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adulthood; Kidnapped is at an even further temporal remove from the
present in its status as historical ¬ction. All four of James™s cited
examples, moreover, join the autobiographical and the romantic to
¬rst-person narration.
The creation of a new real world implicit in James™s conception of
romantic ˜˜worlds elsewhere™™ foregrounds another tellingly paradoxical
aspect of his critical theory. On the one hand, James sets romance in
opposition to the reality and life associated with realism, and thus
conceives of romantic ¬ction as more ¬ctional than realistic ¬ction,
which would be seen, in turn, as more real. On the other hand, James
views romance as more than a ¬ctional or literary mode; romance is
itself a type of experience, as the ˜˜balloon of experience™™ implies and as
the rest of his commentary on romance in the Preface to The American
attests: ˜˜the only general attribute of projected romance that I can see, the
only one that ¬ts all its cases, is the fact of the kind of experience with
which it deals “ experience liberated, so to speak; experience disen-
gaged, disembroiled, disencumbered, exempt from the conditions that
we usually know to attach to it™™ (LC, p. ±°). If romance is a kind of
experience, then it is also a form of life, possibly an even more intense
and lively sort of life than realism can represent or than reality actually
is. (I will return to the notion of an aestheticized and ascetic ˜˜art of life™™
as an alternative model of masculinity in the next section of this chap-
ter.)
James communicates his appreciation for such larger-than-life inten-
sity when, in his ±±± letter, he admires the way H. G. Wells ˜˜ride[s]
roughshod and triumphant™™ over those decorous considerations of
narrative method that preoccupy James himself. When he lauds ˜˜that
life and force and temperament, that fulness [sic] of endowment and
easy impudence of genius, which makes you extraordinary and which
have long claimed my unstinted admiration,™™ James equates Wells™s
writerly engagement with a romantic and fully masculinized zest for life.
James™s sketch of the romantic rough rider, however, takes on a less
adulatory cast when he professes to admire Wells™s ˜˜big feeling for life,
your capacity for chewing up the thickness of the world in such enor-
±± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
mous mouthfuls, while you fairly slobber, so to speak, with the multitud-
inous taste.™™¹⁶ Although rhetorically posed as a compliment and int-
ended to counterbalance the criticism later in the letter of Wells™s use of
˜˜that accurst autobiographic form,™™ this image of Wells eating with his
mouth open seems to betray a certain uneasiness, even disgust, with
such an immoderate, piggish style of authorial engagement. For James,
the violence of Wells™s narrative method does not reside in its potential
for cannibalism. Indeed, James himself could easily be indicted for
cannibalistic tendencies: witness his own portrayal of himself in the
Ambassadors™s Preface as ˜˜bit[ing] into the ˜˜thickened motive and accu-
mulated character™™ (LC, p. ±°) of this novel™s mature hero. In this
regard, Mrs. Henry Adams™s snide comment that Henry James fastid-
iously ˜˜chawed more than he bit o¬™™ may not fall so wide of the mark.¹·
It is not that Wells eats or what Wells eats which James ¬nds crude and
excessive “ it is how he eats. The male writer as rough rider is envisioned
by James as a brutish ogre or perhaps just as a greedy little boy who bolts
his food without pausing to allow the ˜˜great stewpot or crucible of the
imagination™™ to perform the necessary ˜˜chemical transmutation™™ of life
into art.¹⁸ For James, the inveterate masticator, Wells is too rough
because he seems too ready “ at once for eager and too forceful to take a
manageable mouthful.
In his ±± essay, ˜˜The New Novel,™™ originally entitled ˜˜The
Younger Generation,™™ James objects to a similarly distasteful
overeagerness and aggressiveness that he sees as animating Conrad™s
use of ¬rst-person narrators. Elsewhere, James takes exception to Con-
rad™s most famous ¬rst-person narrator, the bachelor Marlow, to whom
he disdainfully refers as ˜˜that preposterous master mariner.™™¹⁹ In ˜˜The
New Novel,™™ he singles out Conrad™s deployment of a series of framing
¬rst-person narrators in Chance, which James calls ˜˜multiplying his
creators or, as we are now fond of saying producers™™:

Mr. Conrad™s ¬rst care . . . is to set up a reciter, a de¬nite responsible interven-
ing ¬rst person singular, possessed of in¬nite sources of reference, who immedi-
ately proceeds to set up another, to the end that this other may conform again
to the practice, and that even at that point the bridge over to the creature, or in
other words to the situation or the subject, the thing ˜˜produced,™™ shall, if the
fancy takes it, once more and yet once more glory in a gap.²°

Conrad and his crew of narrators may ¬nd ˜˜glory in a gap,™™ but to James
this ˜˜gap™™ indicates a failed bridge between narration and ˜˜subject™™ and
perhaps also between reader and story. Referring to himself in the
±±µ
Henry James, mastery, and the life of art
¬rst-person plural, James recommends his own narrative method as a way
to avoid such pitfalls: ˜˜We usually escape the worst of this di¬culty of a
tone about the tone of our characters, our projected performers, by
keeping it single, keeping it ˜down™ and thereby comparativelyimpersonal
or, as we may say, inscrutable™™ (LC±, © p. ±). The self-concealing
reticence of the heterodiegetic, non-intrusive Jamesian narrator who
neither participates in the plot as a character nor makes much in the way
of editorial commentary ultimately reveals the author™s artistic mastery.
