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Intertextualizing The Princess Casamassima: Realism and Reference(s)

Anne-Claire LE RESTE

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  • 1  Brodhead singles out The Princess as being particularly allusive, but he also underlines that Jame (...)
  • 2 The Portrait of a Lady (1881) is in many respects another “library book,” although here James rathe (...)

1As Hyacinth strolls about Medley, we are told that “[h]is whole walk was peopled with recognitions” (PC 301)—which is just how readers making their way through The Princess Casamassima are likely to feel. Tintner and Edel called it “James’s ‘library’ book” (79), and it is indeed, in Brodhead’s words, “the most variously and visibly derivative of all his novels” (144)1—a text peppered with references to writers and books, hints scattered along the path, ready to be picked up, glaring defiance at critics. Thus Hyacinth recalls reading out to Pinnie “the works of Dickens and Scott” (153), and sees a character in Madeira Crescent which makes him think of Mr. Micawber (417, 477). It is probably a different kind of literature that is referred to when we are told about Pinnie’s “conviction that [Hyacinth] belonged, ‘by the left hand’, as she had read in a novel, to an ancient and exalted race” (58). Is he acquainted with these works? One might think so, since Lady Aurora’s manners remind him of “that ‘best breeding’ which he had seen alluded to in novels portraying the aristocracy” (266), and Sholto’s “romantic chambers”, “somehow of Bulwer’s novels” (232). We know at any rate that at fifteen he read the “essays of Lord Bacon” (114), and probably a lot more, for he finds himself discussing “the Ruskinian theories of Venice” with Lady Aurora (427), and Schopenhauer with the Princess (329, 394). French literature features prominently in his private library, consistently with his belief that “he look[s] like a Frenchman… like one of those he had read about in Michelet and Carlyle” (102). At the theater, he muses that “[b]eing whistled for by a princess” is “an indignity endured gracefully enough by the heroes of several French novels in which he had found a thrilling interest” (188). He is disappointed that Lady Aurora’s shelves do not boast the works of “certain members of an intensely modern school, advanced and scientific realists,” although she does “possess a few of Balzac’s novels” (264). While in Paris, he recalls “his study of the French novel” and has “a vague sense of fraternizing with Balzac and Alfred de Musset” as he sits at Tortoni’s (380). He sacrifices to local color by reading the works of Leopardi in Venice (395), but back in London, his moments spent with the Princess by the fire at Madeira Crescent evoke “the idea of the vie de province, as he had read about it in French works” (482). However, it is in that very room that he reads Browning’s Men and Women out loud to the Princess (487), for when it comes to poetry, he rather favors his British heredity. Audley Court, the name of the Muniments’ neighborhood, makes him think of Tennyson, and he later offers the Princess a new-bound edition of his poems (254). At Medley, he drinks a liquor that “remind[s] him of some lines in Keats—in the ‘Ode to a Nightingale’” (300), while the Princess, who remains uninterested in poetry, calls his attention to “a story of M. Octave Feuillet” in the Revue des deux mondes (307). Consequently, she immediately appears to him as “a sudden incarnation of the heroine of M. Feuillet’s novel” —while the way she addresses her cook reminds him of how “the three Musketeers spoke to their lackeys” (308). Still at Medley, Madame Grandoni reads “a French book, in a pink cover” (319, 352)—quite different undoubtedly from the “volume of heavy work on Labour and Capital” that the Princess later reads at Madeira Crescent (448). As for the Princess’s literary references, they are usually rather vague, as she tells Lady Aurora that her “being there alone in [her] great dull house, with all [her] charities and devotions” is “like something in some English novel” (432). There’s also the tantalizingly unidentified genre referred to by the Princess, when she describes Hyacinth’s vow as “too absurd” and “too vague,” “like some silly humbug in a novel” (485). Not to mention, of course, the many volumes that Hyacinth handles as a bookbinder, and which he appreciates, like Poupin, with a sharp lettering on the back (115), indirectly drawing attention to the materiality of the book we are holding as readers—an aspect that is further emphasized by Hyacinth’s stated wish to write himself, to become a maker of books in both meanings. If, in Levine’s words, realism “seems intent on burning libraries,” then it would appear that The Princess is one of these realist novels that is not trying to “avoid the implications of its own textuality” (9).2

  • 3  “L’intertexte est la perception, par le lecteur, de rapports entre une œuvre et d’autres qui l’ont (...)
  • 4  I will thus exclude the body of works studying the relationship between James’s novel and other te (...)

