The Requirement of Caring: Humanism in ‘The Middle Years’
‘The Middle Years’ is the most autobiographical portrait in James’s stories about writers.1 Moreover, despite the death of the hero and the disinheritance of his loyal admirer, it is the most optimistic, most humanistic of the stories. It is closest in spirit to ‘The Great Good Place’, which James may have begun to think about at the time he wrote ‘The Middle Years’ in 1893 but did not publish until 1900 (Notebooks p. 123). In both, James dramatises the regenerative experience which may come when the work of the writer-artist creates a bond of mutual understanding and affection with his reader. Within the context of James’s other fictions in this series, this story is the first to portray the convergence of imagination between the writer-artist and his audience that James came to believe is necessary to the creation of art. Moreover, as expressed here, this convergence through recognition of shared, mutually reinforcing intellectual and artistic ideals creates the opportunity for human relations that are ‘exquisitely personal’, as James describes them in ‘The Great Good Place’. The bond between the writer and reader created by the text enables Den-combe, the writer-hero, to see that the value of the artist’s life lies in his ability to have ‘made somebody care’.
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