The true artist shows his masculine self-discipline by not showing himself.
By ˜˜keeping it single™™ and ˜˜keeping it ˜down™,™™ James achieves the
desired e¬ects of impersonality and inscrutability.
The ˜˜inscrutable™™ quality that James endorses in his own writing
di¬ers from the opacity on the brink of which he sees Conrad teetering.
Even when Conrad ˜˜attempt[s] to clarify,™™ he still ¬‚irts with the
˜˜danger of steeping his matter in perfect eventual obscuration as we
recall no other artist™s consenting to with an equal grace™™ (LC±, p. ±).
James does admit to a certain ˜˜grace™™ in Conrad™s feat, an athletic and
intrepid grace that is ˜˜Mr. Conrad™s gallantry itself ™™:
It literally strikes us that his volume sets in motion more than anything else a
drama in which his own system and his combined eccentricities of recital
represent the protagonist in face of powers leagued against it, and of which the
denouement gives us the system ¬ghting in triumph, though with its back
´
desperately to the wall, and laying the powers piled up at its feet. This frankly
has been our spectacle, our suspense and our thrill; with the one ¬‚aw on the
roundness of it all the fact that the predicament was not imposed rather than
invoked, was not the e¬ect of a challenge from without, but that of a mystic
impulse from within. (LC±, pp. ±“µ°)
James identi¬es Conrad™s system of narration as the ˜˜protagonist,™™ but
the antagonistic ˜˜powers leagued against it™™ are intrinsic to the system;
these antagonists are ˜˜not the e¬ect of a challenge from without, but
that of a mystic impulse from within.™™ In suggesting that Conrad™s
gallant struggle against antagonists is really a struggle against and within
himself, James portrays Conrad as fencing, or shadowboxing, with
himself. ˜˜The one ¬‚aw on the roundness of it all,™™ the crack in the
golden bowl of Conrad™s art is that Conrad is his own worst enemy.
Conrad™s damning ¬‚aw is his over-eager willingness to ¬ght when a
more diplomatic avoidance of multiple ¬rst-person narrators could have
circumvented the violent confrontation in the ¬rst place.
Here, as in his critique of Wells, James deplores the gratuitousness of
Conrad™s election of ¬rst-person narration, which he sees as an overly
±± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
aggressive display whose brute force is impressive but whose prudence is
questionable. For James, the seasoned pro who participates at this
tourney solely as a spectator, discretion is truly the better part of
masculine valor. While it may be pleasurable, and even thrilling, for the
spectator to watch this ¬ght, the fact that it can be observed is proof of a
fatal ¬‚aw. Conrad may ¬ght spectacularly well, but in choosing to ¬ght
at all, Conrad has made the wrong choice. James condemns both
Wells™s and Conrad™s use of ¬rst-person narration as debased and
debasing displays of primitive masculinity, alternately childish and ani-
malistic, ¬nally grotesque in their e¬ects. Whereas Wells is left with food
on his face, Conrad ends up surrounded by corpses. For James, such
crude self-displays betray an unmanly lack of restraint to which his own
disciplined and controlled narrative method stands as a more civilized
and manly alternative.
