Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/116

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98
Henry James

strictly international as that of Poe. James was a profound admirer of Hawthorne; but so was he an admirer of Balzac and of George Sand, and it is probably to later models than any of these that he owes whatever is most characteristic in his technique. There is at any rate nothing here drawn from American sources rather than from European; nothing which we can claim as our production.

Yet we have reasons for our claim upon him. This very passion for Europe, as he has exhibited it in himself and in so many of his creatures, this European "adventure" of Lambert Strether and Isabel Archer (of The Portrait of a Lady)— what more purely American product can be conceived? Even to the conscientiousness with which young James did his London sightseeing, mindful of his own feeble health, which threatened to cut it short, and above all mindful "that what he was doing, could he but put it through, would be intimately good for him!"

Altogether his theme turned out to be quite as much American character as European setting. We must not forget how predominantly his novels, and how frequently his short stories, have for their subject Americans,—Americans abroad, or even Americans at home seen in the light of foreign observation. In this connection the novels in particular may be divided into three groups, falling chronologically into three periods. In the first period, extending from Roderick Hudson to The Bostonians, 1875 to 1885, the leading characters are invariably Americans, though the scene is half the time abroad. In the second period, from The Princess Casamassima to The Sacred Fount, 1885 to 1901, the novels confine them selves rather strictly to English society. In the third period, from The Wings of the Dove to the novels left unfinished at the author's death, 1902 to 1917, James returned to his engrossing, and by far his most interesting, theme of Americans in Paris or Venice or London. Not a very original contribution to literature is the American scene itself—the New York of Washington Square (1881), the Boston of The Europeans (1878) and The Bostonians; and none of these novels was included by James in the New York Edition. His American settings are but palely conceived; and his figures do not find here the proper background to bring them out and set off their special