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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 202

fiber of the heroine sends her in the end back to her husband for the sake of her stepdaughter, thinking, it seems, that she thereby encounters her destiny more nobly than in any previous chapter of it. The conclusion, on various grounds, does not satisfy, but it consistently enough rounds out Isabel’s chronicle. Praise can hardly exaggerate the skill with which James at first warily investigates as from without the spirit of the fresh young girl, gradually transfers the action to her consciousness, and thenceforth with almost no appearance of art reduces his story to the terms of her realization of her fate. In something of this delaying fashion life dawns upon its victims. “’Tis surely a graceful, ingenious, elaborate work,” James wrote of the Portrait to Stevenson, who disapproved of it, “with too many pages, but with (I think) an interesting subject and a good deal of life and style.” He might justly have said that as to life it was unfailing and as to style all gold and ivory.
  In his next two novels, The Bostonians (1886) and The Princess Casamassima (1886) he relinquished the advantage of international contrast. The first deals with a group of American oddities somewhat stridently set on improving the status of women. Henry James himself belonged with the school of those who hold, in a phrase which must almost have driven him to a different position, that woman’s place is the home. He brought to his narrative the tory disposition to satire, and filled the book with sharp caustic portraits and an unprecedented amount of caricature. His Bostonians recall that angular army of transcendentalists whom Lowell’s essay on Thoreau hung up once for all in its laughable alcove of New England



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