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Roderick Hudson: A Centennial Reading by Adel¡ne R. Tintner After a hundred years the time ¡s ripe for Roderick Hudson to get what it deserves, an in-depth study of all its aspects, worthy of the rich first novel of a great writer and the product of ten years of serious writing, which included twenty-six stories, a collection of travel sketches, and a series of pieces on art exhibitions. The novel revolves as well around James's personal problem at that time, which coincided with the more general problem for the artist. Should he be a critic or a creative writer? Should he stay here or go abroad? Should he be tethered to his native pastures or feed ¡n more nutritive meadows? James took his job very seriously, and he summoned up all the forces he could mustei—his vast reading, his technical skll Is developed through his tales, his interest in the experience of looking at art, and his seif-consciousness as an artist. Criticism has not taken the book seriously enough. The early attitude to Roderick Hudson was that it was "apprentice work," a judgment dispensed magisterially by T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. One of the chief obstacles in the way of objective criticism was James's own preface to the revised New York Edition version, where his judgments that he had done badly in the American part of the book, that Mary Garland was not attractive enough, and that Roderick goes to pot too precipitously have tended to hamper free thinking. Critics have now begun to walk away from that influence and to discount James's remarks about a book fabricated so long ago and concerned with the state of an international romance so long vanished. In this centennial review of Roderick, after making an account of its critical fate, I see this novel as a concentrate of Romanticism—American, English, German, French, even Italian. There is also a need to distinguish between the early version and the revision of 1907, in which the international romance moves to the status of cosmopolitan romance, with its fin-de-siècle note. To make the point I must go Into the details of this complex revision to appreciate the properly complicated ingredients of a remarkable "first novel." I. The Critical Reception of Roderick Hudson Although Oscar Carg 11 I has taken care of most of the criticism up to 1960, there are some further generalizations one can make about the reception of the novel up to that date. In the period from 1905 to 1920, Roderick was considered almost universally as an apprentice novel. BrowneI I in 1905 eliminates the novel completely from his consideration of James's work. Hueffer in 1913 uses James's preface to insist on its being a negligible piece of apprentice work, and Rebecca West in 1916 wrote, "it is not a good book." She interpreted the insertion of "'it's like something in a bad novel'" (my ¡tal ics) as James's poking fun at his own ineptitude, something It ¡s hard to swallow today. What she finds annoying (the novel ¡s "crammed with local colour like a schoolmistress's bedroom filled with photographs of Rome") we find today filled with the local color of a vanished period, which makes it exceedingly interesting. In 1918 T. S. Eliot thought James did no better with Rome than Hawthorne had done, and Eliot considered most of the characters failures, though he found interesting what James "does not do in the Hawthorne way" ¡n James's "instinctive attempt to get at something larger." Dickens ¡s a prototype for the kind of characterization ¡n Roder i ck, as Beach also remarked ¡n 1918, but Beach did not distinguish between the two versions of Roderick. However, Beach was the first to like the book, even though he took James's word that the book ¡s seen through the consciousness of Rowland and that therefore we "never get Inside the skin of Roderick." Ezra Pound simply repeated the opinion that the book is apprentice work and "not up to the level of 'Pickering,'" a judgment that ¡s hard to accept today in spite of the interest...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 172-198
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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