Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/121

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
His First Period

"talky" and untheatrical; and he succeeded neither in purging the theatre of the commercialism he deprecated nor even in taking the public fancy himself. His first attempts at fiction were printed in The Atlantic Monthly and The Galaxy; but he hardly emerges as an author of account before the appearance of The Passionate Pilgrim in 1871. His first important novel was Roderick Hudson, published in The Atlantic in 1875. His first and only approach to popularity, whether in long or short story, was made by Daisy Miller in 1878. The New York Edition of his novels and tales, published during the years 1907 to 1909, is of the greatest interest because of the extended discussion of his own work and the account of his imaginative processes found in the Prefaces. It is, however, very far from being a complete collection even of his works of fiction. It is simply the choice made by James at that late date, and according to his taste as it had then developed, of such of his stories as he wished to be known by. It remains to be seen how far posterity will submit to his judgment in the matter.

The threefold grouping of his novels already suggested was in connection with the treatment of American themes. In reference to form and method a more illuminating division would be one of two periods: first, Roderick Hudson to The Tragic Muse, 1875-1890; and second, The Spoils of Poynton to The Sense of the Past, 1896-1917.

In the novels of the first group, he includes, in general, more material than in the later ones, more incident, a greater number of characters, a more extended period of time; and he treats his material in the larger, more open, more lively manner of the main English tradition. He also chooses, in the earlier period, what may be considered more ambitious themes in the matter of psychology. In Roderick Hudson, for example, he undertakes to trace the degeneration of a man of genius, a young American sculptor, when given the freedom of the artistic life in Rome. This evolutionary—or revolutionary—process of character, suggestive of George Eliot, is a "larger order" than he would ever have taken on in the later period . In The Tragic Muse he reverts to the theme of the artistic temperament—this time in disagreement with the world of affairs; and he develops it by means of two great interrelated stories, one dealing with an actress, one with a painter. In the later