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±
Henry James, mastery, and the life of art
essay on The Tempest, is potentially ˜˜abnormal,™™ even unnatural or
diseased. Yet the bachelor critic recuperates this aesthetic torment for
normative masculinity by taking the critical reception of literature as an
emblem of valor and authenticity. In this passage, literature is equated
with life by means of a metonymic train that passes through the realms
of skill, courage, honour, and passion, thus linking aesthetic passion to
the military disciplines of skill, courage and honor. The associative train
in ˜˜Figure™™ does work comparable to that done by a metonymic
sequence which appears in ˜˜The Art of Fiction™™: ˜˜One perceives in that
case “ by the light of a heavenly ray “ that the province of art is all life, all
feeling, all observation, all vision™™ (LC±, p. ±µ, emphasis mine). In equat-
ing life with art, James begins and ends with visual perception, suggest-
ing that life is no longer the referent but merely the sign of vision. Seeing
thus becomes a quintessentially masculine way of being, an access to
experience whose intensity depends upon its very vicariousness. Re-
de¬ning adventure as that which encompasses the emotional and the
intellectual, the familiar and the domestic, the visual and the literary,
James brings the life of art into the purview of adventure and hence into
the realm of hegemonic masculinity.
James ¬nally di¬ers from more than he resembles the bachelor critics
and artists who narrate his tales of literary life. These bachelor disciples
ultimately have more in common with the ˜˜sleek bachelor of music,™™
the Aeolian harp whose pretty noise is inferior to the masterful appro-
priations and transformations of ˜˜the spirit in hungry quest.™™ James, by
contrast, was able to leap ˜˜from the window into the street™™ while also
retaining his place at what he described in his Preface to Portrait as one of
˜˜a million “ a number of possible windows not to be reckoned.™™ Like
Fitzgerald™s bachelor narrator in The Great Gatsby, who projects himself
onto ˜˜the casual watcher in the street™™ looking up at ˜˜our line of yellow
windows™™ and yet insists that ˜˜life is much more successfully looked at
from a single window,™™ James was both ˜˜within and without.™™ A
permanent resident of the house of ¬ction, James was also a man of the
streets, a ¬‚aneur who took visual possession of the ˜˜biggest aggregation
ˆ
of human life “ the most complete compendium of the world.™™⁴⁶ The
double life of ˜˜an artist and a bachelor™™ enabled James to live a life of art
whose indulgences and renunciations were compatible with work and
liberty.
In his performance as a Master, James did not want for disciples. He
did, however, lack a popular audience. When it ¬nally became undeni-
ably evident that such popularity would not be forthcoming, he resolved
±° Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
to renounce mass appreciation.⁴· Vowing to ˜˜take up my own old pen
again “ the pen of all my old unforgettable e¬orts and sacred struggles
. . . that I may do the work of my life,™™ James made the work of high
culture do the work of gender, remasculinizing the life of art and in the
process rede¬ning the realm of normative bourgeois masculinity.⁴⁸
James shared with many other male writers of modernist ¬ction an
anxiety about popular success or, rather, about their lack of it. In the
next chapter, I will analyze how Conrad™s use of a bachelor narrator
registers his own ambivalent relation to popular success, as well as his
gendered relation to his reading subjects and to the subjects of his
¬ction.
° 

