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"A Fine Bewilderment": The Influence of Henry James's William Wetmore Story on The Golden Bowl by Marijane Rountree Davis, Texas Tech University In 1895, Henry James was approached by the children of William Wetmore Story, who proposed that James write a biography of their father and his frequent host, an American expatriate sculptor who lived and worked in Rome for the last fifty years of his life (1819 to 1895). Reluctantly, James accepted the assignment in October, 1897, after learning from William Blackwood (Story's Edinburgh publisher) the rather generous advance and payment to be made for the book (£250 or $1250 in advance; £100 after the first 7,000 copies sold, and £100 for every 2,000 copies sold thereafter) (SL 100). The book, after many delays, was finally begun September 22, 1902, was finished in about two months, and was published in 1903, almost concurrently with The Ambassadors (Edel, The Master 129). Several questions come to mind after reading William Wetmore Story and His Friends: From Letters, Diaries, and Recollections. The first is, why would James, even if in pecuniary straits, agree to write the biography of a man he ridiculed and whose art he denigrated? The second is, why did the biography take the shape it did? The third is, what influence did "this preposterous job" (SL 45) have on James's subsequent novel, The Golden BowH This paper attempts to answer these questions, particularly the third, by an examination of the parallels in the lives of William Story and Henry James, of James's acquaintance with Italy and the Storys, and of imagery and characters found in both William Wetmore Story and The Golden Bowl. I William Wetmore Story was bom in Salem, Massachusetts, on February 12, 1819, the sixth child and second son of the Honorable Justice Joseph Story, founder of Harvard Law School, State Representative and Congressman from Massachusetts, and United States Supreme Court Justice, and Sarah Waldo Wetmore Story, daughter of a Judge Wetmore. After the family moved to Cambridge, Story was educated with schoolmates such as James Russell Lowell and Charles Sumner, and he graduated from Harvard A.B. in 1838 and L.L.B. in 1840. Although in legal circles his fame was made with treatises on contracts and sales, Story also published poems and essays in various miscellanies, wrote amateur theatricals and musicals, and delivered the Phi Beta Kappa poem at Harvard in 1844. When Justice Story died in 1845 and his son was given the commission 18 The Henry James Review for a statue in his honor, William's life reached its crux. In a letter quoted by James, Story recounts his decision to give up the law and to pursue art as a vocation: "At last I found my heart had gone over from the Law to Art. . . . My mother thought me mad and urged me to pursue my legal career, in which everything was open to me, rather than take such a leap in the dark. But I had chosen, and I came back to Italy, where I have lived nearly ever since" (WW I, 32). After spending part of 1848 and 1849, the year of the French siege of Rome, in Italy—at which time he met such notables as Margaret Fuller Ossoli, Princess Cristina Belgiojoso (whom many critics believe to be the model for Princess Casamassima in James's eponymous novel), and Frank and Lizzie Boott (the models for Gilbert and Pansy Osmond in James's The Portrait of a Lady)— Story and his family, consisting of his wife Evelyn Eldridge Story, whom he had married October 31, 1843, his son Joseph, bom in 1846 (to die in Rome in 1852 of the fever), and his daughter Edith, bom in 1846, returned to Cambridge in 1850. However, Story could not forget Italy, its beauty, charm, and art, and so decided to move the family back to Italy in 1851, where Story completed the statue and some volumes in honor of his father. There, another son was bom in 1854, Thomas Waldo, who would follow his father as a sculptor. A final visit to England and the United States confirmed Story's desire for a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 17-34
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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