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by his ˜˜leap from the window into the street.™™ Going inward is appar-
ently compatible with going out the window. However, neither the
penetrating movement inward nor the bold movement outward is
available to ˜˜the sleek bachelor of music,™™ James™s ¬gure for nine out of
ten artists. Poised on the threshold, the Aeolian harp is ˜˜sensitive™™ yet
immobilized, responsive to breezes but unable to initiate movement,
¬xed between two worlds but belonging fully to neither. The liminality
of this bachelor connotes limitation rather than possibility, dispossession
rather possession. The bachelor of the ˜˜sleek bachelor of music™™ thus
di¬ers from the bachelor whom James describes as ˜˜an artist and a
bachelor.™™ The latter bachelor, like Shakespeare, actively takes ˜˜pos-
session™™ of ˜˜human life™™ via his ˜˜passion of observation™™; for this
bachelor, art and life are mutually constitutive rather than mutually
exclusive. In his deployment of the image of the ˜˜sleek bachelor of
music™™ to describe the Aeolian harp, then, James reclaims life for the
artist at the expense of the bachelor.
The liminality of the bachelor as Aeolian harp nevertheless suggests a
connection between outer and inner experience and between man and
artist, not merely a rupture between these realms and identities. James
denies a rupture, for example, when he insists that man and artist are
one: ˜˜In greatness as much as in mediocrity the man is, under examin-
ation, one, and the elements of character melt into each other. The
genius is a part of the mind, and the mind a part of the behaviour, so . . .
where does one of these provinces end and the other begin?™™ (LC±,
p. ±±·). Here, ostensibly disparate ˜˜elements of character™™ merge by
˜˜melt[ing] into each other.™™ Elsewhere in the essay, the mingling of
man and artist occurs via images of plunging and sinking: ˜˜the great
primary plunge, made once for all, of the man into the artist . . . [Into his
characters] he sinks as deep as we like, but what he sinks into, beyond all
else, is the lucid stillness of his style™™ (LC±, p. ±°). In these passages and
in the essay more generally, there are two sets of connections, or
relations, at issue: the intrapsychic dynamics within Shakespeare be-
tween his identity as man and his identity as artist, and the intersubjec-
tive dynamics between James as desiring male reader and Shakespeare as
desired male artist. That the ˜˜lucid stillness of his style™™ could screen the
artist from the reader is hardly an inconceivable notion for James, a
writer of sometimes stunning opacity, to have entertained. But style also
gives the reader access to the man behind the artist: ˜˜The secret that
ba¬„es us being the secret of the Man, we know, as I have granted, that
we shall never touch the Man directly in the Artist. We stake our hopes
±·
Henry James, mastery, and the life of art
thus on indirectness, which may contain possibilities™™ (LC±, p. ±°).
The ˜˜indirectness™™ mentioned here is style or the literary text itself.
James suggests that the master™s opus, or perhaps his entire oeuvre, is the
proper key to the mystery of the man behind the master. Although
James deplores the ˜˜morbid and monstrous curiosity™™ (LC±, p. ±±) that
drives those seekers of the man behind the artist, the man is nevertheless
what most interests James.
Who, then, is the man behind the artist? If the powerful artist is
comparable to Prospero or Caliban, the elusive man resembles a di¬er-
ent character from The Tempest: ˜˜In front of the tapestry sits the im-
mitigably respectable person [the artist] . . . while the undetermined
¬gure [the man] . . . the ¬gure who supremely interests us, remains as
unseen of us as our Ariel, on the enchanted island, remains of the
bewildered visitors™™ (LC±, p. ±±). James compares the ¬gure behind
the tapestry neither to the masterful father nor to the brutish slave, but
rather to the indeterminately sexed Ariel, the spirit who appears as often
in the feminine, yet powerful, guise of nymph and harpy as he does in his
own apparently masculine, though conspicuously immaterial, charac-
ter. While subject to the dominion of others, Ariel nevertheless retains
certain powers; while his powers are not fully his own, they nevertheless
enable him to gain his liberty and to own himself. Ariel retains a certain
measure of agency, for example, when he gains early release from his
servitude to Prospero by the uncomplaining and e¬cient way he per-
forms his admittedly required duties. He also retains a certain measure
of will, if not agency, in his earlier refusal to perform the witch Sycorax™s
commands. As a ¬gure of the artist in James™s text, Ariel is both a proxy
for another man and his own man. Moreover, the invisible Ariel is a
¬gure of representation in two di¬erent senses: he represents another
man and he represents the ˜˜magic™™ of artistic representation itself, an
unseen something that simultaneously trans¬xes and frees, that para-
doxically frees its audience by trans¬xing it. In choosing Ariel, James
imagines a ¬gure behind the tapestry of art whose gendered and sexual
ambiguities mesh nicely with the ambivalence James expresses through-
out his essay about the proper regulation of intra- and interpersonal
relations between the man and the artist.
