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- THE EXILE ·OF HENRY JAMES LEON EDEL A MER1,CAN criticism, always tending to be self- \ conscious, has latterly been 'pre-otcu~ie~ with the probl~m of Henry James s expatnatlon. The novelist, it will be remembered, left the United States in 1883 and did not return for twenty years; and then only for a short visit. Was this self-imposed exile-and we must be careful in using the word, for James, surely, never thought himself an exile--premeditated, or was it forced upon 'him by a hostile American environment r Was it the exile of a Turgeniev who followed a woman into Europe, or the .exile of. a Byron who fled England's shores on his extraordinary pilgrimage? In ·t~uth it was neither. James did not leave America because he could not create there: he went to Europe because he could create -in Europe. And this is very important. I t is very important because critics seem to have missed ·just this point. There is no reason for seeking behind facts, determining hidden motives, in the manner of Mr. Van Wyck Brooks. There is no reason for pointing to the arid, pre-industrial United States as no home for the artistic consciousness, in the manner of Mi'. Matthew Josephson. The facts are written large in the circumstances of Henry James's life,' and th~y apply, logically enough, to the problem of our Canadian artist to-day. There is little difference, it might be said, .between the Boston of 1875 and the Toronto of 1933; and the analogy holds true between New York and Montreal. Yes,.James went to Europe because he belonged there. He possessed the restlessness of a citizen of the world. It had nothing whatever to do with his Americanism. 520 THE EXILE OF HENRY JAME~ Even his dose friend, W~ D. Howells, erred on this score when, in his dying moments, he tried to write an article on the Americanism of Henry James and justify his exile on grounds-of health and climate. . ",' The Canadian artist will continue to go abroad for the salne reasons that Jan1es did. A more subtle, a more finished civilization beckons-a more cri tical civilization. And for some artists-those who are subject to environment and atmosphere and require stimulus from the out- - side-it is impossible to resist that beckoning hand. Expatriation is inev:itable as long as a Cahadian criticism is lacking and the cold provincial air of our cities is filled with conflicts ·between philistinism and the mildest form bf individuality; as long as there are squabble8 between critics and orchestra conductors, and our authors think in terms of associations and co-operative book-marketing, our Canadian artists will go abroad and discover only too ~ often that a Canadian heresy is a European platitude. * * * There is another side to the question. There will be some artists who prefer to remain on this side and fight, and be crusaders, and seek self-expression in a hostile .industrialized environment; or, if not hostile, at least an environment where wrong values are often placed on creative effort. There are some-Robert Choquette is such a one-who are anxious to turn their backs on Europe and wish to' push their roots deeply into the Canadian soil; who are afraid to venture abroad lest the strong homely flavour of their work receive the breath of an older and-to them-more tarnished civilization. Be that as it may. We have before us the case of Henry Jalnes. Unlike Mozart, who could write symphonies while he 52! THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY played' billiards and chatteq. amiably, unlike Emily Dickinson or Jane AustenJ who could live in a circumscribed -world with their am'azing intuitions, Henry James required the stimulus of plaC!:e and time. It took much history to make a little literature, said Henry James, and the writer had to be in the thick historical current of his own time. His exposed nerves had to reflect his Immediate surroundings; his discontent and eternal self-' analysi\s and introspection came in a life of movement, of contacts-not a turbulent life by 'any means-but one which...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 520-532
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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