A way of looking on: bachelor narration in Conrad™s
Under Western Eyes




Joseph Conrad acknowledged a change in focus when he changed the
title of his ±±± novel-in-progress from ˜˜Razumov™™ to Under Western
Eyes.¹ The title change re¬‚ects Conrad™s recognition that the focus of his
novel had shifted from its Russian protagonist, the student Razumov, to
the point of view of the English bachelor and language-teacher who
narrates the story. The story, as told by Conrad™s narrator, ultimately
focuses less on Razumov than on the female object of his desire, the
Russian expatriate, Natalia Haldin. This bachelor narrator can™t keep
his Western eyes o¬ her.
The focus of the narrator™s eyes on the novel™s heroine re¬‚ects
Conrad™s attempt to write something recognizably along the lines of the
English novel of sensibility, a tradition of the novel marked not only by
its national a¬liation but also by its courtship and marriage plotting.²
Under Western Eyes was Conrad™s ¬rst serious attempt to capture that
segment of the English reading public for whom his earlier sea-faring
novels had little appeal: women readers. By centrally featuring a female
character and by addressing parts of this novel to the Woman Question,
Conrad was responding to the popularity of ˜˜women™s ¬ction™™ “ ¬ction
written by and for women “ as well as to the gender politics at issue in
the popular New Woman novels of the ¬n de siecle. In this regard, Under
`
Western Eyes represents a clear departure from Conrad™s turn-of-the-
century Marlow tales which, for many of their contemporary readers,
exempli¬ed the male-oriented tradition of adventure romance.³
But Conrad does not depart so far from this male-oriented tradition
as to allow his New Womanly heroine to tell her story in her own words.
He uses instead a bachelor narrator to ˜˜translate™™ Natalia™s experience.
Indeed, the novel is marked thematically and structurally by the conceit
of translation: by the pretext that the English teacher of languages

±±
± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
perceives the events of the story through his Western eyes, and that he
translates the manuscript written by Razumov and handed over to him
by Natalia for the Western eyes of his readers. While it has long been
assumed that the di¬erence between East and West is the primary
signi¬er of di¬erence in Under Western Eyes, the novel™s bachelor narrator
stands at a cultural interface that is marked by gender di¬erence as
much as by national, racial and linguistic di¬erence; as Conrad wrote in
a ±° letter, ˜˜Homo duplex has in my case more than one meaning.™™⁴
The gendered divides across which the narrator attempts to signify
are not limited to the di¬erences between masculine and feminine, but
encompass the range of masculine subject positions delineated in the
novel. The masculine subject position from which Conrad™s English
bachelor narrator tells the heroine™s story di¬ers in certain vital ways
from the masculine subject positions of the novel™s self-exiled counter-
revolutionary Russian protagonist, Razumov, and of its expatriate Rus-
sian revolutionary who is Razumov™s chief foil, Peter Ivanovitch. Al-
though Peter Ivanovitch explicitly styles himself a feminist, this ˜˜burly
celebrity™™ (p. ±µ·) ultimately has only his own political ends at heart; his
self-serving principles and ruthless methods prove to be more than a
match for Razumov™s own.µ While the narrator™s ˜˜way of looking on™™
does distinguish him in certain respects from Peter Ivanovitch and
Razumov, it also aligns him with these two male characters who count
themselves as ˜˜inspired™™ by the sight of Natalia Haldin.⁶ His spectatorial
self-constitution is both the enabling mechanism and the stumbling
block of the narrator™s revisionary gender relations.
This double bind of male specularity, and ¬nally of male feminism
itself, re¬‚ects the related gendered double bind that Conrad himself
experienced in writing the novel. While he was moving towards subject
matter that he hoped would ultimately garner him a larger female
readership and ¬nancial reward (his next novel, Chance, would be his ¬rst
truly popular success·), Conrad felt a con¬‚icting need to keep his
distance from femininity and popularity alike. In a letter to John
Galsworthy outlining his early plan for ˜˜Razumov,™™ he lamented that
˜˜there™s nothing more cruel than to be caught between one™s impulse,
one™s art and that question [of saleability] which for me simply is a
question of life and death.™™⁸ Later, in the midst of struggling to write
Under Western Eyes, a novel initially intended to be a short story which
took him over two years to ¬nish and whose completion was punctuated
by a nervous breakdown, Conrad dashed o¬ with surprising ease one of
his sparest and most complex short ¬ctions. Its cast of characters was,
±
Bachelor narration in Conrad™s Under Western Eyes
notably, all-male. Conrad shared his own sense of its artistic achieve-
ment in a letter to Edward Garnett: ˜˜˜The Secret Sharer,™ between you
and me, is it. Eh? No damned tricks with girls there. Eh? Every word ¬ts
and there™s not a single uncertain note. Luck my boy. Pure luck. I knew
you would spot the thing at sight.™™⁹ While ˜˜damned tricks with girls™™
might earn him badly needed ¬nancial compensation, Conrad equally
craved recognition as a high-cultural artist, recognition that he believed
was antithetical to the success that a broader audience, an audience
which included women readers, would mean.
Conrad employed the English bachelor who narrates Under Western
Eyes as a means of simultaneously getting closer to and yet backing o¬
from his Russian subject matter and his female reading audience. This
ambivalent movement is apparent both in the rhetorical doublings of
this bachelor™s narration and in Conrad™s own treatment of his narrator
in his ±° Author™s Note to Under Western Eyes. It is instructive to
compare Conrad™s rather cool retrospective appraisal of the narrator of
Under Western Eyes with his palpably a¬ectionate backward glance in ±±·
at Marlow:
The man Marlow and I came together in the casual manner of those health-
resort acquaintances which sometimes ripen into friendships. This one has
ripened. For all his assertiveness in matters of opinion he is not an intrusive
person. He haunts my hours of solitude, when, in silence, we lay our heads
together in great comfort and harmony; but as we part at the end of a tale I am
never sure that it may not be for the last time. Yet I don™t think that either of us
would care much to survive the other . . . Of all my people he™s the one that has
never been a vexation to my spirit.¹°