James mixes his Shakespearean metaphors with another allusion to
the ¬gure behind the tapestry which appears in the ¬nal sentence of the
essay: ˜˜The ¬gured tapestry, the long arras that hides him, is always
there, with its immensity of surface and its proportionate underside.
May it not then be but a question, for the fulness [sic] of time, of the ¬ner
± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
weapon, the sharper point, the stronger arm, the more extended
lunge?™™ (LC±, p. ±°). James pictures himself here as Hamlet, stabbing
through the arras at a ˜˜rat™™ who turns out to be Polonius, a di¬erent
¬gure behind the ¬gured tapestry. Hamlet gets his man all right, but it
turns out, tragically, to be the wrong man, the wrong father. Although
misdirection is built into this literary model, ˜˜getting at™™ the master here
suggests an attempt to master the literary father by killing him o¬.
Patricide is thus an important model for the reader™s epistemological
endeavors and for the writer™s attempt at literary mastery. James por-
trays reading and writing as arenas of competitive struggle, as contests
between men that are aggressive to the point of violence.
For James, the desire to penetrate the man behind the carpet also has
a homoerotic signi¬cation that cannot be simply reduced to or collapsed
into the desire to murder him. Knowing a man does not necessarily
mean killing him; penetration in James™s writing has an erotic signi¬ca-
tion that is not limited to its violent or aggressive meanings. While at the
¬n de siecle homoerotic desire posed an obvious threat to properly
`
regulated homosocial relations, James shows little or no concern here
about the same-sex identities of the subject and the object of desire.
Rather he concentrates on the ways that past attempts at knowing the
man behind the artist have been conducted, ¬nding the ˜˜morbid and
monstrous curiosity™™ of past critics ˜˜infantile™™ (LC±, p. ±°), that is, as
deviating from properly regulated masculinity in the directions of boy-
ishness, neurasthenia, or beastliness. In particular, James criticizes the
assumption of past criticism that penetration, or perhaps penetration
conceived as a form of aggression, is the only or best way to know the
master:

We know enough . . . when we admire enough, and as di¬culties would appear
to abound on our attempting to push further, this is an obvious lesson to us to
stand as still as possible. Not di¬culties “ those of penetration, exploration,
interpretation, those, in the word that says everything, of appreciation “ are the
approved ¬eld of criticism, but the very forefront of the obvious and the
palpable, where we may go round and round, like holiday-makers on hobby-
horses, at the turning of a crank. (LC±, p. ±±)

James suggests that a subdued ˜˜admiration™™ is the proper alternative to
the ˜˜di¬culties™™ attendant upon ˜˜attempting to push further.™™ While
di¬culties might seem to be associated with the adventurous masculine
realms of ˜˜penetration, exploration, interpretation,™™ they prove to be
mere child™s play, trivial and futile. Only by ˜˜stand[ing] as still as
±
Henry James, mastery, and the life of art
possible,™™ by inducing in himself a state of passive alertness and engaged
receptivity, may the disciple/reader enter into communion with the
master and hence avoid the ˜˜rebuke to a morbid and monstrous
curiosity™™ (LC±, p. ±±) that more active probing would elicit. Self-
discipline is here the ˜˜obvious lesson™™ that the disciple must learn.
