- Henry James’s Legacy: The Afterlife of His Figure and His Fiction
Although I have admired Tintner’s many books on James—she is now surely the most prominent James critic—I regard this wise, clear, and erudite work as her most significant yet. Surely it merits claim to the authoritative study of James’s “legacy” that we “modernists” (and “postmodernists”) have eagerly awaited.
Her introduction clarifies this remarkable achievement. She quotes a passage from James’s essay “Is There a Life after Death?”: “The very provocation offered to the artist by the universe, the provocation for him to be . . . an artist . . . what do I take that for but the intense desire of being to get itself personally shared?” Tintner, following the Master, suggests that the “afterlife” of James as figure, creator, and icon has dominated the fiction not only of his contemporaries (Conrad) but also of our current writers. She suggests that, wherever we turn, he is the “lion in the path.” We cannot read a ghostly fiction without remembering his contribution to and fascination with the occult. Nor can we read an international novel without thinking of Daisy Miller. And we cannot even think of Venice without remembering The Wings of the Dove. Even his fascination with the “criminal” looms before us.
Of course, I am making large assertions, but I am convinced by Tintner’s close readings that I am correct in assuming that James needs to be situated in relation to his twentieth-century peers. Have we not all thought of James’s fascination with evil as it informs Graham [End Page 432] Greene’s fiction (not to mention his critical essays on James)? Have we not seen a glimmer of Daisy Miller in the Great Gatsby? But have we ever considered the many contexts of James for Fitzgerald and Greene—contexts of plot, allusion, imagery? And have we ever read about James and his fascination for Hemingway (think of the “obscure hurt” of Jake Barnes)? Have we ever followed in detail Phillip Roth’s obsession with James (even in The Facts )? Tintner forces us to see these modern novels in the light of James. But she does not merely assert these “legacies”—she documents them with amazing and brilliant close readings.
I have assumed that I have been one of the few critics to note James’s imprint in Rebecca Goldstein’s The Dark Sister and Brad Leithauser’s Seaward: A Novel; to recognize James’s lines quoted in A. S. Byatt’s Possession; and to be jarred by the odd appearance of James and Leon Edel in James McCourt’s Time Remaining. But Tintner draws from these books, including details that had escaped my attention. The thorough knowledge that she demonstrates of the work of W. M. Spackman, Carol Hill, Patricia Highsmith, and Michael Dibdin makes me wonder what she hasn’t read.
But perhaps she has missed some important writers or novels in this study. She does not, for example, mention “the madness of art” quotation in Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms. (He probably learned the phrase from Newton Arvin). She also does not explore the possible southern connection—for instance, the “fact” that Peter Taylor (especially in his last two books) used Jamesian metaphor. (Very likely Taylor was influenced by Gordon and Tate’s House of Fiction, an anthology that pays homage to James in its title and selection of stories).
I do not raise the possibility that there are omissions in Tintner’s book to provoke argument, but to suggest that, after reading Tintner’s book, I am forced to keep searching for the Master. And these observations underlie the fact that Tintner’s criticism of James’s “afterlife” takes on a life of its own. She has recognized the transformations, the “shared” experiences of James’s readers. I do not hesitate to claim that she will be read as long as true Jamesians exist. Thus, in the words of the Master, Tintner’s “legacy” will be “shared, in an infinite variety, enormously...