Monumental Anxieties: Homoerotic Desire and Feminine Influence in 19th Century U.S. Literature

By Scott S. Derrick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Late Authorizations in The Ambassadors and The Wings of the Dove

The Ambassadors and The Wings of the Dove have close and crossed relations with each other. Remarkably, given the complexity and density of each, these two "major phase" texts were both composed in a space of two years and, as James parenthetically remarks in his preface to the New York edition of The Ambassadors, "The order of composition, in these things, I may mention, was reversed by the order of publication; the earlier written of the two books having appeared as the later."1 The Wings of the Dove was published in 1902 in England and the United States, and The Ambassadors was serialized in the North American Review in 1903, although composed before its dense and difficult companion. Moreover, James had possessed the ideas for both novels for some time prior to the beginning of composition. It is to be expected, then, that two such major undertakings, performed in such a compressed span of time, should have a complementary relation and that James should come to think in terms of the similarities and differences of productions that stand as two of three capstones to his life's work.2

The heart of this relation replays, in reverse order, the relationship I have argued exists earlier between Roderick Hudson and The American. The Ambassadors, the first of the two composed, is another heterosexual romance set in Paris, this time marked by a carefully worked-out and consistent acknowledgment of the complicated sexualities located just beyond its borders, which is to say, just beyond the borders of Strether's heterosexualizing con-

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