The Nature of True Virtue: Theology, Psychology, and Politics in the Writings of Henry James, Sr., Henry James, Jr., and William James

By James Duban | Go to book overview

7
"Your father's ideas, you know—!":
Henry Jr.'s "Prized Phenomena"

CONCERNING HIS PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE OF GEORGE ELIOT, HENRY JAMES JR. said that a certain "'relation'… helped me to squeeze further values from the intrinsic substance" of her novels (MY, 578). Similarly, the phenomenalism, Edwardsianism, and socialism of the elder Henry can illuminate the concerns and aesthetics of Henry Jr.'s three-volume autobiography and his works of fiction.1 Although Henry Jr.'s personal library included only two of his father's works, those volumes explore themes that coincide with the creative endeavors of the novelist. Henry Jr. owned Lectures and Miscellanies (1852).2 That book, which the James children associated with their father's professional writing (NSB, 279), contained a vital chapter on the disinterested enterprise of the "artist," whose productions were said to be created in isolation from economic self-interest or related social contingencies. The library of Henry Jr. also contained The Literary Remains of Henry James (1884), edited by William James and praised by Henry Jr. for its comprehensive, analytical introduction to the "extraordinarily complex, … worked out,… original, and intensely personal" (NSB, 335) philosophy of their father. Other references to The Literary Remains (SBO, 5; NSB, 340, 348) suggest that Henry Jr. read widely in it.

Significant for our inquiry into the tie between the creative speculations of father and son is the fact that The Literary Remains includes the senior James's posthumously published Spiritual Creation (1882 MS). This was the summa of a life devoted to articulating the process by which true Being, or socialism, evolves from the phenomenalistic "forms" of life that God "makes" in order to infuse them with the true Being of general love of one's kind. As we shall now observe, those ideas influenced Henry Jr.'s autobiographical utterances, his thoughts about the art of the novel, and his attitude toward British aestheticism.

I here concur with the view that "James knew more about his father's "theological" scheme… than he allows the uninformed reader to see," and that Henry Senior's theory of spiritual creation had numerous implications

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