2No wonder then, that the reception of the novel has been characterized by “a solid round of influence hunting” (Lee 109). The preface, written twenty years later, accentuates the intertextualizing temptation, as it seems to consist partly in an exercise in literary name­dropping. James mentions Shakespeare, Cervantes, Balzac, Fielding, Scott, Thackeray, Dickens, George Meredith, George Eliot, Jane Austen, “old Dumas”, Zola, and Trollope, yet without acknowledging them as influence, contrary to what he did, for instance, in the preface to volume XVI of the New York Edition, in which he stated that the origin of “Paste” consisted in “the ingenious thought of transposing the terms of one of Guy de Maupassant’s admirable contes” (FW 1242). Let me first clarify my use of the word “intertextuality,” a term which, as Walker notes in his own avowedly intertextual reading of The Princess, “can mean anything and everything” (xvii-xviii). I will be using Rifatterre’s definition as “the perception, by the reader, of relationships between one work and others that have preceded or followed it,”3 since I will be focusing on the overwhelmingly intertextual reception of a novel which has consistently been considered as James’s epitome of realist writing. Thus what I mean by “intertextualizing” the novel is reading it with, or against, other texts, but I will narrow down Rifatterre’s definition, as critics mostly did, to works anterior to The Princess, i.e. to references viewed as influence.4 This includes both the study of sources, such as Tintner’s—characterized by Walker as a “biographical view”—and Walker’s own emphasis on the effects of intertextuality on the reader, a theoretical perspective which he defines as “more concerned with how to read a text than with … how James’s text came to be written” (149), although, as I hope to show, both approaches are deeply linked by the search for buried meaning through the summoning of prior texts.

  • 5  “Naturalism” is of course to be understood here in its French sense, since the emergence of Americ (...)
  • 6  Anderson systematically counters the argument of the three critics in his 1983 article. Seltzer qu (...)
  • 7  Scanlan, for instance, writes about “the famous ‘naturalist’ description of Millbank prison” (394) (...)

3The original, and most often acknowledged purpose of such intertextual readings of The Princess has been to situate the novel within a literary tradition so as to assess its link with realism. Four master figures thus emerged very early on: Balzac, Dickens, Turgenev and Zola, with the latter dominating the scene, as The Princess was soon identified as a “naturalistic” novel written in the manner of Zola—although that statement is somewhat a tautology for, as Charles Anderson remarked, “[i]n dealing with the question of Naturalism, the further one strays from the author of Le Roman expérimental the more unstable that term becomes” (345­6).5Interestingly enough, the reference to Zola does not really qualify as an intertext, for critics compared The Princess not so much to Zola’s novels as to his theory, based on the principles of heredity and environment. Occasional references were made to some of his novels, such as Germinal (Grover) or L’Assommoir (Stowe), regarding the representation of the city especially, but the scope of the comparisons remained limited. To my knowledge, such a novel as Au Bonheur des Dames was not explored, although a case could be made for Millicent springing from such an establishment. Another kind of intertextuality was often invoked in support of this naturalist reading of The Princess—what we might term a Jamesian intertextuality, involving a comparison with The Bostonians (1886) and The Tragic Muse (1890), the three novels being then considered “‘experimental’ in Zola’s sense” (Powers, “Roman expérimental” 16). Kimmey, in a 1970 article, went so far as to describe them as a “trilogy” and a “series” (“Forerunners” 528). Yet the naturalist reading of the novel was progressively questioned as the influential naturalist readings of Powers, Grover, and Perosa were challenged.6 The word “naturalism” came to be used with quotes,7 as the view that The Princess “hollows out” the conventions of social realism, in Teahan’s words (37) came to prevail over the view that James “adhere[s] closely to [Zola’s] principles” in the novel (Powers, “Roman expérimental” 16), although the latter theory dies hard, as Graham, in a 1999 book, still described The Princess as “one of two novels that he wrote in the naturalist vein” (205), and DeVine, in a 2002 article, dubbed it “his most naturalist work” (70)—without inverted commas. Nevertheless, the general trend was a shift from reading with Zola to reading against Zola.

