Stories of Writers & Artists

Stories of Writers & Artists

Stories of Writers & Artists

Stories of Writers & Artists

Excerpt

James' prefaces have established themselves exactly as he envisaged them to Howells, as "a sort of comprehensive manual or vademecum for aspirants in our arduous profession." No other writer of fiction has bequeathed a comparable body of discourse for the understanding of his art. Two of his novels, Roderick Hudson and The Tragic Muse, have for their respective heroes a sculptor and a painter. But another grouping of James' work, to which far less consideration has been paid, presents even more intimately, if in the guise of fable, his portrait of the writer. He himself called attention to his stories dealing with the life of art by composing one of the volumes of his collected edition from them: The Lesson of the Master, The Death of the Lion, The Next Time, The Figure in the Carpet, and The Coxon Fund. But a single volume would not hold them all, and they ran part way through the next: The Author of Beltraffio, and four shorter pieces, The Middle Years, Greville Fane, Broken Wings, and The Tree of Knowledge. The last of these shades off into the treatment characteristic of many other James stories: it is not primarily about the nature of art or of the artist; it uses the situation of a sculptor, whose family are in loyal conspiracy to hide from him his utter lack of talent, for the kind of psychological concealments and revelation so dear to James. The Coxon Fund, again, explicitly sets out to present the type of peculiarly helpless artistic temperament represented by Coleridge. But the center of reference in the others is to problems which James knew from the inside and whose urgency was ever with him, problems of the writer and his audience, of the lack of intelligent appreciation and of the demands of his craft. They also dramatize the issue which is still our issue, the relation of the artist to society.

The title stories of the two volumes, The Lesson of the Master (1888) and The Author of Beltraffio (1884), deal, in different ways . . .

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