While such vigilantly passive immobility makes the disciple/reader
properly receptive to the master, it also runs the risk of seeming to invite
penetration by the master and therefore represents a new position of
danger. While penetration might be seen as a collaborative or reciprocal
act, in this essay the alertly passive position that the reader of Shake-
speare must assume verges on a masochistic, and potentially unmann-
ing, submission. James acknowledges the danger of being overmastered,
but he never comes up with a fully satisfying solution to the problem:
˜˜forever met by a locked door ¬‚anked with a sentinel who merely invites
us to take it for edifying . . . We take it ourselves for attaching “ which is
the very essence of mysteries “ and profess ourself doomed forever to
hang yearningly about it™™ (LC±, p. ±±·). Eternal but unful¬lled admir-
ation leaves the disciple doomed to be a ˜˜victim of unappeased desire,™™
the fate that the bachelor narrator of James™s ˜˜The Figure in the
Carpet™™ describes himself as sharing with another man who also fails to
learn the master™s secret. The bachelor narrators of ˜˜Figure™™ and ˜˜The
Aspern Papers,™™ an earlier nouvelle in a similar register, attempt to
remodel the deprivations attendant upon a life of art by recasting
discipleship as manly self-discipline. Their attempts are comparable to,
but ¬nally less successful than, the revisions of normative masculinity
performed by James himself as a ˜˜bachelor and an artist.™™

    ¬  ®      ©  ® © ® ˜ ˜   °  ® °°   ™™ ® ¤
˜ ˜  ¦©§µ  © ®   ° ™ ™
The ˜˜undetermined ¬gure™™ behind the ˜˜¬gured arras™™ in James™s
Tempest essay makes a powerful Jamesian allusion as well as the Shake-
spearean ones discussed above. James™s ˜˜The Figure in the Carpet™™
(±) hinges on its bachelor narrator™s compulsion to know the secret
the man asserts is there but that his art does not divulge: ˜˜For God™s
sake, try to get at him™™ (CT, ©, p. ·), George Corvick urges the
unnamed narrator, his proxy reviewer of the master™s latest book.³³ In
this story, as in the Tempest essay, the unful¬lled desire of a reader to
know the secret associated with the master™s art overlaps with the
disciple™s equally ungrati¬ed desire to know the man behind the artist:
±° Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
˜˜Not only had I lost the books, but I had lost the man himself: they and
their author had been alike spoiled for me. I knew too which was the loss
I most regretted. I had liked the man still better than I had liked the
books™™ (CT, ©, p. ). The bachelor narrator of ˜˜The Aspern Papers™™
(±) similarly pursues a literary secret explicitly connected with the
man behind the artist. The eponymous ˜˜papers™™ that this bachelor
critic so powerfully desires to read and possess are, signally, not the
master™s poetical works but his love letters. The man, and particularly
the man as he is represented by his written and sexual past, is the object
of this bachelor™s urgent desires, as well as the master to whom he
submits himself.
Both ˜˜The Aspern Papers™™ and ˜˜The Figure in the Carpet™™ can be
read in terms of competing plots: competing past and present plots,
competing masculine and feminine plots, and competing heterosexual
and homosexual plots. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick™s category of male
homosocial desire provides a point of contact among these various plots,
showing how heterosexual male“female relations may be productively
understood as promoting homosocial bonds between men. For
example, the attempts of the bachelor narrator of ˜˜Aspern™™ to ˜˜make
love™™ to Miss Tina and to pay o¬ Juliana in order to gain access to
Aspern™s papers ¬t this model of classic homosocial plotting. So do the
bachelor narrator™s admittedly feeble inroads on Gwendolen in ˜˜Fig-
ure™™: he considers proposing marriage to her in order to learn the secret
that her husband has transmitted to her, the secret of the Master™s art
veri¬ed by the Master himself.
