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Selah Tarrant à la Daudet by Wayne W. Westbrook, Husson College F. 0. Matthiessen, Irving Howe, and Marius Bewley believe the influence of Alphonse Daudet on Henry James's The Bostonians (1886) is minor. Acknowledging James's own remark in the Notebooks that "Daudet's Evangéliste has given me the idea of this thing" (NB 47), Marius Bewley in particular argues that the reference to Daudet is a mere distraction. Bewley, together with Matthiessen and Howe, ascribes the real inspiration for The Bostonians to Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance. On the other hand, Oscar Cargill says that James's use of Blithedale did not preclude the influence of other books and advises that, because of James's practice of synthesizing from many sources, "one should look beyond both Hawthorne and George Eliot for the stimulus to his imagination" (127). More recently, Lyall Powers investigates the whole question of Henry James's debt to Daudet. Powers states that the principal theme and emphasis of The Bostonians closely parallel those of Daudet's L'Evangéliste. Unconvinced by arguments for the influence of Blithedale on James's novel, he points out that "the danger lies, obviously, in trying to make too much of the similarities between these two novels; for there is in addition to Blithedale a considerable little list of stories anterior to The Bostonians which exhibit many of these very ingredients and thus make their claim to be recognized as possible and indeed probable influences" (156). For example , Powers finds a close parallel to the Selah Tarrant-Verena Tarrant relationship in the Vasily-Mlle. Sophie relationship in Ivan Turgenev's "A Strange Story" (1869) and also in the Dr. Boynton-Egeria Boynton relationship in W. D. Howells's The Undiscovered Country (1880). Perhaps while on the track of James's indebtedness to Daudet , Powers should have regarded the French writer more closely, particularly his novel Fromont jeune et Risler aîné (1874). In Daudet's unforgettable character M. Delobelle, James may have found an inspiration for Selah Tarrant. Henry James paid tribute to the "great little novelist" in a review published in the Atlantic (1882). Though he especially admired Daudet's shorter works, which contained the "cream of the author's delicate and indescribable talent," James withheld praise for Fromont, one of his longer works. Not everything in Fromont disagreed with James, however. "The three or four subordinate characters furnish the strong points of the book," he averred. "The best figure in the book is the old humbugging tragedian Delobelle—a type of which we have had glimpses elsewhere. In Delobelle and in his daughter Désirée, English readers find an echo, at once gratifying and tormenting, of our own inimitable Dickens" (ADAM 849). In another review of Daudet published in the Century Magazine (1883), James expatiated at greater length on the character of Delobelle: The pages that made M. Daudet's fortune —for it was with "Fromont Jeune" that his fortune began, are those which relate to the history of M. Delobelle, the superannuated tragedian, his longsuffering wife, and his adorable lame daughter, who makes butterflies and hummingbirds for ladies' headdresses. This eccentric and pathetic household was an immense hit, and Daudet has never been happier than in the details of the group. Delobelle himself, who has not had an engagement for ten years and who never will have one again, but who holds none the less that it is his duty not to leave the stage, "not to renounce the theater," though his platonic passion is paid for by the weary eyesight of his wife and daughter , who sit up half the night attaching little bead-eyes to little stuffed animals —the blooming and sonorous Delobelle , ferociously selfish and fantastically vain, under the genial forms of melodrama, is a beautiful representation of a vulgarly factitious nature. (ADCM 505) Volume V 100 Number 2 The Henry James Review Winter, 1984 That Selah Tarrant is suffused with many of the habits, attitudes, and economic and moral qualities of M. Delobelle in Fromont suggests Daudet's influence on James's character in The Bostonians. Of the numerous resemblances between Delobelle and Tarrant, that of their situations and daily habits...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 100-106
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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