These four books illustrate the dichotomy, in James studies, between the traditionalists and the poststructuralists. Adeline Tintner has a longstanding reputation as a historian of James's sources, using scholarly detective work to locate these in literature and the visual arts. Richard Gage, although a younger critic, adopts the formalist approach taken by the majority of older Jamesians: guided by James's comments on "architecture," Gage examines the structure of his volumes to determine their unifying themes. In contrast, Lloyd Davis and Terry Heller offer poststructuralist readings of familiar texts: their vocabulary is derived not from James but from Lacan and Derrida, and they discover, not certainty or unity, but undecidability. Fortunately, James's works are sufficiently complex to accommodate a variety of interpretive strategies. Unfortunately, however, not all the critics succeed in demonstrating the larger implications of their own arguments or in addressing issues that might be of concern to actual readers, specialist or otherwise.
Tintner's Pop World is a companion to her two previous studies, The Museum World of Henry James and The Book World of Henry James. Like them, it is handsomely illustrated: even a casual student of the nineteenth century may enjoy the plates from James's boyhood books, including Doré's illustrations of Perrault's Contes and the sketches from Frank Leslie's New York Journal. Also like Tintner's other volumes, The Pop World collects diverse material, much of it previously published in notes and articles. "Tintner's arena," Madeleine Stern tells us in her Foreword, includes James's borrowings from "fairy tale, classical myths, biblical legends, sensation novels, and science fiction," as well as from newspaper stories.
But diversity creates difficulties for readers, especially when a critic's chapters and sub-chapters are unrelated to one another or to an overarching thesis. Clearly this volume must be used as a reference guide, not read from cover to cover; and even if one consults it selectively, the value of its divisions is uneven. James's minor stories are sometimes closely related to their sources, especially in fairy tale; but in his major works, his borrowings were often casual and local, and [End Page 729] Tintner weakens her arguments as she attempts to expand mere footnotes into paragraphs and pages. In The Ambassadors, for example, the description of Waymarsh's "sacred rage" may well allude to Euripides' The Bacchae; yet given the comic nature of the novel, it seems far-fetched to suggest that "Teiresias could be a model for Strether."
The best of Tintner's analogies are important and valid, but readers should recognize that they serve to contribute to, rather than resolve, critical debate. In one of her strongest chapters, Tintner develops the parallels between "The Legend of the Master" and that of St. George and the dragon, arguing that the older writer is a "true savior," not a traitor whose motive is to steal the woman beloved by his young disciple. Maybe so; but Tintner is on shaky ground when she claims that "a close reading or rereading leaves no room for doubt as to the ending intended by the author." In fact, the ironic tone of the ending, which Tintner quotes, leaves plenty of room for doubt: was James engaging in parody or in serious imitation? Nonetheless, critics of this story, and of others for which Tintner supplies interpretations as well as notes, will want to consider the evidence she presents.
Richard P. Gage, like Tintner, directs our attention to some of James's lesser-known stories. This is a useful emphasis, for although criticism of a few famous tales has reached the saturation point, most of the stories...