In both texts, the bachelor narrators attempt to make women into
conduits by which they can gain access to the master, into means
through which they can attain the end of both having and becoming the
master. In both texts, the bachelor narrators ultimately do not follow
through on the marriage plots designed to transform into conduits the
female obstacles they perceive as blocking their path to the male objects
of their desire and identi¬cation. For each, the failure to follow through
on the marriage plot does not result from any moral qualm, but rather
from an apparently insurmountable distaste for the notion of marriage
and/or the proximity of women. The narrator of ˜˜Aspern,™™ for
example, can only imagine marrying, and can barely imagine it at that,
when it becomes clear that this step alone can bring him in touch with
Aspern™s papers, the ultimate object of his ardor. His temporary willing-
ness to ˜˜pay the price™™ of marriage to Miss Tina manifests itself in her
trans¬guration before his eyes into a conventional vision of feminine
±±
Henry James, mastery, and the life of art
beauty “ ˜˜her look of forgiveness, of absolution, made her angelic. It
beauti¬ed her; she was younger; she was not a ridiculous old woman.™™
Tellingly, he sees her revert to ˜˜a plain, dingy, elderly person™™ (CT, ©,
pp. ±“) when he learns that she has destroyed the papers.³⁴
The narrator™s twice-revised vision of Miss Tina suggests that his
narrative perspective is conspicuously unreliable. It also invites us to
revise our own initial interpretation of the story. Indeed, the story
encourages us to ask whether the ˜˜problem™™ with this narrator™s vision
is not that it is too variable, but that it is too ¬xed: that the narrator keeps
his eyes too obsessively glued to the prize, or perhaps too ¬xedly
searching for a prize which remains conspicuously out of view. In this
regard, James™s text seems to o¬er a harsh if unspoken critique of the
narrator™s way of looking, a critique which targets not so much the
chosen object of his vision, but the ine¬ectiveness of his style of looking
and, indeed, the isolation produced by his entire modus operandi. The
compulsive quality of his fetishistic quest for the letters ultimately cuts
him o¬ from, rather than connecting him to, the male object of his
desire and the female subject who desires him.³µ
Moreover, alternatives to the narrator™s relentlessly probing yet ap-
parently unseeing vision are represented within the text in the ˜˜patient
eyes™™ (CT, ©, p. µ) of Miss Tina and the green eyeshade of Juliana.
Though represented in the text only obliquely, these female characters™
ways of looking encourage us to question the narrator™s version of the
story. After all, who really deploys the marriage plot in ˜˜The Aspern
Papers™™? Juliana masterminds and Miss Tina executes a feminine plot
to maintain control over Aspern™s private papers and the heterosexual
romances, both Juliana™s romance with Aspern and Miss Tina™s ro-
mance with the narrator, they represent. They set in motion a jugger-
naut that eventually rolls over the narrator™s comparatively insubstantial
strategizing. Indeed, this plot might even be seen as Juliana™s attempt to
rewrite her illicit romance with Aspern by using the ˜˜relics™™ of the
former plot to garner for her niece the marital prize that she herself
never obtained. Although the narrator cannot be induced to take the
bait, their collaborative plotting nevertheless triumphs over his schem-
ing, potentially defusing or at least subverting the bid for dominance in
the narrator™s Master-plot.
These competing masculine and feminine plots are epitomized by
two di¬erent subnarratives of the myth of Orpheus which resonates in
˜˜The Aspern Papers.™™ Laurence Holland notes the Orphic strain in the
story, elaborating upon the narrator™s view of Orpheus as a prototype
± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
for Aspern, who ˜˜immortalize[s] and victimize[s] his Juliana in betray-
ing or giving her away to posterity.™™ Holland also sees the narrator in
the guise of Orpheus when he undertakes the ˜˜Orphic task of retrieving
the papers from their tomb and resurrecting the dead.™™³⁶ By this
analogy, the papers, and Aspern by association with them, are
feminized as the objects of the narrator™s Orphic desire, desire that in
this context is masculine and heterosexual. However, the ¬nal backward
glance that Miss Tina gives the narrator before separating from him
puts a di¬erent spin on the myth™s gender roles. When Miss Tina looks
back at the narrator, she takes on the role of Orpheus, who sends the
narrator, cast here in the part of Eurydice, back to a hell of his own
making. She has already determined her own fate by destroying the
letters, thereby asserting a dignity that distinguishes her from both the
narrator™s and Miss Juliana™s graspingness. Admittedly, Miss Tina™s
choices are limited to either being exploited or renouncing the marriage
plot; her destruction of the papers is the most positive action that her
circumstances permit. Although the scope of her agency is limited, Miss
Tina™s choice of non-marriage marks her as belonging to a later gener-
ation of New Woman than Juliana, who seeks ¬nancial security for her
niece through marriage rather than beyond it.

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