Carpet,™™ I argue that James™s
imagining of the ¬gure of the bachelor registers his response to the

<<

. 17
( 47 .)



>>