Evil and the Major Phase
WHEN, in the first years of the twentieth century, James again took up the international theme, he used the same broad situation that had served him in the eighteen-seventies and eighties--the conflict of America and Europe against a European background. However, he so radically altered his treatment that his late international fiction must be considered not so much an extension of the earlier work as a distinct category. After the tightly restricted settings and unheroic protagonists of James's London novels, the international settings and international heroes of The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl significantly extend the scope of James's fiction. In the London fiction James was limited by subject matter and theme. The cramped Londoners with minor ambitions and, by comparison, petty problems, stand for man at his least heroic. The international theme offered James the setting for large-scale conflicts and characters of heroic dimensions.
Yet the novels of James's major phase are not so pointedly international as those of his earlier period. Not only do they contain little satire of American Puritanism and Philistinism, but also they stress moral rather than cultural differences.1 It is significant, for example, that James planned The Wings of the Dove as a purely English novel.2 Yet to provide his heroine with a moral strength that he found lacking in the English woman, he made Milly Theale an American. While Fleda Vetch and Nanda Brookenham are like the American heroines in their innocence and moral sense, they differ strikingly in being weak and unattractive. James looked to America to supply his heroines of stature, to complement morality with strength of character.