James’s The Tragic Muse — Ave Atque Vale (1958)
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The comparatively recent appearance of a new edition of The Tragic Muse might in itself justify a re-examination of the novel with a view to a somewhat fuller understanding of its significance in the development of Henry James’s literary career. We might recall two biographical facts that also encourage reinvestigation of the novel of 1890. First, James intended to write no more novels after The Tragic Muse. He wrote succinctly to his brother, William: ‘The Tragic Muse is to be my last long novel. For the rest of my life I hope to do lots of short things with irresponsible spaces between them.’1 Thus, we might not unreasonably expect to find in this farewell to the large form a final expression of his ideas on the art, or at least something of an apologia for his life as a novelist. Second, James had decided while at work on this book to begin a career as a dramatist and thus realize what he had called ‘the most cherished of all my projects’. (In December 1888, Edward Compton urged him to dramatize The American.) We might then also look in the novel for an indication of James’s real attitude to this new phase of his career as an artist. The expression of these two will, of course, take the form of metaphor, since The Tragic Muse is neither a literary essay nor an autobiography, but a novel.
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