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Laurence B. Holland. The Expense of Vision: Essays on the Craft of Henry James. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins UnivT Press, 1982. 440 pp. $7.95 Straining to image a sacrament that they cannot render, the final sentences of Emerson's "Art" approach self-parody and risk sheer absurdity in their claims that art's "instinct to find beauty and holiness in new and necessary facts" wiU convert "the joint-stock company" to "a divine use," will make "a steamboat bridging the Atlantic between Old and New England" a vehicle of the sublime, wiU teach the powers of science to be "wielded by love." As I reread The Expense of Vision, I remembered a graduate seminar in which these lines had, somewhat mysteriously to me, entertained and engaged Laurence HoUand. The memory renewed itself in moments throughout Holland's text: in his re-enactment of the mannered quest of The Spoils of Poynton "for an extension of scale and moral urgency beyond what the meager appearances, the ostensibly bare materials, suggest" (87); in his representation of The Sacred Fount's "lunging attack on the authority of art" as "a turning point in [James's] career when he probed the resources of his artistry to their seminal absurdities and reconstituted his art on his deepened recognition of both the power and the limits of its perilous authority " (181); in his image of the "rhythmical form" of The Wings of the Dove as "a gesture of love" that "fails short of the full communion it manages nonetheless to intimate and celebrate," an "act of devotion " that "reveals by betraying the life and sacred presence it adores" (320). Holland's Henry James shares with earlier American writers an intense awareness of the problematic relation between life and language, a radicaUy ambivalent estimation of both the power and the morality of imaginative enterprise, and a selfconscious —at times, dangerously self-parodic —impulse toward the symbolic extension of meaning and form. The tradition in which James participates, moreover, is not a strictly literary but a broadly cultural one with social, religious and commercial dimensions . It is, HoUand suggests, the revolutionary tradition of America itself that James follows and advances when he insists that the novel "become not a demonstration of experience already tested but the searching experiment itself, an experience and trial of the not yet, and not otherwise , known" (69), or when he cultivates a style that "presses beyond the apparent confines of its given subject to establish a larger scale of relevance and create a world by symboUzing it" (89). This insight of The Expense of Vision is made explicit the appended essay of the new edition on The American Scene. There Holland elaborates the bond between the "process of 'redemption ' and reinvigoration" that constitutes James's theory and practice of representation and the "'energy of renewal'" that, after twenty years abroad, James still could locate and celebrate in the dynamics of American society—a society whose brutalities , vulgarities and anxieties his book suffers and voices yet whose sustaining myth it endorses and under pressure reinscribes (414, 420). James's art, for HoUand, looks back toward the symbolism and "romance " of earlier American masters and forward toward expressionistic and even nonrepresentational painting, but above all it looks outward at the emergent modern world: at "predatory, exploitive manipulations in everyday commerce or intercourse "; at "the compulsive search both for cohesive communities of interest and intimacy and for impregnable privacy in a society where persons and classes are unsettled "; at "the ingenuity and desperation with which persons cling to forms or seek to establish them when their experience verges on 'nothingness' or when they resist a 'common doom.'" James not only observes "the middle-class world he knew" but grants it "his profound if reluctant assent," accepting the real moral burden of imaginative complicity as he engages "to help transform that world through the rituals of commitment which his major works enact" (222). An art so ambitious—one determined to define such a complex and shifting world while preserving its "suspension of contingent possibilities" (13); one founded on the Volume VI 60 Number 1 The Henry James Review Fall, 1984 tension between assent to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 60-62
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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