restricted access Sympathy in The Portrait of a Lady and The Golden Bowl
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Lady Kew realistically argues that one cannot escape the world into which one is born. Ethel, like Van, chooses the world she knows. Clive Newcome affirms his father's backward vision, his integrity, as Nanda affirms Longdon's. Victimized, neither Clive nor Nanda is wholly fulfilled because both look back to the road not taken, to the lost love, as Colonel Newcome and Longdon have done before them. As for Mrs. Brook, it may be that she is James's Becky Sharp, for both know how to live on nothing a year, are terrible mothers, are explicitly judged for their immorality. And yet they both are consummate actresses who have the art of projecting the type of the ingenue as a veil over their worldliness. How dare Becky play Phi lómele or Mrs. Brook dote on Little Aggie? That art makes Lord Steyne laugh aloud—and Vanderbank too. Both women are gamblers, playing for high stakes and playing brilliantly. And both have resilience, like the phoenix persistently rising from their own ashes. "I cannot but think," remarks Geoffrey Tillotson, "that James learned from Thackeray ... how piquant a subject lies in the woman who does not defeat or outrage our moral judgment ... so much as baffle it with the aesthetic fascination of the changes on the surface." Sympathy in The Portrait of a Lady and The Golden Bowl by Edwin Sill Fussel I, University of California, San Diego In the heyday of its spectacular and spectacularly short career as an exciting new concept in philosophy, sympathy was defined by Dr. Johnson in his dictionary as "fel lowfeel ing; mutual sensibility; the quality of being affected by the affection of another," which is more or less clear. For philosophical uses, the term seems to have arisen mainly with David Hume in his Treatise on Human Nature (1739-40), to have been carried furthest, highest, and most flourishingly in Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), and to have found a belated apogee in Jeremy Bentham, Table of the Springs of Action (1817). Almost from the beginning, the validity of the concept was sharply questioned by other philosophers. The general result of their debate is well summarized by Dugald Stewart in his Out I i nes of Moral Philosophy (1793). "Where philosophical precision is aimed at, there is ground for many distinctions. Hence the necessity of limiting, by an accurate definition, the sense in which this very vague and equivocal word is to be understood, when it is introduced into scientific discussion." Referring specifically to Adam Smith, he continues: "The facts general Iy referred to sympathy have appeared to Mr. Smith so important and so curiously connected, that he has been led to attempt an explanation, from this single principle, of all the phenomena of moral perception. The large mixture of valuable truth contained in this most ingenious Theory ... entitle the Author to the highest rank amongst Systematic Moralists; but, on a closer examination of the subject, it will be found that he has been misled, like many other eminent writers, by an excessive love of simplicity." What was too vague and equivocal for science was superbly suited to literary expression, especially American. The Power of Sympathy is the title of the first American novel (1789). It is a major theme, and perhaps the major theme, of American literature from that time to about the time of Norris and Dreiser. Sympathy is abundant in the works of Charles Brockden Brown, Cooper, Poe, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, Howells, Henry Adams, and Henry James. James might have encountered the theme anywhere, but of all American sympathy-mongers Hawthorne was the most assiduous, and in fact we 6. Thackeray the Novelist (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1954), p. 298. 1. The Collected Works of Dugald Stewart, Vl (Edinburgh: n. p., 1854-60), 39. 161 know that sympathy was recognized and reprobated by James in Hawthorne's works. In the critical biography, he writes of Hawthorne's "extreme predilection for a small number of vague ideas"—the same complaint urged by Stewart against Smith—"which are represented by such terms as 'sphere' and 'sympathies.' Hawthorne makes too liberal a use of these two substantives; it is...