The Illustration of the Master: Henry James and the Magazine Revolution

By Amy Tucker | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3 Stepping out of the Frame:
James’s “Holbein”

THIS CHAPTER extends the work of the preceding pages by focusing on one of the “tales of the artist” James composed for the magazines at the turn of the century. “The Beldonald Holbein” is exceptional in James’s oeuvre for its numerous allusions to a single artist, Hans Holbein the Younger, yet the significance of this intricate web of historical reference has for the most part gone unexamined in the brief record of scholarship on the tale.1 The premise of the present discussion is that in “The Beldonald Holbein” James constructs a narrative space in which the reader’s mental “illustrations” of Holbein’s work are a necessary part of the experience of the tale. This is precisely the kind of collaboration between reader and author that James would advocate in his final Preface to the New York Edition:

That one should, as an author, reduce one’s reader, “artistically” inclined, to such a
state of hallucination by the images one has evoked as does n’t permit him to rest
until he has noted or recorded them, set up some semblance of them in his own
other medium by his own other art—nothing could better consort than that, I nat-
urally allow, with the desire or the pretension to cast a literary spell. (LC 2: 1326)

Generally speaking, as Stuart Culver observes, James’s representational strategy “is to ‘weave so beautifully tangled a web’ that the reader is forced both to acknowledge the proper boundaries of his authority

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