What I was concerned with mainly was the aspect, the character, and the fate of
the individuals as they appeared to the Western Eyes of the old teacher of
language. He himself has been much criticized; but I will not at this late hour
undertake to justify his existence. He was useful to me and therefore I think that
he must be useful to the reader both in the way of comment and by the part he
plays in the development of the story. In my desire to produce the e¬ect of
actuality it seemed to me indispensable to have an eyewitness of the transac-
tions in Geneva. I needed also a sympathetic friend for Miss Haldin, who
otherwise would have been too much alone and unsupported to be perfectly
credible. (p. µ°)


Conrad describes Marlow as his secret sharer, as a man with whom he
shares a vitalizing intimacy imagined in terms of physical and spiritual
closeness. Conrad and Marlow ˜˜lay [their] heads together™™ in a way
± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
reminiscent of the homoeroticized pillow talk of Leggatt and the nar-
rator of ˜˜The Secret Sharer.™™ Conrad™s description of those ˜˜health-
resort acquaintances which sometimes ripen into friendships™™ also re-
calls the health-resort association of Ford Madox Ford™s ¬rst-person
narrator with the ˜˜other man™™ of his narration, Edward Ashburnham,
in The Good Soldier. It conjures as well the secret-sharing intimacy that
Conrad himself had once shared with Ford in their literary collabor-
ations.¹¹ In contrast, Conrad describes the nameless bachelor narrator
of Under Western Eyes in more workmanlike terms, in terms of the
narrator™s ˜˜usefulness™™ rather than terms of endearment. Although he
estimates the teacher of languages as having been ˜˜indispensable™™ in
producing credible e¬ects, e¬ects that depend on his role as an eyewit-
ness and a sympathetic friend, Conrad stolidly, though contradictorily,
maintains that he will not ˜˜undertake to justify his existence.™™¹² In this
way, Conrad rhetorically distances himself from, even while declaring
his allegiance to, the narrator of Under Western Eyes, a narrator who
himself struggles with con¬‚icting imperatives of distance and proximity.