Remarkably, James also holds out Edith Wharton, the only woman
whom he sees ¬t to include in his assemblage of literary new-comers and
not-so-new-comers in ˜˜The Younger Generation,™™ as a manly alterna-
tive to Conrad. James contrasts Conrad™s ˜˜luxuries of looseness™™ (LC±,
p. ±µ) and the ˜˜waste of [his] having kept us so dangling on the dark
esthetic abyss™™ (LC±, p. ±µµ) with Wharton™s unwasteful, ˜˜consistently,
almost scienti¬cally™™ ˜˜satiric light™™: ˜˜the light that gathers is a dry light,
of great intensity, and the e¬ect, if not rather the very essence, of its
dryness is a particular ¬ne asperity . . . A shade of asperity may be in
such fashion a security against waste™™ (LC±, p. ±µµ). Wharton™s ˜˜dry
light™™ is far preferable to both Conrad™s ˜˜dark esthetic abyss™™ and
Wells™s wet ˜˜slobbering™™; it is controlled, precise, and rational rather
than emotional, enigmatic, or physical. James attributes Wharton™s
talent to ˜˜the dry, or call it perhaps even the hard, intellectual touch in
the soft, or call it perhaps even the humid, temperamental air™™ (LC±,
p. ±µµ), that is, to her combination of masculine and feminine qualities.
But James is ¬nally more impressed with Wharton™s masculinity than
with her femininity or with the gender blending that he sees as constitut-
ing her ˜˜rare identity™™: ˜˜the masculine conclusion tend[s] so to crown
the feminine observation™™ (LC±, p. ±µµ). ˜˜Feminine observation™™ may be
a queen, but the crown she wears is ˜˜masculine conclusion™™; the man
remains decisively on top.
James™s deprecation of the unmanly lack of restraint in Conrad™s
narrative method also registers his sense of that method™s epistemologi-
cal shortcomings. In James™s view, the reader of Chance ends up knowing
both too much and too little. He knows too little about the story and its
±±·
Henry James, mastery, and the life of art
characters because he is confronted with ˜˜that ba¬„ed relation between
the subject-matter and its emergence which we ¬nd constituted by the
circumvalations of Chance™™ (LC±, pp. ±µ“µ). And he knows too much
about the author and his narrators because Conrad™s method of narra-
tion ˜˜invites consideration of itself™™ in ways comparable to the ˜˜terrible
¬‚uidity of self-revelation™™ associated with autobiography:
the omniscience, remaining indeed nameless, though constantly active, which
sets Marlow™s omniscience in motion from the very ¬rst page, insisting on a
reciprocity with it throughout, this original omniscience invites consideration of
itself only in a degree less than that in which Marlow™s own invites it; and
Marlow™s own is a prolonged hovering ¬‚ight of the subjective over the out-
stretched ground of the case exposed. (LC±, p. ±)
The ˜˜prolonged hovering ¬‚ight of the subjective™™ in this passage sug-
gests an indeterminate distance from the epistemological ground com-
parable to the one attained by the romantic ˜˜balloon of experience.™™
Conrad™s method of narration thus undercuts epistemological certainty
in much the same way that romance does:
We make out this ground but through the shadow cast by the ¬‚ight . . . as if by
some tremendous forecast of future applied science, the upper aeroplane causes
another, as we have said, to depend from it and that one still another; these
dropping shadow after shadow, to the no small menace of intrinsic colour and
form and whatever, upon the passive expanse. (LC±, p. ±)
If romance is a balloon, then ¬rst-person narration is an airplane. The
epistemological indeterminacy occasioned by the indeterminate altitude
of the balloon is multiplied by the sequential ˜˜drops™™ of each successive
narrator™s airplane. The shadows cast by the airplanes induce in the
reader an unpleasant sensation “ airsickness? “ comparable to the
vertigo induced by the heights scaled by the balloon. The reader of
Chance can only approximate the various narrators™ positions, and hence
his own position, by looking at the shadows cast by their successive
airplanes. The shadows™ distortions of the ˜˜intrinsic color and form™™ of
the ˜˜passive expanse™™ pose an active and aggressive ˜˜menace.™™
James™s satiric description of the ˜˜tremendous forecast of future
applied science™™ represented by Conrad™s narrative method is conson-
ant with his view of the needless heroics of Conrad™s authorial display of
technical skill. This invention of ˜˜applied science,™™ moreover, stands in
James™s essay not merely as a sign of the times but also as a portent of the
future. In ±±, the image of the airplane was an image of modernity, a
prediction of the futuristic ˜˜world elsewhere™™ that James™s own world
±± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
was becoming. A key attribute of the airplane of ¬rst-person narration is
its spatial liminality, its hovering at an unknown altitude between
ground and sky. The modernity of the airplane also suggests a kind of
historical liminality and, with it, James™s uneasy historical situation
between the Victorian and modern worlds. Nor can we forget the
uneasiness of the world in ±±, hovering as it was on the brink of war.²¹
The epistemological uncertainties of Conrad™s ¬rst-person technique
thus represent no single or simple threat for James. The ˜˜loose and
liquid™™ ¬‚uidity of feminine and popular writing, and the ˜˜terrible ¬‚uidity
of self-revelation™™ of autobiographical writing, reappear in the ˜˜luxuries
of looseness™™ (LC±, p. ±µ) of Conrad™s masculine and modernist narra-
tive method. The ˜˜dark abyss of romance™™ reemerges in the ˜˜waste [of
Conrad™s] having kept us so dangling on the dark esthetic abyss™™ (LC±,
p. ±µµ). James™s imagery also anticipates the emblems that stood for the
anxieties and enthusiasms of his younger contemporaries and suc-
cessors. His lamentation of ˜˜waste™™ forecasts Eliot™s ˜˜Waste Land™™ as
well as the ˜˜waste land™™ that crumbles beneath the eyes of Dr. T. J.
