In XXI it is wholly in Strether's consciousness. The Proportion of Intelligence and Bewilderment V.
Upon the correct proportion depends the verisimilitude of a given character. Omniscience would be incredible; the novel- ist must not make his "characters too interpretative of the muddle of fate, or in other words too divinely, too priggishly clever. The right mixture will depend on the quality of the bewilderment, whether it is the vague or the critical. The vague fool is necessary, but the leading interest is always in the intensifying, critical conscious- ness. These subjects are evidently related to that of Intelligence and Bewilderment. In themselves nothing, fools are the very agents of action.
They represent the stupid force o life and are the cause of trouble to the intelligent consciousness. The general truth for the spectator of life was this: X, "The fixed constituents of almost any repro- ducible action are the fools who minister, at a particular crisis, to the intensity of the free spirit engaged with them.
The great thing is indeed that the muddled state too is one of the very sharpest of the realities, that it also has colour and form and character, has often in fact a broad and rich comicality, many of the signs and values of the appreciable. The first of this pair of Prefaces almost wholly and the second largely deals with the methods of conditioning a sensibility so as to make a subject.
In XI James shows how the sensibility of a child, intelligent as may be, can influence and shape and make lucid, people and situations outside as well as within its un- derstanding. In XXI Str ether is outlined as the example of the adult sensibility fulfilling simi- lar functions, with the additional grace of greatly extended understanding. We have already spoken under the same heading of James' general theory of the dramatic scene.
It is too much of the whole substance of the technical discussion in many of the Prefaces to make more than a mere outline of its terms here possible. The eye is the artist, the scene the subject, and the window the limiting form. From each selected window the scene is differently observed.
In VII is discussed the theory of alternating scenes in terms of a centre p. In IX, which is the most purely scenic of all the books, the use of the alternating scene is developed still further. At the end of XI there is a bitter postcript declaring the scenic character of the form. It is principally to IX that the reader must resort for a sustained specific discussion of the Scene in fiction and its rela- tion to the Scene in drama, and to XIX, of which pp.
Sub- ordinate to this there is, in the same reference, a description of the various reflectors characters used to illuminate the subject in terms of the scene. The Notes on Revision in these Prefaces are mainly of interest with reference to what James actually did in revising his earlier works.
He revised, as a rule, only in the sense that he re-envisaged the substance more accurately and more representatively. Revision was responsible re-seeing. This is perhaps the most amusing note in all the Prefaces, and it is impossible to make out whether James did or did not like the frontispieces with which his collected volumes were adorned. He was in- sistent that no illustration to a book of his should have any direct bearing upon it. The danger was real. The nouvelle the long-short story or the short novel was perhaps James' favourite form, and the form least likely of appreciation in the Anglo-Saxon reading world, to which it seemed neither one thing nor the other.
To James it was a small reflector capable of illuminating or mirroring a great deal of material. James had the problem of rendering a character whose whole life centred in the London underworld of socialism, anarch- ism, and conspiracy, matters of which he personally knew nothing. But, he decided, his wanted effect and value were "precisely those of our not knowing, of society's not knowing, but only guessing and suspecting and trying to ignore, what 'goes on' irreconcilably, subversively, beneath the vast smug surface. The real wisdom was this: that "if you haven't, for fiction, the root of the matter in you, haven't the sense of life and the penetrating imagination, you are a fool in the very presence of the revealed and the assured; but that if you are so armed you are not really helpless, not without your resource, even before mysteries abysmal.
Other readers and other critics the two need not be quite the same might well have found other matters for emphasis; and so too they may reprehend the selection of Minor Notes which fol- lows. On Development and Continuity I. Developments are the condition of interest, since the subject is always the related state of figures and things. Hence developments are ridden by the principle of continuity. Actually, relations never end, but the artist must make them appear to do so. Felicity of form and composition depend on knowing to what point a development is indispensable.
On Antithesis of Characters I. The illustration is the antithesis of Mary and Christina in this book. James observes that antitheses rarely come off and that it may pass for a triumph, if taking them together, one of them is strong p. James' view may be summarised in quotation. Misplaced Middles are the result of excessive foresight. As the art of the drama is of preparations, that of the novel is only less so. The first half o a fiction is the stage or theatre of the second half, so that too much may be expended on the first. Then the problem is consummately to mask the fault and "confer on the false quantity the brave appearance of the true.
On Improvisation XII, Nothing was so easy as im- provisation, and it usually ran away with the story, e. In the first of these references James observes that whereas the anecdote may come from any source, specifically com- plicated states must come from the author's own mind. In the second he says that The Middle Hears is an example of im- posed form he had an order for a short story and the struggle was to keep compression rich and accretions compressed; to keep the form that of the concise anecdote, whereas the sub- ject would seem one comparatively demanding developments.
