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ERIC HARALSON Iron Henry, or James Goes to War In its extravagance, my title aims to disrupt some common associations with the figure of Henry James: the portly aesthete of the writing-desk and social club who divorced himselffrom history to disport himselfin art; the fellow whom the knowing eye ofTheodore Roosevelt sized up as "wholly lacking in robustness offiber," as too "delicate [and] effeminate" to "play a man's part among men"; the supersubtle chronicler of manners in parlors and on promenades whose characters "never make lusty love, never go to angry war," as H. G. Wells complained .1 This conventional wisdom needs qualifying, for military history , men in arms, and especially the immediate scene of war—as a privileged surplus ofexperience and a site of masculine trial—occupied a prominent place in James's long life and even longer imagination. After all, his adult years were bounded by the Civil War and the First World War; he followed closely the imperial adventures ofEngland and the United States, notably the Boer War and the Spanish-American War; and from his first tales to his last essays, he probed—and in a measure exemplified—William James's contention that "soldiering . . . lies always latent in human nature."2 Particularly striking is not just the depth but the durability ofJames's interest in things military, which I will here trace through his later involvements with two very different soldiers, Viscount Garnet Wolseley, England's commander-in-chief at the turn of the century, and Rupert Brooke, the poetic celebrant and beautiful fated boy of the Great War. By means ofthese two friendships (scanted in James biography) and the texts they yielded as windows on war—Wolseley's The Story ofa Soldier's Arizona Quarterly Volume 53, Number 4, Winter 1997 Copyright © 1997 by Arizona Board of Regents issN 0004-1610 40Eric Haralson Life (1903) and Brooke's famous sonnets (1914)—James negotiated fantasies of battlefield valor and mustered for campaigns all the way from the suppression of the so-called Sepoy Rebellion in India in 1857 to the trenches of World War I. Apparently agreeing with his brother William that, although war abounds in horrors, "the horrors make the fascination," this side of James rued the fact that he had never witnessed war himself, for as an artist he would have known what to make of it.3 As he lamented in an 1888 review: "The persons who see the great things are terribly apt not to be persons who can write or even talk about them; and the persons who can write about them ... are terribly apt not to be persons who see them. The 'chance' is with the blind or the dumb, and the immortal form, waiting for a revelation that doesn't come, is with the poor sedentary folk who bewail the waste of chances."4 James's lifelong effort to recuperate his wasted chance at war—to extract a "revelation" for purposes ofhis "immortal form"—can be seen in his assiduous reading of military memoirs, from those of Napoleon's general Jean-Baptiste Marbot to the Southern Soldier Stories of George Cary Eggleston, not to mention Wolseley's account.5 It is an effort that begins with his gratitude to Wilky James for the "visionary 'assistance'" of his Civil War letters and ends with his envy of novelist Compton Mackenzie—active in the same Dardanelles force as Rupert Brooke— for "the exposure of the sensitive plate of your imagination ... to all [the] wonderful and terrible things" of World War I.6 This hunger for photographic detail and for the pitched emotional drama of war registers even in James's request to his English houseboy, Burgess Noakes, stationed at the French front in 1915: "You are seeing life indeed. . . . Notice and observe and remember all you can—we shall want to have every scrap of it ... on your return."7 Indeed, what prompted James to visit the London military hospitals in his last years, bearing cigarettes and tenderness to the wounded, was partly Whitmanian solicitude, but partly the desire to unpack "the man of action, the creature appointed to advance and explode and destroy," and to add that creature...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 39-59
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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