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


Page 212

the legend that he had consciously, almost spitefully, evolved a style which no one could read but which it was a jolly game to laugh at. The laughter grew into a cloud which obscured, and still in most quarters continues to obscure, the three superb novels with which, in prolific succession, he brought his art to its peak: The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), The Golden Bowl (1904). As if with some recurrence of his younger interests, he deals in each of the three with the old situation of Americans in Europe, but in a spirit no longer so reproachful toward them as being merely provincial or dowdy. James had ceased to be worried over the petty blunders of his travelling countrymen, now that he felt himself securely European and no longer felt the responsibility which once had brought compatriotic blushes to his cheek. Like Mr. Longdon in The Awkward Age, an elderly Englishman who has retired to the country but is now drawn back to London again, James’s Americans in his maturest masterpieces bring into a fast and loose society certain old-fashioned virtues and graces, such as simplicity, truthfulness, monogamy, solvency. Even Lambert Strether in The Ambassadors, who, having friend from the naughtinesses of Paris, himself surrenders to the beautifully beguiling universe he has entered—even Strether holds fast to the integrity which has all along given strength to his natural sympathy and which will not allow him to profit by his amiable betrayal of his mission. Strether’s being an American who can be contrasted with Europeans, however, does not exhaust his function. He stands also for a common enough human



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