Monumental Anxieties: Homoerotic Desire and Feminine Influence in 19th Century U.S. Literature

By Scott S. Derrick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Early Authorizations in Roderick Hudson and The American

Just as Hawthorne composed The Scarlet Letter in the midst of enormous career pressures, James needed to demonstrate in his first two major texts that his vocational choice had been a correct one. The young author's tentative and incomplete mastery of his craft is a theme of James's treatment of both novels in the prefaces to the New York edition. His lengthy progress from early awkwardness to later mastery produces the general narrative that runs throughout the prefaces, a narrative first announced in the preface to Roderick Hudson as the "wondrous adventure" of the artist's "whole unfolding."1 If James journeys toward increasing consciousness, however, he nevertheless consistently argues that large portions of the process of literary composition must remain unconscious. In considering the source of the revisionary impulse even so late as the preface to The Golden Bowl, James speaks to "the manifold delicate things, . . . the inscrutable, the indefinable, that minister to deep and quite confident processes of change. It is enough, in any event, to be both beguiled and mystified by evolutions so near home, without sounding strange and probably even more abysmal waters."2 It is by glancing back at his early work, James argues in the preface to Roderick Hudson, that the artist profits from his notes' "own tendency to multiply, with the implication, thereby, of a memory much enriched" (1040).

Compared to this retrospectively produced consciousness, the forward- moving process of writing Roderick Hudson is described as a "shy and groping duration" in which he attempted to make plain the "ache" of his love for

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