®  © ® ¬ ¬   ¬ , ¦ ©   ¦ µ ¬  ® ¬  ©  ® ,  ®¤
  ©®§ ®  ©®
In his ±° Author™s Note, Conrad describes his writing of Under Western
Eyes as a complex act of negotiation among con¬‚icting demands:
My greatest anxiety was in being able to strike and sustain the note of
scrupulous impartiality. The obligation of absolute fairness was imposed on me
historically and hereditarily, by the peculiar experience of race and family, in
addition to my primary conviction that truth alone is the justi¬cation of any
¬ction which makes the least claim to the quality of art or may hope to take its
place in the culture of men and women of its time. (pp. “µ°)
˜˜[T]he peculiar experience of race and family™™ is Conrad™s allusion to
Russian rule in Poland, Czarist persecution of his Polish parents, and his
own decision to emigrate in ±·. If this ˜˜peculiar experience™™ demands
scrupulous impartiality, it also makes such ˜˜absolute fairness™™ di¬cult:
˜˜I had never been called before to a greater e¬ort of detachment:
detachment from all passions, prejudices, and even from personal mem-
ories™™ (p. µ°).¹³ Conrad attributes both the book™s ˜˜failure™™ and its
success to this authorial detachment: ˜˜Under Western Eyes on its ¬rst
appearance in England was a failure with the public, perhaps because of
that very detachment. I obtained my reward some six years later when I
¬rst heard that the book had found universal recognition in Russia and
±µ
Bachelor narration in Conrad™s Under Western Eyes
had been re-published there in many editions™™ (p. µ°). The ˜˜truth
alone™™ that justi¬es ˜˜any ¬ction which makes the least claim to the
quality of art™™ is here measured by the ˜˜universal recognition™™ of the
novel™s Russian reception. In a novel that is ˜˜as a whole an attempt to
render not so much the political state as the psychology of Russia™™
(p. ), the reward of recognition depends upon the self-recognition the
novel a¬orded to its Russian readers.
Such a ˜˜reward™™ almost surely would have been ambivalently re-
ceived by Conrad, since representing Russianness accurately required,
according to the theory of ¬ction he espouses here, detachment from his
Polish past, a detachment even more extreme than that achieved by his
expatriation.¹⁴ Yet such success clearly would have grati¬ed the natural-
ized English author who longed for a wider audience and for the
¬nancial solvency that would accompany it. This desire would, in turn,
have brought him into con¬‚ict with his dedication to high art, to the
˜˜truth alone [that] is the justi¬cation of any ¬ction which makes the least
claim to the quality of art™™ (p. µ°). The con¬‚icts between authorial and
national identity, between artistic detachment and historical bias, and
between uncompromised art and good sales, made self-betrayal, or at
least ambivalence, unavoidable for Conrad.¹µ Conrad™s dilemmas about
nationality and literary representation described in the Author™s Note
are replayed in Razumov™s inexorable repetitions of betrayal in the
novel™s plot. Razumov™s betrayal of Haldin, or of himself, as he comes to
see it, in order to write the ˜˜prize essay™™ (p. ±) can be understood in the
context of Conrad™s own vexed relation to success as a writer about
Russia and, later, as a writer for Russian readers. But his English
narrator too re¬gures these authorial con¬‚icts, embodying the split
between detachment and involvement, between objectivity and subjec-
tivity, in his role as translator in and of an Eastern story for Western
eyes.
Throughout the novel, the narrator insists upon his limited function
as translator, claiming that the story he tells ˜˜is based on a document; all
I have brought to it is my knowledge of the Russian language, which is
su¬cient for what is attempted here™™ (p. µµ). He also repeatedly ˜˜dis-
claim[s] the possession of those high gifts of imagination and expres-
sion™™ (p. µµ):

Wonder may be expressed at a man in the position of a teacher of languages
knowing all this with such de¬niteness. A novelist says this and that of his
personages, and if only he knows how to say it earnestly enough he may not be
± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
questioned upon the inventions of his brain in which his own belief is made
su¬ciently manifest by a telling phrase, a poetic image, the accent of emotion.
Art is great! But I have no art, and not having invented Madame de S-, I feel
bound to explain how I came to know so much about her. (p. ±·)

The narrator™s insistence here on the historical reality as opposed to
novelistic realism of his narrative resembles Conrad™s emphasis in his
Author™s Note on the psychological ˜˜truth™™ of his ˜˜historical novel™™

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