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  • Henry James and Zola’s Roman expérimental
  • Lyall H. Powers (bio)
Lyall H. Powers

Assistant Professor of English, University of Michigan


1. Questions at Issue (London 1893), 139; and L’Influence du naturalisme français sur les romanciers anglais de 1885 à 1900 (Paris, 1925), 194–5.

2. The Portrait of a Lady (1881) apparently looks, Janus-like, in two directions, backward to much that had preceded it in James’s career, and Forward toward what was soon to come; there are, however, a number of facts which, I think, quite clearly set the post-Portrait works apart. Consequently, I find it more meaningful and convenient to consider the Portrait as closing James’s first period. The facts I refer to are these: (1) James’s Hawthorne (1879) clearly sounds a note of farewell to early preoccupations and influences (cf. F. O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance [New York 1941], 393), and implicitly offers the possible solution of expatriation for the American artist; (2) the Portrait does belong to this early period, for James was at work on it during the closing months of 1877 at the latest (see the letter to his mother, March 1878, and cf. Leon Edel, ed., Selected Letters of Henry James [New York 1955], 52–3), and it is James’s last treatment of the “international theme” (cf. The Europeans, Daisy Miller, and even Washington Square) for over two decades; (3) the deaths of George Eliot (1880) and Ivan Turgenev (1883), whom James had considered the two greatest living writers and whose works influenced the writing of the Portrait, perhaps encouraged James to turn to the most congenial of living writers—the group into which Turgenev had introduced him, chez Flaubert; (4) the deaths of both parents (1882), which further cut his ties to home and native land; and (5) the growing vogue of French Naturalism, 1880–1884; “The Art of Fiction” was published in 18S4.

3. While I believe the influence of French Naturalism is of great importance in this period of James’s development, I do not mean to suggest that it is the whole story, that it by any means completely accounts for the works of the eighties. My intention here is simply to consider the extent to which one aspect of that influence is discernible in the novels in question, and to suggest its contribution to James’s major phase.

4. Le Roman expérimental, Œuvres complètes (Paris, 1927–1929), XXXV, 26 and 24.

5. Ibid., 16.

6. Ibid., 25.

7. Le Roman naturaliste (Paris, 1893), 222.

8. The Future of the Novel, ed, Leon Edel (New York, 1956), 92. Late in 1899 James referred to Zola’s “heroic system” again, “to pay it publicly my respects. For it has been in its way an intellectual lesson. ‖” (“The Present Literary Situation in France,” North American Review, CLXIX [Oct. 1899], 499.)

9. Mes Haines, Œuvres, XXX, 65.

10. See James’s letter (Dec. 5, 1884) to R. L. Stevenson: “My pages, in Longman [“The Art of Fiction”] were simply a plea for liberty…” (Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. Janet Adam Smith [London, 1948], 102; cf. The Letters of Henry James, ed. Percy Lubbock, 2 vols. [New York, 1920], 1, 110).

11. Letters, ed, Lubbock, 1, 104; my italics.

12. I say “a flavour,” for James was surely not interested in emulating those characteristics of Zola which provoked scandalized opposition in England.

13. In Virginia Harlow, Thomas Sergeant Perry (Durham, N. C., 1930). 316.

14. The Bostonians (New York, 1886), 114–15; all subsequent references are to this edition and are given in the text.

15. The Novels and Tales of Henry James (New York, 1907–1917), V, 174–5, 177; subsequent references to the New York edition by volume and page number are given in the text.

16. Cf. V, 137, and Hyacinth’s examining himself in the mirror of his room on his visit to Medley: “it seemed to him more than ever that Mademoiselle Vivier’s son, lacking all the social dimensions, was scarce a perceptible person at all” (VI, 6).

17. The Princess Casamassima (and with it The Bostonians, perhaps) offers us James’s fullest treatment of...


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