Printer Friendly

Peter Brooks. Henry James Goes to Paris.

Peter Brooks. Henry James Goes to Paris. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2007. Pp. 255. $20.95

Angus Wrenn. Henry James and the Second Empire. London: Legenda, 2009. Pp. 200. $89.50

In the early 2000s, David Lodge discovered to his dismay that Colm Toibin and he were both writing biographical novels about Henry James. Toibin's The Master and Lodge's Author, Author!, however, were all the more interesting for appearing almost together, for they provided such different insights into so similar a story. At the same time, distinguished scholar Peter Brooks and a younger scholar, Angus Wrenn, were working on books about James and French art and literature. The study of "The French influence" on James and his writing is as old as scholarly study of James, as Wrenn points out in his introduction to Henry James and the Second Empire (3). Since Marie Gamier in 1927, from Michael Anesko to Christof Wegelin, by way of Edwin Sill Fusseil, David Gervais, Philip Grover, Philip Home, Leland S. Person, Lyall Powers, William Stowe, and Adeline Tintner, James scholars (including Brooks in his earlier work) have examined James's French literary and cultural sources, influences, and context to such an extent that one might wonder what else one could contribute to the subject. Henr3, James and the Second Empire answers this question and offers a valuable contribution to the study of James and France by focusing on a particular group of French writers at a particular time in French history. Whereas earlier books examined James's fiction in comparison with particular French writers (Brooks's Melodramatic Imagination, Stowe, Gervais) and virtually all focused on James in relation to canonical writers like Balzac, Sand, and Flaubert, only Powers's Henry James and the Naturalist Movement examined James in relation to a discrete, homogeneous group of French writers. And only Tintner (in The Cosmopolitan World of Henry James) and I, taking a cue from Marcia Jacobson's Henry James and the Mass Market, focused on James and now-forgotten but once famous writers like Octave Feuillet, Edmond About, and Victor Cherbuliez.

Brooks's Henry James Goes to Paris is an interesting attempt to explain one of the central quandaries at the heart of many studies of James and French culture: why is James considered the master of the proto-modern novel at the same time that he was often critical of leading artists and writers of his day, like Flaubert, the French Naturalists, and the Impressionist painters? Brooks provides a largely psychological explanation to this quandary, while Wrenn, who also implicitly addresses the same quandary, offers a more political explanation. Both books are persuasive on their own terms, but it is unfortunate that they are not in dialogue with each other. Wrenn does cite Brooks, but Henr3.' James Goes to Paris (2007) appeared only two years before Henry James and the Second Empire (2009), too close, given the production schedule of scholarly books, to allow Wrenn to engage Brooks's book directly.

Instead of organizing his study around particular novels or stories by James and showing how they were influenced by the work of French authors, as scholars have usually done, Wrenn takes the authors associated with the Revue des Deux Mondes during the Second Empire, explains the political, ideological, and aesthetic philosophy associated with this group, and organizes his chapters by author: About, Cherbuliez, Feuillet, Alexandre Dumas fils, and Paul Bourget. In each chapter he summarizes the author's career and his relationship to James and then traces the influence of that author on James's writing.

Wrenn's approach helps us to account as we never have before for James's change from early disapproval of the French Naturalists (and of the Impressionist painters) to later appreciation. That James's taste did evolve is without question, and attempts at explaining this evolution usually focus on the aesthetic and conclude that James's taste changed because it improved. By focusing on the Revue des Deux Mondes writers, Wrenn helps us to understand a political dimension to why James's taste evolved. The Revue, explains Wrenn, was politically conservative; it supported the regime of Napoleon III, and it sided against the literary realism associated with Flaubert (particularly during the Madame Bovary trial) and the French Naturalists. About, Cherbuliez, and Feuillet were not realists but idealists, in Wrenn's terms; they wrote about people with aristocratic titles, fortunes, or pretensions, much as James did, and their fiction had an impact on James's. James's admiration of Zola's public defense of Dreyfus coincides with James's later appreciation of Flaubert and his literary circle and of impressionist painting. By associating the aesthetic conservatism of the Revue des Deux Mondes writers with the political conservatism of the journal and contrasting both conservative philosophies with the progressive aesthetics and politics of the Naturalists, Wrenn shows how James could at the same time be socially conservative, politically moderate, critical of literary experiments like Zola's Nana or Goncourt's La fille Elisa, and in the English-language literary tradition the transitional figure between Victorian realism and literary Modernism.

