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St. George, the successful writer, send the neophyte Paul Overt to
Europe to save Overt™s art from the corruption engendered by married
life, or does he send him away in order to keep the female object of
Overt™s a¬ections for himself? Must an artist renounce ˜˜the full, rich,
masculine, human, general life, with all the responsibilities and duties
and burdens and sorrows and joys “ all the domestic and social initi-
ations and complications,™™ or is this a false imperative endorsed by St.
George as a means of retaining his superior position, of preventing
Overt from unseating him?²³ Responding to Overt™s agitated question “
˜˜The artist “ the artist! Isn™t he a man all the same?™™ “ St. George avers,
perhaps genuinely, perhaps calculatingly, that ˜˜sometimes I really think
not™™ (CT, ©©, p. ). St. George™s manifest, or ˜˜overt,™™ lesson is that
one person cannot be both man and artist since a man must live in the
±° Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
world and an artist must live in his art. He thus implies, as does the story
more generally, that the worldly pleasures of sexual indulgence are
reserved for married men whereas the artist™s portion is celibacy and
asceticism, which are in this story exclusively associated with bachelor-
hood. The story nevertheless reveals that intimate, intense, and
eroticized male-male bonds between master and disciple make the
˜˜initiations and complications™™ associated with married life central to
the life of the bachelor artist as well.
What is less clear is whether the master“disciple bond is exempt from
the plays of power that characterize worldly manhood, whether these
supposedly other-worldly male“male bonds are constituted on the basis
of equality rather than hierarchy, reciprocity rather than coercion,
sympathy rather than hostility and violence. Does the master“disciple
relation, a relation paradoxically necessary to and disruptive of the
development of artistic mastery, invariably involve mastery over an-
other man? Or does the self-mastery inherent in the life of art a¬ord
away out of this bind? Does the internalized mastery of the man/artist
coupling within one individual provide a reprieve from the externalized
mastery associated with relations between men in public arenas such as
the marketplace? Or is the mastery of one™s self and the self-discipline of
artistic production contingent upon mastery over another man?²⁴
To put the question somewhat di¬erently: does the realm of art share
the values of the world to which it is ostensibly set in opposition, or is it
ultimately just a subset or a re¬‚ection of that world? This is, of course,
the quintessential question of modern aesthetics, the question of the
autonomy of art. James™s story, not surprisingly, does not propose a
de¬nitive answer. By shifting into the present tense in the last lines of his
story, James turns to the reader and the future to supply the answer:
St George™s words were still in his ears, ˜˜You™re very strong “ wonderfully
strong.™™ Was he really? Certainly, he would have to be; and it would be a sort of
revenge. Is he? the reader may ask in turn, if his interest has followed the
perplexedyoung man so far. The best answer to that perhaps is that he is doing his
best but that it is too soon to say. When the new book came out in the autumn Mr
and Mrs St George found it really magni¬cent. The former still has published
nothing, but Paul Overt does not even yet feel safe. I may say for him, however,
that if this event were to befall he would really be the very ¬rst to appreciate it:
which is perhaps a proof that St George was essentially right and that Nature
dedicated him to intellectual, not to personal passion. (CT, ©©, p. )
Given the way the authorial narrator poses the question, even the future
will be hard put to resolve the paradox of the relation between man and
±±
Henry James, mastery, and the life of art
artist. Should St. George publish a magni¬cent book of his own and
Overt be the very ¬rst to appreciate it, then St. George would have been
right after all: man and artist cannot exist within one individual, or at
least not within Overt who would be artist enough, that is su¬ciently
˜˜dedicated . . . to intellectual, not to personal passion,™™ to applaud St.
George™s artistic triumph. But were St. George to publish a magni¬cent
book, that in itself would demonstrate that man and artist can coexist
within the same man, that is, within St. George himself. Just as man and
artist both can and cannot exist within a single individual, the world of art
sustains a similarly paradoxical relation to the larger world. The world
of art, as engendered by the relationship of master and disciple, seems to
be founded both on domination, manipulation, and hierarchical rela-
tions between and within men and also, paradoxically, on supportive,
altruistic and reciprocal relations.
James™s private letters deliver a similarly mixed message about the
vexed relation between life and art, particularly as these realms are
de¬ned via gendered relations between men and via the masculine
self-constitution of the ¬gures of bachelor and artist. His letters to his
married brother William generally sound a wistful note, linking bach-
elorhood to an exclusion from wider experience: ˜˜How large your life
swings compared to mine, and how much “ beside the lone bachelor™s “
it takes in!™™²µ But when James refers in another letter to his own
comparatively ˜˜wifeless, childless, houseless, classless, mother- and sis-
ter-in-lawless, horseless, cowless, and useless state,™™ it is ambiguous
whether his tone is self-pitying and self-e¬acing or, as Philip Horne
suggests, self-congratulatory and self-vaunting. Horne highlights
James™s emphatic portrayal of marital renunciation as an enabling
condition, citing James™s ± explanation to Grace Norton of the
reason that he will ˜˜to a dead certainty never change my free unhoused
condition . . . [S]ince de¬nitely and positively (from a merely negative
state) making up my mind not to marry, I feel that I have advanced in
happiness and power to do something in the world.™™²⁶ Being ˜˜un-
housed™™ as a bachelor is here imagined as a condition of ˜˜freedom™™ and
˜˜happiness,™™ a positive choice rather than a ˜˜negative state.™™ Absenting
himself from the world of marriage empowers James ˜˜to do something
in the world,™™ his literary endeavors conceived as active and worldly, as
masculine in a hegemonic, bourgeois sense. Notably, the world is a
public sphere that James can inhabit by virtue of, not despite, his
residence in the house of ¬ction.
In many of his manifestoes on ¬ction, including some of the ones
± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
discussed in the previous section of this chapter, James claims art in
general and ¬ction in particular as masculine realms of endeavor,
remasculinizing the ˜˜life of art™™ by means of counterposing rhetorics of
ascetic self-discipline and luxurious self-indulgence. In his Preface to The
American, for example, James glowingly, if self-righteously, endorses
Robert Louis Stevenson™s vision of art as its own reward:

[T]he partaker of the ˜˜life of art™™ who repines at the absence of the rewards, as
they are called, of the pursuit might surely be better occupied. Much rather
should he endlessly wonder at his not having to pay half his substance for his
luxurious immersion. He enjoys it, so to speak, without a tax; the e¬ort of
labour involved, the torment of expression, of which we have heard in our time
so much, being after all but the last re¬nement of his privilege. It may leave him
weary and worn; but how, after his fashion, he will have lived! (LC, p. ±°±)

Rather than endorsing a view that focuses upon the ˜˜absence of the
rewards,™™ James here metaphorically immerses the male artist in a
luxurious medium in which he may take his hedonistic pleasure without
su¬ering any luxury tax. They may leave him ˜˜weary and worn,™™ but
the artist™s ˜˜torment™™ and ˜˜e¬ort™™ are ultimately envisioned more as
˜˜re¬nement™™ than coarseness, more as leisurely ˜˜privilege™™ than hard
labor. The ˜˜life of art™™ is imagined as an exquisite pleasure-in-pain,
something that is worthwhile not despite the fact that it hurts, but because
it hurts.²· Such untaxed pleasures are, of course, predicated on a
normalizing counterdiscourse of rigorous, or taxing, masculine self-
discipline. Renunciation of the conventional attainments of masculine
privilege paradoxically remasculinize the life of art, enabling James to
recuperate such an aesthetic and ascetic life as more intense, vibrant,
and transcendent than any life of conventionally taxing labor or conven-
tionally taxed luxury.
James thus rede¬nes art as work worthy of men, work of which men
can strive to be worthy. In his ± critical treatise, ˜˜The Art of Fiction,™™
James also uses the example of Stevenson to formulate art as an
adventure. Here, the Paterian and Stretherian imperative to ˜˜live all
you can™™ becomes a way for a man to be all that he can be.²⁸ James
compares Stevenson™s Treasure Island to de Goncourt™s Cherie in order to
´
rebut Walter Besant™s claim that adventure is the key ingredient necess-
ary to literary ¬ction: ˜˜One of these works treats of murders, mysteries,
islands of dreadful renown, hairbreadth escapes, miraculous coinci-
dences and buried doubloons. The other treats of a little French ¬‚irt
who lived in a ¬ne house in Paris, and died of wounded sensibility
±
Henry James, mastery, and the life of art
because no one would marry her™™ (LC±, p. ±).²⁹ James challenges the
assumption that ¬ction is impossible without adventure by taking this
opportunity to rede¬ne what counts as adventure. In doing so, he refers
back to the recently composed The Portrait of a Lady:
Mr. Besant does not, to my sense, light up the subject by intimating that a story
must, under penalty of not being a story, consist of ˜˜adventures.™™ Why of
adventures more than of green spectacles? . . . Why without adventure, more
than without matrimony, or celibacy, or parturition, or cholera, or hydropathy,
or Jansenism? This seems to me to bring the novel back to the hapless little role
ˆ
of being an arti¬cial, ingenious thing “ bring it down from its large free
character of an immense and exquisite correspondence with life. And what is
adventure, when it comes to that, and by what sign is the listening pupil to
recognise it? It is an adventure “ an immense one “ for me to write this little
article; and for a Bostonian nymph to reject an English duke is an adventure
only less stirring, I should say, than for an English duke to be rejected by a
Bostonian nymph. (LC±, p. ±)

In illustrating the idiosyncrasy of singling out adventure, James moves
from the mundane to the ridiculous. But his choice of examples under-
lines this essay™s rede¬nition of the purviews of both ¬ctional art and
adventure. The heterogeneity of the items on his list would seem to open
the ¬eld to all comers, yet the emotional, relational, and domestic cast of
certain of his examples, especially matrimony and parturition though
also celibacy, suggest the potential dangers of such inclusiveness. If the
emotional challenges of failed courtship are as much an adventure as the
intellectual activity of writing, it would seem that literary art could be
drawn into the debased realms of the familiar, the sentimental, the
feminine, and the popular, ˜˜bring[ing] the novel back to the hapless,
little role of being an arti¬cial, ingenious thing™™ (LC±, p. ±). But James
ˆ
redresses these threats to high-cultural masculine authorship by chemi-
cally transmuting the dross of such subject matter in the white-hot
crucible of the artist™s disciplined and profound imagination. Indeed,
the true artist overcomes the challenges to mastery posed by his absorp-
tion with the inner life by making that life, however mundane or banal,
the preferred arena of literary endeavor. Hence for the most part
James™s ¬ctions situate themselves in what looks like the world of de
Goncourt™s Cherie, ¬nding true adventure not in Stevenson™s exotic
´
˜˜worlds elsewhere™™ but in the relational, emotional, and psychological
worlds within.
I have already noted how James uses Stevenson to take the measure
of de Goncourt and to measure his own artistic progress. In ˜˜converting
± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
admired authors into Masters,™™³° James converts himself into a con-
tender. James™s famous essay on Hawthorne substantiates the idea that
identi¬cation with a master also means competition with him, or, in a
di¬erent idiom, that in¬‚uence elicits anxiety. James did not serve a
single master; many of his other critical pieces betray the same literary
one-upmanship of his Hawthorne essay. For example, ˜˜The Art of
Fiction™™ arrogantly appropriates its title from the ± Walter Besant
lecture that it rebuts. His late career essay on The Tempest (±°·), too,
depicts the work of a master as a challenge, particularly with regard to
the relation between the man and the artist. The essay begins on the
note of a contest of wills:
If the e¬ect of the Plays and Poems, taken in their mass, be most of all to appear
often to mock our persistent ignorance of so many of the conditions of their
birth, and thereby to place on the rack again our strained and aching wonder,
this character has always struck me as more particularly kept up for them by
The Tempest. (LC±, p. ±°µ)

