Chronologically speaking, we should not have left until the last a novel of Mr. James's which we have reserved for final treatment. He has published no small amount of fiction since he wrote The Portrait of a Lady, and yet this deserves a last place on the list of his novels. Into this work, as it seems to us, Mr. James has poured his soul, and given the world something that it will not soon let die. Four magnificent volumes now stand recorded to his credit as an author. These are: The Passionate Pilgrim and Other Tales, Roderick Hudson, The American, and The Portrait of a Lady. Much ofhis intermediate writing is fine and admirable. But it would have given him a secondary place in letters, while these four books just mentioned lift him to a primary, we were about to add a supreme, place in letters. If he should never put pen to paper again, his fame is secure and permanent through those four books alone. And after the most careful consideration of each, it appears to us that The Portrait of a Lady is paramount over the rest. It is the longest thing that he has written, but it is also the most majestic and unassailable. Its heroine is a character whose misfortunes are the imperative catastrophes resultant from her own ideal strivings. Unlike Roderick Hudson, Isabel Archer does not recklessly sow the seed of her own future torments. She makes a pitiable error, but she makes it in all womanly faith and sincerity. She is a beautiful, talented, exceptionally lovable girl, and suddenly, at a period when she desires more than ever before to wrest a fecund and splendid victory from the usual aridity of life-to ennoble herself by subjugating herself-to live a power for good and to die somehow perpetuating such a power-at this very period, we say, she is lifted from the inertia oflonging to the possibility of achievement. A fortune is left her, in a most unexpected manner; vistas of new purpose
EDGAR FAWCETT IN Princeton Review JULY 1884 are opened to her; the prospect is dazzling at first; she hardly knows what she shall do with these charming, golden opportunities. She does what nearly every woman of her personal graces would do Wtder the same conditions. Out of four suitors (if poor, consumptive Ralph Touchett may be called a suitor) she selects a man whom she marries, believing him a paragon of wisdom, virtue, taste, refinement, notability. He is poor, and it is a comfort for her to feel him so. For this reason he and she shall be yoked, all the more, in exercise of noble end. Her love, which is a reverence, becomes a horror of disappointed discovery. The whole novel is a sort of monumental comment upon the dread Wlcertainties of matrimony. Isabel's husband, whom she believed of a spirit equally lofty and amiable, turns out a frigid self-worshipper, a creature whose blood is ichor, whose creed is an adoration of les usages, whose honor is a brittle veneer of decorum, beneath which beats a heart as formally regular as the strokes of a well-regulated dock. He has married her with' very much the same motive as that which might prompt him to buy a new bit of antique bric-a-brac at slight cost from a shrewd dealer. He is a virtuoso, a collector, a person who puts immense value upon all exterior things, and he considers life, happiness, matrimony, womanhood, principle, even divinity itself as an exceedingly exterior thing. Isabel's amazement, her grief, her dismay, her passionate mutiny, and her final bitter resignation, constitute the chief substance of this remarkable book. But much more than this goes to make the book, as a thousand turrets, traceries, illuminations and sculptures go to make a great result in architecture. It is a book with a very solid earth beneath it and very luminous and profound sky above it. It is rich in passages of quotable description, and no less rich in characters of piercing vividness. It contains more than one 'portait of a lady,' as it contains more than one portrait of a man. Madame Merle, the perfectly equipped woman of the world, the charmer, the intrigante, the soft-voiced, softmoving diplomatist, and yet (as we feel more than we are really told) the force for ill, the adulteress, and the arch-hypocrite-Madame Merle, we say, is incomparably depicted. Again, the dying Ralph Touchett, with his mixture of the cynic and the humanitarian, with his love for Isabel alike so exquisitely concealed and revealed, with his patience, his outbursts of regret, his poetry of feeling, his inalienable dignity and manhood, is an astonishingly striking conception. He exists, to our knowledge, nowhere else in any pages of fiction. He is the high-tide mark of what Mr. James can do with a human individuality, and he represents what Mr. James likes most to do with one. We all must
recognizehimifwehavelivedandthought.Astheauthorfirstpresentshimtous,weinvoluntarilyrecallhavingseensomeonewho lookedjustlikehim.Thismaynotbetrue,butthesensationofhaving metRalphTouchettbeforeisnonethelessinsistent,andproveshow marvellousisMr.James'sfacultyforhittingoffwithafewairyor roughtouchesthephysical'points'ofhisfellow-creatures.'Talllean, looselyandfeeblyputtogether,'runsthedescriptionofRalphTouchett, 'hehadanugly,sickly,wittyandcharmingface,furnished,butbyno meansdecorated,withastragglingmustacheandwhisker.Helooked cleverandill-acombinationbynomeansfelicitous;andheworea brownvelvetjacket.Hecarriedhishandsinhispockets,andtherewas somethinginthewayhediditthatshowedthehabitwasinveterate. Hisgaithadashambling,wanderingquality;hewasnotveryfirmon hislegs.'Wegettolovethispoordyingconsumptiveverydearly beforehedies.Hehasagreatwarmheartbehindthosewastinglungs. Heisaphilosopher,butheisalsothroughandthroughaman.