Visual Art Devices and Parallels in the Fiction of Henry James (1961)
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No better ‘optical symbol’ can be found for one aspect of Henry James than the photograph taken in 19061 showing him in top hat, cane and gloves in hand, bending slightly forward in the classic Daumier pose, taking in impressions of a painting This is a portrait, however, not merely of the occasional James — the art critic, friend and befriender of painters, biographer of a sculptor — but also of the essential James — the master of the art of fiction. That his love of pictures and familiarity with the studio world were grist to his mill is evident in stories and novels such as ‘The Madonna of the Future’ and The Tragic Muse in which his depiction of the artist and exploration of aesthetic questions are thematically central. Reflecting his experience of art less obviously but more significantly are the pictorial effects and art allusions permeating his fiction, both early and late. For though James was first and foremost a literary artist preoccupied with the problems of his own craft, his responsiveness to the visual arts was so keen, was so much an integral part of his consciousness, that it inevitably made itself felt in his literary technique. Clearly, a study of the pictorial aspects of his fiction is justified for the light it may cast on his method as well as on individual works.
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