James, Henry (1843–1916)
There are several good reasons not to include Henry James in any consideration of modernism. The most obvious are anecdotal. The James who visits the 1910 London exhibition of post-impressionism—a locus classicus in the history of English modernism—in the company of Roger Fry is assigned, in Viriginia Woolf’s recording of the scene, the part of the great old man somewhat bewildered by the pictorial innovations of Matisse and Picasso he is being invited to take in (Torgovnick 45).
Other reasons are more central to the general issue, having to do with the established usage and usefulness of the term, its rather coercive circularity. Modernism would appear to prove its heuristic usefulness as the name referring to an artistic project of which certain works by Eliot,Pound, and Joyce are the exemplary, performative instances: modernism is thus the label conveniently attached to the works of the writers just mentioned, and to any other works from the same period exhibiting a family-resemblance to this limited number of strong canonical examples. In which case, the term would appear to function like any other nodal point around which literary history organizes its narrative. For however insistent the modernist invocation—by its canonical practitioners or its academic analysts—of fragmentation as the modality constitutive of its aesthetic, however insistent the implication of a break with prior, established literary modes, and the reference to either an intentional modernist disordering of form or a resigned submission to the disorder of its material, it is nonetheless evident that, when considered as a term which articulates a particular moment of literature, modernism both subscribes to and consolidates the orthodox idea that a canon does indeed exist, composed of the defining instances represented by a small number of literary works, upon which, like any other movement or moment, modernism lays its claim to epochal status, its capacity to situate other works and other periods, as either premodernist or postmodernist.
The term would thus appear to function, whether in the ordinary practice of critical judgement or in the grander narrative of literary history, with the normative thrust proper to any classical art poétique. Modernism has its defining instances—the writers just mentioned; its crowning moment—between 1910 and 1930; and, presumably, its secondary, outer constellation: Lawrence, Woolf, Hemingway for example, writers ultimately less heroic, being more congenial, more reader-friendly. Modernism has its precursors and its cases of epigonic belatedness. Any attempt to situate the Jamesian “house of fiction” in relation to the modernist project might thus constitute even less than an embarrassing mésalliance, being more in the nature of a blind date bringing face-to-face two parties who, their respective de-