At the end of this Preface, there is a phrase about chemical reductions and compressions making the short story resemble a sonnet. On Operative Irony XV, James defended his "super- subtle fry" on the ground that they were ironic, and he found the strength of applied irony "in the sincerities, the lucidities, the utilities that stand behind it.
It implies and projects the possible other case, the case rich and edifying where the actuality is pretentious and vain. This is really a major subject, but the discussions James made of it were never extensive, seldom over two lines at a time.
I append samples. In VII, 88, he speaks of foreshortening not by add- ing or omitting items but by figuring synthetically, by ex- quisite chemical adjustments. In XVIII, , after defining once again the art of representation and insisting on the excision of the irrelevant, James names Foreshortening as a deep principle and an in- valuable device. It conduced, he said, "to the only compact- ness that has a charm, to the only spareness that has a force, to the only simplicity that has a grace those, in each order, that produce the rich effect.
James bore a little heavily against this most familiar of all narrative methods. The double privilege in the first person , said James, of being at once subject and object sweeps away difficulties at the ex- pense of discrimination. It prevents the possibility of a centre and prevents real directness of contact. Its best effect, perhaps, is that which in another connection James called the mere "platitude of statement. Taking the French theatrical term, James so labeled those characters who belong less to the subject than to the treatment of it.
The invention and disposi- tion of ficdles is one of the difficulties swept away by the first person narrative.
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Here again James adapted a French word, taking it this time from Turgenev. Disponibles are the active or passive persons who solicit the author's imagination, appearing as subject to the chances and complications of existence and requiring of the author that he find for them their right relations and build their right fate. The rule of space forbids extending even so scant a selection from so rich a possible index. But let me add a round dozen with page references alone.
The reader may possibly have observed that we have no- where illustrated the relation which James again and again made eloquently plain between the value or morality of his art and the form in which it appears. I should like to quote four sentences from the middle and end of a paragraph in the Preface to The Portrait of a Lady There is, I think, no more nutritive or suggestive truth in this con- nexion than that of the perfect dependence of the "moral" sense of a work of art on the amount of felt life concerned in producing it.
The question comes back thus, obviously, to the kind and degree of the artist's prime sensibility, which is the soil out of which his subject springs. The quality and capacity of that soil, its capacity to "grow" with due freshness and straightness any vision of life, represents, strongly or weakly, the projected morality. Here we get exactly the high price of the novel as a literary form its power not only, while preserving that form with closeness, to range through all the differences of the individual relation to its general subject-matter, all the varieties of outlook on life, of dis- position to reflect and project, created by conditions that are never the same from man to man or, as far as that goes, from woman to woman , but positively to appear more true to its character in proportion as it strains, or tends to burst, with a latent extrava- gance, its mould.
These sentences represent, I think, the genius and intention of James the novelist, and ought to explain the serious and critical devotion with which he made of his Prefaces a vade- mecum both for himself as the solace of achievement, and for others as a guide and exemplification. We have, by what is really no more than an arbitrary exertion of interest, ex- hibited a rough scheme of the principal contents; there remain the Prefaces themselves.
This was the book of which James wrote most endearingly. It had in his opinion the finest and most intelligent of all his themes, and he thought it the most perfectly rendered of his books. Further- more in its success it constituted a work thoroughly character- istic of its author and of no one else. There is a contagion and a beautiful desolation before a great triumph of the hu- man mindbefore any approach to perfection which we had best face for what there is in them.
This Preface divides itself about equally between the outline of the story as a story, how it grew in James' mind from the seed of a dropped word pp. If we can expose the substance of these two discussions we shall have been in the process as intimate as it is possible to be with the operation of an artist's mind. In imitating his thought, step by step and image by image, we shall in the end be able to appropriate in a single act of imagination all he has to say. The situation involved in The Ambassadors, James tells us, "is gathered up betimes, that is in the second chapter of Book Fifth.
Its intention had been firm throughout.
This independent seed is found in Strether's outburst in Gloriani's Paris garden to little Bilham. Live, live! The story is the demonstration of that vision as it came about, of the vision in process. The original germ had been the repetition by a friend of words addressed him by a man of distinction similar in burden to those addressed by Strether to little Bilham. This struck James as a theme of great possibilities. Although any theme or subject is absolute once the novelist has accepted it, there are degrees of merit among which he may first choose.
But imagination must not be the predominant quality in him; for the theme in hand, the comparatively imaginative man would do. The predominant imagination could wait for an- other book, until James should be willing to pay for the privilege of presenting it. See also on this point the discus- sion of Intelligence and Bewilderment above.