  • 8  See for instance Ford (210), Walton (15), Lee (114), or Bell (169). Interestingly enough, the only (...)
  • 9  For instance, Delbaere-Garant noted that the prison scene was “a melodramatic Dickensian passage”  (...)

4Yet very early on, a British Master was conjured up, whose influence could only counter that of the French naturalist. The Dickensian intertext was mainly focused on three elements: the representation of the city, the characterization of Rosy Muniment, commonly considered as fashioned on Jenny Wren in Our Mutual Friend,8 and the famous prison scene (chapter 3),9 although it is only in a 1989 article that Nies and Kimmey compared the passage with a specific novel, analyzing the striking similarity in wording between The Princess and David Copperfield. Other elements were stressed, of course. Dubler found the “Sun and Moon” scene typically Dickensian (46), and stated that the novel arose out of the Dickensian tradition and anticipated American realism (57), concluding that Hyacinth was “a Jamesian hero in a Dickensian world” (60). Stoerh found that Hyacinth’s “heritage” (his lower class and noble ascendancy) was a “Dickensian premise” (117) and that Madeira Crescent was fashioned after Dickens, noting that “the scene has the pastoral air of literary recollection rather than naturalistic reportage” (109)— a quotation which emphasizes the rivalry between a Dickensian and a Zolaesque aesthetics. Once again, there was a switch from allegiance to distance as the prison scene, for instance, came to be seen as “pastiche” (Smith 131).

  • 10  Davitt Bell goes so far as to write of “James’s pilfering of Turgenev’s novel” (93). See also Lern (...)

5If Zola was summoned up for theoretical purposes, and Dickens for characterization and scenery, Turgenev was mainly conjured up for plot and the characterization of the revolutionary characters. The similarity of plot between The Princess Casamassima and Virgin Soil has been much commented upon;10 yet it seems that in many respects James’s novel is closer to his own criticism of Virgin Soil than to the actual novel. The description of the “false position” of Turgenev’s hero by James in his 1877 review of Virgin Soil strikingly forecasts Hyacinth’s predicament:

…the natural son of a nobleman, not recognized by his father’s family, and who, drifting into the stream of occult radicalism, finds himself fatally fastidious and sceptical and “aesthetic”—more essentially an aristocrat, in a word, than any of the aristocrats he had agreed to conspire against. He has not the gift of faith, and he is most uncomfortably at odds with his companions, who have it in the highest degree… (FW 1003)

  • 11  Smith also examines Dickens, Balzac, and, indirectly, Flaubert.

6The resemblance goes further still as both novels display a similarity of scenes, such as the meeting, at the theatre, of the aristocrat who will change the course of the hero’s life (chap. 3 in Virgin Soil, chap. 12 and 13 in The Princess Casamassima), or the contemplation by both heroes, on their arrival, of the garden of the mansion through the window of their upstairs room (chap. 7 in Virgin Soil, chap. 22 in The Princess Casamassima). Interestingly enough though, Turgenev is not mentioned in James’s preface. Here again, criticism moved from stating that The Princess “borrowed wholesale” from and was an “almost exact duplication” of Turgenev’s novel (Lerner 50) to the notion that the “overt use” of Virgin Soil was an oblique reflection on “literary options” (Smith 135, 123).11

  • 12  For Histoire des Treize, see for instance Kretsch (265). For Les Illusions perdues, see Stowe (56- (...)

7As for the Master-figure, Balzac, he has been invoked for pretty much everything, from plot to characterization, and the representation of Paris, with Les Illusions Perdues and its arriviste, or Histoire des Treize and its conspiracy figuring as the most studied intertexts,12 although such lesser known novels as L’Enfant maudit were also brought up (Tintner, Book World 272-3). Once again, the perspective shifted from identification to difference, with Walker writing, for example, that The Princess “invokes, in order to deconstruct, a tradition of French novels about ambitious outsiders” (xvii).

  • 13  This is an instance of the occasional, and unfortunate, wavering between such concepts as “natural (...)
  • 14  Annie R.M. Logan wrote in The Nation in 1887 that the novel “fits an empirical yet generally accep (...)
  • 15  See Bell for an analysis of alternative “plots” rather than specific genres or novels. She writes (...)
  • 16  Tintner compares The Princess to Feuillet’s La Petite Comtesse (Cosmopolitan 61-76), while Walker (...)