Eckleburg in The Great Gatsby; his fear of the ˜˜abyss™™ pre¬gures Wyn-
dham Lewis™s and Ezra Pound™s celebration of the awe-inspiring Vor-
tex. In fact, the explosive avant-gardism of this even younger ˜˜younger
generation™™ was well under way when James™s ˜˜Younger Generation™™
came out, only two months before the publication of the ¬rst issue of
Lewis™s Blast: The Review of the Great English Vortex. James perceived both
the attractions and the dangers of modernist pyrotechnics.²²
James aligns Conrad™s ¬rst-person narrative technique with the mod-
ernist imperative that exceeded the aesthetic valorization of art for art™s
sake in order to champion di¬culty for di¬culty™s sake. Indeed, the
corollary of Pound™s modernist slogan, ˜˜Make it new!™™ might well have
been ˜˜Make it di¬cult!™™ While James disapproves of Conrad™s gratu-
itously di¬cult narrative method, he nevertheless shows his appreciation
for those methods whose di¬culties are properly regulated: ˜˜the claim for
method in itself, method in this very sense of attention applied, would be
somehow less lighted [sic] if the di¬culties struck us as less consciously, or
call it even less wantonly, invoked™™ (LC±, p. ±). De¬ning ˜˜method™™ here
as ˜˜attention applied,™™ James makes ˜˜the exemplary value of attention,
attention given by the author and asked of the reader™™ (LC±, p. ±) into an
end in itself, its own source of value. James™s self-re¬‚exive attention to
˜˜attention™™ pre¬gures the modernist attention to form and the New
Critical attention to attentive ˜˜close reading.™™ Yet what James alludes to
as a ˜˜blest method™™ (¬© p. ±·) is a decidedly mixed blessing. The
±±
Henry James, mastery, and the life of art
˜˜consciously™™ and ˜˜wantonly invoked™™ di¬culty that James discerns in
Conrad™s ¬rst-person narrative method is always on the verge of falling
from a masculinizing performance into a demasculinizing self-display,
from self-discipline into self-indulgence, from restraint into debauchery.
James™s attribution of femininity and hyper-virility to ¬rst-person narra-
tion marks his ambivalent response both to the literary past and to the
literary future. Poised uncomfortably between popular writers of the
nineteenth-century (who as a group were far from being all-female but
with whom he associated a threatening femininity) and high-cultural
modernists of the twentieth century (who as a group were far from being
all-male but with whom he associated a threatening hyper-virility), James
was truly living in an awkward age. In the next section, I shall argue that
the ¬gure of the bachelor represented a potential solution to these
di¬culties for the male high-cultural author, as a ˜˜possible form of life™™
whose indulgences and renunciations, luxuries and deprivations, were
compatible with a manly ˜˜life of art.™™

˜ ˜   ¬     ®  ¦          ™ ™  ® ¤    ©  ©  ©  µ ¤   ¦
  ¬©       ¬ © ¦ 
James™s ˜˜The Lesson of the Master™™ (±), one of his mid-career ˜˜tales
of literary life,™™ makes explicit that the ˜˜life of art™™ must depend upon
the proper regulation of relations within and between men. This story is
less explicit, however, about what constitutes proper regulation. The
main enigma of ˜˜The Lesson of the Master™™ “ a reading trap that puts
the reader in a position comparable to that of the bachelor disciple of
the Master “ concerns the nature of the ˜˜lesson™™ of the title. Does Henry

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