According to Wrenn, while James in the 1870s was generally critical of Zola and the Naturalists, his appreciation of Cherbuliez began at the same time to decline. Wrenn demonstrates that James's loss of interest in Cherbuliez coincides with the evolution of James's own fictional techniques. This is most evident in the gradual disappearance from James's novels of "traditional" scenes like eavesdropping or duels--characteristic of the Revue des Deux Mondes authors' work (95). At the same time, the central theme of the Revue des Deux Mondes writers, "the clash between the declining aristocracy and the ascendant bourgeoisie," remains James's central theme (133). James's career, therefore for Wrenn, is fundamentally ambivalent in so far as James finds at least something attractive in both sides of this clash, and as a result, James parallels his character, Hyacinth Robinson of The Princess Casamassima, torn between the conflicting poles of revolutionary politics and traditional aesthetics.

Where Wrenn's originality lies in focusing on non-canonical writers, Brooks focuses primarily on Flaubert and his circle and mentions Feuillet and Cherbuliez but once (23). And yet both scholars explore the same essential question of why James was slow to appreciate contemporary avant-garde artistic movements and at the same time be a precursor to Modernism. Instead of Wrenn's political explanation, Brooks offers a psychological explanation for the evolution of James's taste. During his year's residence in Paris (November 1875 to December 1876), James encountered Impressionist painting, Flaubert, and his circle of acolytes (Zola, Daudet, and Goncourt), and his first impression was negative. At the same time, according to Brooks, these encounters laid the groundwork for the later development, in a return of the repressed, of James's appreciation: "much that [James] experiences in Paris in 1875-76 will stage a kind of return of the repressed in his work from the mid1890s on. It's as if it lay ... in what James called 'the deep well of unconscious cerebration.'" During that year in Paris, Brooks continues, "James missed much of what he experienced--but missed it, I think, only for the time being. It would be back, to shape his own writing in crucial ways" (5). Brooks sees James's The Tragic Muse (1890) as an important turning point:
   The Tragic Muse ... seems to me very much the jumping-off point for
   James's later development. And I would argue that this later
   development brought a kind of return of what James repressed during
   his Paris year of 1875-76: a new understanding of the radical
   perspectivalism practiced by Flaubert in literature, by the
   impressionists in painting, for instance. If James at age
   thirty-two and thirty-three appears to reject some of the key
   innovations of the European avant-garde--and to reach for older and
   safer models in Balzac and George Eliot--it seems that by the
   1890s ... he has come to an understanding of what he at first
   missed, or misunderstood, or misestimated. (97)

Here Brooks summarizes much of his central thesis: that James is a significant transition figure in literary history between nineteenth century realism and early twentieth-century Modernism, that James's fiction could be classified (like Flaubert and the Impressionists) as perspectivalist, that James was slow to cotton to the Naturalists and the Impressionists, and yet not only did James gain appreciation of the writers and painters he at first did not care for, but his own art ended up both like and not like the work he originally disparaged.

In his chapter on What Maisie Knew, Brooks concludes that James's practice by the 1890s had come more to resemble Flaubert's, but with a difference. "James continues to believe in a representative function of art," writes Brooks, for James remained committed to realistic representation, like his French colleagues did. James's art might also "appear to be in love with a luminous, complex shifting surface," like Flaubert's most experimental fiction (and that of twentieth-century novelists). However, the important difference for Brooks is that James "is also intent to ask about what lies behind" the surface, "not just what Maisie sees but what she knows" (148). Statements such as this one and like Brooks's claim that James's later fictions "all dramatize uncertainty in knowing while moving ... toward a kind of moral clarity" (155) clearly demarcate where late James was similar to and unlike French fiction.