Competition is here eroticized as sadistic domination on the part of
the master, whom James imagines as subjecting his reader and disciple
to a painfully humiliating torture comparable to the ˜˜torment™™ of the
writer as an exquisite and luxurious pleasure discussed earlier. James
signi¬cantly ¬gures the reader/disciple as ˜˜ignorant of so many of the
conditions of [the plays™ and poems™] birth,™™ thereby portraying this
reader/disciple as the male child of a father who deliberately with-
holds knowledge of the primal scene, who refuses him access to the
mysteries associated with dominant, here explicitly heterosexual, man-
hood.
What literally ba¬„es James is the fact that, having written this
masterpiece ˜˜in easy middle life™™ and seemingly in mid-career, Shake-
speare simply stopped writing. This topic had particular resonance for
James at the time of this essay™s writing, since he had recently completed
his major novelistic achievements and was embarking on the retrospec-
tive critical and autobiographical works of his later years. James pro-
fesses himself unable to imagine what could have motivated Shake-
speare, like Prospero, to relinquish his work at the height of his powers.
Although he speculates on Shakepeare™s desire for ¬nancial security as a
possible motive, James appears to ¬nd this explanation less than satisfac-
tory because it reduces the great man of letters to the mere man of
business.³¹ The irreconcilable discrepancy that James insists upon be-
tween the art and the business of writing is at least partly based on his
±µ
Henry James, mastery, and the life of art
sense of an unbridgeable gap between Shakespeare the artist and
Shakespeare the man: ˜˜The eternal mystery, the most insoluble that
ever was, the complete rupture, for our understanding, between the
Poet and the Man . . . the complexity arises from our su¬ering our
imagination to meddle with the Man at all . . . The Poet is there [in the
plays and sonnets], and the Man is outside™™ (LC±, pp. ±±µ“±). In this
passage, the man is a base entrepreneur, the ˜˜man of exemplary
business-method™™ (LC±, p. ±±·) with whom the reader should not con-
cern himself, who threatens to in¬ltrate the sacrosanct arena of art. Yet
elsewhere in the essay the man/artist dichotomy displays a di¬erent
face: ˜˜The man himself, in the Plays, we directly touch, to my conscious-
ness, positively nowhere: we are dealing too perpetually with the artist,
the monster and magician of a thousand masks . . . The man every-
where, in Shakespeare™s work, is so e¬ectually locked up and imprisoned
in the artist™™ (LC±, p. ±°). In this passage, the artist is not besmirched
by the petty intrusions of the businessman. Rather, the artist is seen here
as a monster or magician, a Caliban or a Prospero, who subjects the
man to his powers.³² What these two versions of the relationship be-
tween the man and the artist have in common is their emphasis on an
antagonism, a con¬‚ict between these two masculine identities or two
components of a single masculine identity. Such antagonism is evident
in James™s portrayal of the man as the essential, true self ˜˜locked up and
imprisoned in the artist.™™ This portrayal conceives of the artist with his
˜˜thousand masks™™ as a cage or jail constraining the man, not as a
performative identity o¬ering adventure or freedom.
In the passage cited above, the man is within the powerful artist but
later in the essay James attributes interiority to the ¬gure of the artist:

It is true of the poet in general “ in nine examples out of ten “ that his life is
mainly inward, that its events and revolutions are his great impressions and
deep vibrations, and that his ˜˜personality™™ is all pictured in the publication of
his verse. Shakespeare, we essentially feel, is the tenth, is the millionth example;
not the sleek bachelor of music, the sensitive harp set once for all in the window
to catch the air, but the spirit in hungry quest of every possible experience and
adventure of the spirit, and which, betimes, with the boldest of all intellectual
movements, was to leap from the window into the street. (LC±, p. ±±)

The external movement that James attributes to Shakespeare as a
˜˜spirit in hungry quest™™ is used oddly here to describe the interiority of
the artist. That is to say, James strangely typi¬es the ˜˜inward life™™ of the
poet, whose being consists in ˜˜great impressions and deep vibrations,™™
± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel

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