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The Europeans: A Centennial Essay by Edward A. Geary, Brigham Young University Several models have been suggested for The Europeans, including Hawthorne's romances, Jane Austen's novels, the "well made" plays of Feuillet, Cherbuliez, and Augier, and the "poetic idylls" of Turgenev, Sainte-Beuve, and Fromentin. 1 The most immediate influence, however, seems to have been reader reaction to The American, particularly the reaction of William Dean Howells. James's earliest recorded reference to The Europeans occurs in a letter dated March 30, 1877, in response to Howells1 s "stricture on the close" of The American, which was then appearing serially in the Atlantic Monthly. In the letter James defended "the inevitability of the American denouement" and admitted that "it is the tragedies in life that arrest my attention more than the other things and say more to my imagination." But he acknowledged that "you couldn't have, for the present, another evaporated marriage from me," and promised "a very joyous little romance" as his next contribution to the Atlantic: I shall probably develop an idea that I have, about a genial, charming youth of a Bohemianish pattern, who comes back from foreign parts into the midst of a mouldering and ascetic old Puritan family of his kindred (some imaginary locality in New England 1830), and by his gayety and sweet audacity smooths out their rugosities, heals their dyspepsia and dissipates their troubles. All the women fall in love with him (and he with them--his amatory powers are boundless;) but even for a happy ending he can't marry them all. But he marries the prettiest, and from a romantic quality of Christian charity, produces a picturesque imbroglio (for the sake of the picturesque I shall play havoc with the New England background of 1830! ) under cover of which the other maidens pair off with the swains who have hitherto been starved out: after which the beneficent cousin departs for Bohemia (with his bride, oh yes!) in a vaporous rosy cloud, to scatter new benefactions over man—and especially, woman-kind!--(Pray don't mention this stuff to any one. It would be meant, roughly speaking, as the picture of the conversion of a dusky, dreary 1. The Hawthorne model is suggested by F. 0. Matthiessen in his Introduction to The American Novels and Stories of Henry James (New York: Knopf, 1956), p. x, by Peter Buitenhuis, The Grasping Imagination: The American Writings of Henry James (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1970), pp. 90-91, and by Robert E. Long, The Great Succession: Henry James and the Legacy of Hawthorne (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1979), p. 57; the Austen model by F. R. Leavis, "The Novel as Dramatic Poem (III): 'The Europeans,'" Scrutiny, 15 (Summer 1948), 221, hereafter cited parenthetically in my text as Leavis, and by F. W. Dupee, Henry James (New York: William Sloan, 1951), p. 101; the model of the French well made play by Oscar Cargill, The Novels of Henry James (New York: Macmillan, 1961), p. 67; and the model of the "poetic idyll" by Edward Sackville-West in his Introduction to The Europeans : A Sketch (London: John Lehmann, 1952), pp. vii-viii. HENRY JAMES REVIEW 31 FALL, 1982 domestic circle to epicureanism. But I may be able to make nothing of it. The merit would be in the amount of color I should be able to infuse into it.)2 This brief outline indicates that James had already conceived the basic situation of The Europeans, with the figure of Felix Young contrasted to the puritan Wentworths. The international situation of The American is here reversed, with the European, or Europeanized American, coming to the New World in quest of matrimony as Christopher Newman had gone to the Old. There is also a shift from the melodrama of The American to a light comedy of manners, set in an earlier, simpler period. James's letter even anticipates the objections that were to be raised by Richard Grant White and Thomas Wentworth Higginson to the liberties taken with Boston actuality in The Europeans. But James could not be quite as simple as he planned. When it came to the point, he could not simply...


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