Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

A Theory of Realistic Representation in Henry James

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

A Theory of Realistic Representation in Henry James

Article excerpt


A dimension of the later style of the fiction of Henry James is its deep concern not with selves and identities but with images and appearances. These works typically picture the character in in-between situations where he is recognized not as he really is but as he shows himself, as he appears in projected situations. However, another aspect of James's later style is the magnificence of the appearance, because appearance is the outcome of reciprocal spaces which in turn signify vivified and productive relations among the agents of the narrative. These facades of James's later style render it a space for a new mode of realistic representation which depends on a new kind of verisimilitude, the story in the service of language, and consciousness dramatization. And the watershed of the Jamesian verisimilitude is the work of successive centers of consciousness from where the tale is narrated. In addition, to show the deepest layers of the human soul, James's narrator can occasionally go beyond the frontiers of language and take use of the nonverbal structures of culture also. This mode of fiction mainly wants to exhibit the consciousness in the process of evolution. And it shows "the real" not as what has so far been considered as real, but as what emerges in this modern analytical consciousness.

Key words: James; Fiction; The real; Appearance; Representation; Consciousness; Verisimilitude


Standing in the midway between the English traditionally realistic Story, and the modern unrealistic novel which is mainly psychological also, the fiction of James serves to make people more civilized not through imitation but mainly through revision, criticism, and thoughtful meditation and interpretation. To achieve this goal, it puts more emphasis not on action and plot but on point of view, characterization, language, and discourse.

The present paper intends to discuss some of the strategies of realistic representation in the later style of the fiction of Henry James. The freedom of the novelist to achieve formal and thematic creations, the role of the illusion of reality, the use of the scenic method in fiction, story in the service of language, and story with mis-placed centers are among these strategies. Also, it will argue that the scenic method provided a possibility for James the modern novelist to take use of dramatic techniques. However, the novelist has a privilege which the playwright does not have: the possibility to go round the language to the blessing of which he creates a central vision which, acting like a careful lookout, not only sees and hears to the benefit of representation, but also analyzes and interprets what the characters do and say in the story. After that, the short story "the Real Thing" will be analyzed to argue that in the fiction of James the real goes hand in hand with the unreal. This means that reality is only what the narrative discourse creates in the consciousness of the character and reader. It will be shown that in James the real and the imaginary, or life and art, originate from one another.


"The Art of Fiction"

Henry James's "The Art of Fiction" is perhaps the most definitive and the most applicable theory for the analysis of realistic prose literature. At the opening of this work, James argues that due to the lack of a theoretical background, the Victorian English novel before him could take almost no determining role in the cultural promotion of the society. He notes that the want of formulation in novel was due to a sever antagonism of the English society against this genre, because the society considered the novel not only superstitious but immoral also. However, James reminds his reader that there is a genuine truth why novels are written and read: "The only reason for the existence of a novel is that it does compete with life. When it ceases to compete ..., it will have arrived at a very strange pass" (Baym et al., 1994, p. …

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