Brooks's psychological solution, that James unconsciously took in the avant-garde while consciously criticizing it yet allowing it to work on him in ways of which he was perhaps never aware, is a convincing explanation for James's often contradictory views. What is particularly valuable about Brooks's psychological argument is that it is sufficiently subtle to explain persuasively why James at the same time never professed unqualified praise for the work of Flaubert, Zola, and others but also can be seen as building upon and moving beyond their technical achievements as realists and proto-modernists.

There are numerous nice touches in both books. Brooks displays a remarkable ability to catch the nuances as he traces through the earlier and later articles the evolution of James's responses to Balzac, Flaubert, and Zola. As part of the examination of James's evolving response to Flaubert, Brooks includes an interesting discussion of a little-known chapter in James's artistic and intellectual life: his attendance at the 1897 lecture at Oxford on Flaubert by James's friend, Paul Bourget (129-32). Similarly, Wrenn discusses insightfully an even less-known 1929 article by Bourget that compares Feuillet and Zola (144-47). In explaining the stance of the Revue des Deux Mondes in the debate over realism, Wrenn brings to James scholars' attention Charles Monselet's 1857 satirical sketch for Le Figaro entitled "Le Siege de la Revue des Deux Mondes," which depicts realists Jules Husson and Edmond Duranty besieging the journal and editor Francois Buloz manning the defenses (17-18), while Brooks recounts Roger Fry's 1912 visit with James to the Grafton Galleries' Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition and Fry's attempt to persuade James "'that Cezanne and Flaubert were, in a manner of speaking, after the same thing'" (1). Our reading of particular passages in James is enhanced by Wrenn's treatment: the effect of Mrs. Costello's reference in "Daisy Miller" to Cherbuliez's Paule Mere (77); the comparison of Catherine and Dr. Sloper in Washington Square to the father-daughter relationship in Cherbuliez's Le Comte Kostia (86); and the incongruousness of the radical Princess Casamassima keeping the conservative Revue des Deux Mondes (111). And Brooks provides insightful close readings, for example of Flaubert's Bouvard et Pecuchet (104-2 I) and of the scene between Maisie and Sir Claude at the Boulogne train station near the end of What Maisie Knew (136-37).

As with perhaps any book, there are elements in both Henry James Goes to Paris and Henry James and the Second Empire with which one can quibble. In discussing James's The American, Brooks repeats the central argument of The Melodramatic Imagination, and in discussing The Tragic Muse, he emphasizes the oft-noted multiple meaning of "representation" in a novel where Members of Parliament represent constituencies and portrait painters or actors represent human models in their art. Explicit acknowledgment that critics have often discussed this conceit would have been welcome, as would acknowledgment of previous work on James and Flaubert, such as David Gervais's. Repetitiveness and detailed plot summary are excessive in Henry James and the Second Empire. The theoretical basis of Wrenn's book, cited as Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent" and Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence (11-13), really amounts to Tintner's oft-stated "assertion that James felt compelled 'to redo the classic works of literature ... to improve them and to revise them in a way'" (13; see also 38, 129, 160).

