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

8
"The Appearance of Virtue":
Early Novels, What Maisie Knew, and
The Wings of the Dove

WATCH AND WARD, RODERICK HUDSON, CONFIDENCE, THE EUROPEANS, WHAT Maisie Knew, and The Wings of the Dove dramatize the relationship between phenomenalism and virtue. All of these works ponder "The Nature of True Virtue" in terms that evoke the intellectual preoccupation of Henry Senior with the writings of Edwards and Swedenborg. Thoroughly familiar with the elder James's speculations about "'Jonathan Edwards redivivus'" (NSB, 347), Henry Jr. aptly chose Northampton, Massachusetts, as the initial setting of Roderick Hudson. Just as Winterbourne associates Geneva, "the little metropolis of Calvinism," with Mrs. Walker's uncompromising propriety in Daisy Miller (DM, 9, 59), so, in Roderick Hudson, Roderick's friends and relatives deem Northampton a vital "center of Christendom" (RH, 43). They presumably think that way because of the town's Protestant heritage, which brings to mind the tumultuous eighteenth-century ministry there of Jonathan Edwards.

As "'the daughter of a minister, the granddaughter of a minister, "and" the sister of a minister'" (RH, 57), Mary Garland, Roderick's intended, doubtless knows the Edwardsian significance of Northampton, as would Roderick's mother, who thinks Rome a "'heathenish'" place and who is appalled by Roderick's remarks about "'the duty of sitting in a whitewashed meeting-house and listening to a nasal Puritan'" (RH, 337). While "'Northampton Mass seen from "Rome"'" strikes Roderick as "somehow… so funny" (RH, 173), rampant antinomianism and moral dissolution result when Roderick journeys from Puritan Northampton to the aestheticist dandyism of Europe. There, Roderick and Rowland succumb to the pitfalls of life and the ambiguities of motive addressed by Jonathan Edwards and, later, by Henry Senior.1

In this respect, Henry Jr. dramatizes the belief—articulated in Edwards's The Nature of True Virtue and reiterated in the elder Henry's Swedenborgian

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