Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/123

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105
His Masters in Art

Each tale of James is thus an "initiation" into some social or artistic or spiritual value not obvious to the vulgar. And each tale is a quiet picture, a social study, rather than the smart anecdote prescribed by our doctors of the "short-story." James is not rigorous in his limitation of the short story to the magazine length; so that his tales are as likely to take the form of the more leisurely nouvelle as of the brief and sketchy conte. And so it was not surprising to find a tale intended originally for a magazine short story enlarging itself by insensible degrees into what is practically a novel. Such was the case with The Spoils of Poynton, one of his finest stories, which has the length of a novel, together with the restricted subject-matter, the continuity, and economy of the short story.

But these traits, it is clear, had already grown to be James's ideals for a narrative of whatever length. They were the ideals of many of the foreign novelists whose personal influence had swayed him in Paris; and to a considerable extent those of George Eliot, whose influence upon him must have been mediate, working through her French imitators, as well as emanating directly from her own work. More and more, serious novelists were denying themselves the breezy and picturesque variety of materials, the broad free stroke, of the old masters, in favour of a dramatic limitation, a dramatic closeness of weave, a scientific minuteness of detail, an intimate psychological notation, and a pictorial (as distinguished from picturesque) consistency of tone,—all of which we find in their extremest development in the later novels of James. This is what makes the international character of his art. Note should be taken, of course, of a certain fussiness and long-windedness, as well as a certain tendency to the abstract, which are partly to be set down to the score of personal idiosyncrasy. But in general he is clearly following the ideals of George Eliot, of Flaubert, of Turgenev. Perhaps too we should admit the suggestion of F. M. Hueffer, who would trace back the lineage of James, through Stendhal and other French writers, ultimately to Richardson, the early master of the technique of manifold fine strokes, of the close and sentimental study of souls.

Along with The Spoils of Poynton may be mentioned,