The theoretical basis for Henry James Goes to Paris consists of traditional literary (and biographical) history, psychology, and the kind of highly insightful and readable close readings which are the hallmark of Brooks's earlier books. Curiously, though, Brooks appears to disclaim a polemical purpose: "it's not an argument about James's evolution and its causes that most interests me here. It is rather the telling of a story: the story of that year in Paris, from the point of view of the man who at that point was still 'Henry James, Jr.'" (5). This disclaimer might seem disingenuous to readers skeptical that so accomplished a psychological critic of narrative as Brooks might appear to imply that stories don't present arguments, especially in a book that summarizes its central thesis as clearly and often as Brooks's does. For instance, in one passage, Brooks writes:
   What seems new in [James's] fiction of the mid- to late 1890s is
   the emphasis on the bafflement itself, and the difficulty or even
   impossibility of assuring that the recognition is real, rather than
   the product of a partial, misinformed, or even unhinged
   imagination. It is in this work that James appears to discover some
   of the radical issues in perspective that we associate with
   modernity in French painting, and with the later work of Flaubert
   .... For all his earlier rejection of impressionism, he now
   experiments with techniques not unlike those of the emerging
   post-impressionists and cubists.... It's as if the lessons
   explicitly not learned in Paris in 1876--where he rejected
   modernist experimentation--had dropped into that "deep well of
   unconscious cerebration" to re-emerge as lessons now important and
   salutary. (134)

Here again is Brooks's central argument: that in Paris in 1875-1876, James was put off by the artistic and literary avant-gardes he encountered, but that nonetheless he took them in and later, in spite of himself, adopted and transcended them.

This is where the absence of an overt dialogue between Brooks and Wrenn is perhaps most unfortunate, for Wrenn too argues for a return on James's part to what James had previously rejected. Having learned (partly due to meeting Flaubert and the Naturalists in Paris in 1876) to reject the Revue des Deux Mondes novelists, James, with The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl, reincorporated but at the same time transcended the influence of About, Cherbuliez, and Feuillet. However, if part of the purpose of scholarship is to provoke further discussion and investigation, the contemporaneous appearance of Henry James and the Second Empire and Henry James Goes to Paris could eventually prove fortuitous.

Other Works Cited

Anesko, Michael, and N. Christine Brookes, eds. The French Face of Nathaniel Hawthorne: Monsieur de l'Aubepine and His Second Empire Critics. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2011. Print.

Brooks, Peter. The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama, and the Mode of Excess. 1976; rpt. New York: Columbia UP, 1984. Print.

Fussell, Edwin Sill. The French Side of Henry James. New York: Columbia UP, 1990. Print.

Garnier, Marie. Henry James et la France. Paris: Champion, 1927. Print.

Gervais, David. Flaubert and Henry James: A Study in Contrasts. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1978. Print.

Grover, Philip. Henry James and the French Novel: A Study in Inspiration. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1973. Print.

Horne, Philip. "The Lessons of Flaubert: James and L'Education sentimentale." Conrad, James, and Other Relations. Ed. Keith Carabine and Owen Knowles. Lublin: Maria Curie-Sklodowska U, 1998. 313-26. Print.

Jacobson, Marcia. Henry James and the Mass Market. University: U Alabama P, 1983. Print.

Lodge, David. Author, Author! New York: Viking, 2004. Print.

Person, Leland S. "Henry James, George Sand, and the Suspense of Masculinity." PMLA 106 (1991): 515-28. Print.

Powers, Lyall H. Henry James and the Naturalist Movement. [East Lansing]: Michigan State UP, 1971. Print.

Stowe, William W. Balzac, James, and the Realistic Novel. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1983. Print.

Tintner, Adeline. The Book World of Henry James: Appropriating the Classics. Ann Arbor: UMI Research P, 1987. Print.

--. The Cosmopolitan World of Henry James: An Intertextual Study. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1991. Print.

--. The Pop World of Henry James: From Fairy Tales to Science Fiction. Ann Arbor: UMI Research P, 1989. Print.

Toibin, Colm. The Master. New York: Scribner, 2004. Print.

Walker, Pierre A. Reading Henry James in French Cultural Contexts. DeKalb: U Northern Illinois P, 1995. Print.

Wegelin, Christof. "The Internationalisation of The Golden Bowl." Nineteenth Century Fiction 11 (1956): 161-81. Print.

Pierre A. Walker

Salem State University
COPYRIGHT 2013 Northern Illinois University
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2013 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Walker, Pierre A.
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2013
Previous Article:Nancy Easterlin. A Biocultural Approach to Literary Theory and Interpretation.
Next Article:Books and journals received.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters