Henry James pp 245-265 | Cite as

The Romantic and the Real: Henry James’s The Sacred Fount(1965)

  • Walter Isle
Part of the Modern Judgements book series (MOJU)


No single work by Henry James is more strikingly experimental than The Sacred Fount. It may at times appear to be little more than the ‘technical exercise’ that Joseph Warren Beach first called it.1 It does not attain the fullness of two other experiments, What Maisie Knew and The Awkward Age; the experimental, the even game-like aspects of the novel are never quite transformed, as they are in the two previous novels, to the successful, the proven. The degree of tenuousness and questioning, of hesitation and ambigtiity in structure and meaning, suggests a new departure, but one made in the dark and toward an uncertain destination. The Sacred Fount is a trying-out, a final experiment before the achievements of the major phase. Since it was written, however, at the height of James’s artistic powers, just after two successes and just before The Ambassadors, it has a strong claim on our attention. Much critical effort has been applied to the novel, particularly to its final meaning and to its literary value.2 I believe that a clearer idea of that meaning and value can be attained by looking at the experimental aspects of the novel, especially in the light of this whole period of experiment from 1896 to 1901; technique, structure, and theme in the novel itself will then stand out more sharply.


  1. 3.
    Leon Edel and Dan H. Laurence,A Bibliography of Henry James(1957) p. 168.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Henry James, The Notebooks ed. F. O. Matthiessen and Kenneth B. Murdock (New York, 1955) pp. 150–1,275 and 292.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Henry James, The Art of the Novel, ed. R. P. Blackmur (New York, 1934 ) p. 321.Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    Henry James, The Sacred Fount ed. Leon Edel (New York, 1953) p. 89.Google Scholar
  5. 14.
    See also Robert J. Andreach, ‘Henry James’s The Sacred Fount: The Existential Predicament’, in Nineteenth-century Fiction xvii (Dec. 1962) 198–9.Google Scholar
  6. 15.
    See also R. P. Blackmur, ‘The Sacred Fount’, in Kenyon Review, iv(Autumn 1942 ) 347.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Limited 1968

Authors and Affiliations

  • Walter Isle

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