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Another Model for Christina Light by B. Richards, Brasenose College, Oxford University More than twenty years ago Burdett Gardner suggested that Henry James's "tiger cat," Vernon Lee, was possibly a model for Christina Light, the heroine of Henry James's Roderick Hudson (1875) and The Princess Casamassima (1885-86). The evidence was very slender, since neither in appearance, manner nor nationality did Vernon Lee resemble the fictional character; indeed, one wonders why she was ever suggested . A year later Leon Edel administered Gardner a sharp rap on the knuckles and commented that "much more evidence is required before such a speculation can have validity." Edel said of the letters that "thousands are extant and they are fuU of pitfalls when quoted" (see Edel, "Henry James and Vernon Lee" 677-78). And he added that Christina could be drawn from a number of women, including Alice Bartlett, Sarah Wister, Fanny Lombard, and Lizzie Boott. In The Conquest of London he thinks the "magnificent tresses" could have been borrowed from Mrs. Wister, but by this stage he has a more definite candidate: Elena Lowe, daughter of Francis Lowe of Boston. She was in James's Roman circle of 1873, but tantalizingly aloof, "very handsome , very lovely, very reserved and very mysterious" (see Edel, The Conquest of London 113, 179). She compromised herself with the painter Bellay, but a year later, in July, 1874, James heard of her marriage in Venice to Gerald Perry, son of Sir William Perry, retired British consul, and of the late Geraldine de Courey, sister of Lord Kingsale . Her mother-in-law's family was highly distinguished; according to Burke's Anecdotes of the Aristocracy, the Kingsales were allowed to retain headgear in the presence of the monarch (Π, 292-94). James thought the marriage "a little of a prosy performance" (The Conquest of London 114). The references to Elena Lowe are scanty, and, although it is possible that Edel has identified a major source for the character , there is stiU room for further speculation. One feels a certain need to find an original or originals for Christina since her character is so rich and full—so full, in fact, that James realized that he had not exhausted her possibilities in one book, and re-introduced her in The Princess Casamassima. I am anxious to suggest a supplementary source for Christina not because we need someone in the background of reality to be convinced of her plausibility —she is a powerful creation in her own right, and needs no support—but because opening our minds to the possibility that a fictional character may have several reallife prototypes forces us to relinquish literalist readings of fiction and to have greater respect for the artist's creative and inventive imagination. Christina Light is not a portrait of a single historical individual, but an invention, with traits of a number of women. This essay is a further contribution to a picture of James's creative methods, and, as we shaU see, also a contribution to the study of his methods of textual revision. Elena Lowe is sufficiently convincing as a source, so far as the beauty and the enigmatic quality of Christina Light are concerned, and doubtless she provided a touch of Christina's irresponsibility, but there are other features that we do not find in her, and for these we have to turn to another American expatriate of James's Roman years: Eleanor Strong. More than any other woman James knew at this time, she was capricious, and this was the dominant adjective for Christina Light. On the available evidence, she contributed as much to the creation of James's heroine as Elena Lowe and Mrs. Wister. James came across Eleanor Strong in Rome in 1869. She was in the American circle in which he moved; he first met her through his relation Mrs. Ward. He described her as "a very sweet and agreeable woman" with a "youthful and precocious daughter" (HJL I, 173). She was living away from her husband, Charles Edward Strong, as she had been since 1866. She was a Volume V 60 Number 1 The Henry James Review FaU 1983 daughter of William Sedley Fearing of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 60-65
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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