8From affiliation to distance: the evolution of the critical inscription of James’s novel in a literary tradition of variously realist Masters is a rather unsurprising development, congruent with the “postmodernization” of James that McWhirter has analyzed in a recent article, and involving a different conception of James as “realist,” with Rowe interpreting The Princess as a deconstruction of “the romance of realism” (188), Tingle as a “simulation” of the realistic / naturalistic approach” (61),13 or Bell as an “ironic experiment” (174). As realism was more generally debunked as one of these “master-narratives” that we have learned to distrust, and the very notion of mastery was deconstructed, James’s novel was progressively disengaged from the “realist tradition”—an interesting evolution, if one thinks that the original reviewers stressed the romance strain in the book quite as much as the realistic strain.14 Parallel to this distancing from “Masters”, less canonical (and realist) texts emerged.15 Meissner compared The Princess to “silver-fork novels”, Flannery to the sensation novels of the 1860s, Betensky to literary representations of the Victorian visiting scene, and DeVine to “dynamite novels”. Octave Feuillet, who had quite sunk into oblivion, was rediscovered by Tintner and Walker, in two admittedly “intertextual” studies.16 The general image of the novel that comes out of the bulk of criticism is that of a novel literally bristling—to use a Jamesian word—with rival plots and references.

  • 17 Stowe for instance wrote that the description of Millbank prison was “got up à la Zola” (83).
  • 18  Anderson notes that “[i]t would be a mistake to take this remark literally” (347). Bell comments s (...)

9But the contest is also at work within criticism, which has been the locus of a rather ferocious intertextual battle. Walker’s introduction to his book on James and “French cultural contexts” is indicative of what we might term “the war of the intertexts”. He thus writes, stating clearly the search for genuineness that is often at the heart of intertextual readings: “One of the things I complain about in this book is how all too easily critics from Tintner to Jacobson have claimed particular popular and literary intertexts for James. Where I see these critics as sometimes erring is in making connections of questionable validity” (xviii). I should indeed qualify the deceptively homogeneous view of intertextual criticism that I have given so far. The prison scene, which, as I have intimated, has been mainly considered Dickensian, has also been construed as Zolaesque,17 in the wake of James’s famous epistolary comment that he was “quite the Naturalist”—a statement which has been increasingly viewed with distrust, obviously.18 Yet both references are quite difficult to reconcile, as a Dickensian prison scene would involve an element of comedy and the grotesque that a Zolaesque scene would rule out. Rosy Muniment, who has been mainly considered as fashioned on Jenny Wren, has also been considered as coming from Virgin Soil’s Snadulia (Lerner), M. Delobelle’s lame daughter in Daudet’s Fromont Jeune (Ford), and Balzac’s Vanda de Mergi in L’Envers de l’histoire contemporaine (Tintner, Book World). Sometimes intertextual conflict surfaces in the same book: Tintner, for instance, conjures up Keats to draw a portrait of Hyacinth as the essentially romantic hero, but further down convokes Balzac’s L’Enfant maudit and its figure of the “cursed son” to underline Hyacinth’s resemblance to “this Balzacian prototype” (273).

  • 19  For a comparison with Stendhal, see Dove’s article. Veza states that The Princess is James’s “most (...)

10Balzac, Dickens, Turgenev and Zola—these are different enough politics of representation, but I could also mention Stendhal, Hawthorne, Shakespeare, or the Goncourt brothers, among many others.19 As Walker wrote, “the success of an interpretation lies not in its verifiability against some fixed authority but in its ability to persuade” (xx). “Persuade,” and not “convince” indeed, for in these matters choice is often a matter of taste. I, for one, cannot see how the prison scene can be considered Zolaesque—but then others did, or do. I do, however, see a Zolaesque strain in the book, however oblique, in the heredity theme, or in such a character as Millicent—but then Millicent has been convincingly construed as Dickensian (Nies and Kimmey 181 passim). The divergent intertextualizing readings of The Princess appear irreconcilable, and the search for the “correct” intertext, not only endless, but also fraught with critical hazards, as the intertextual quest often borrows the “language of priority, paternity, origins, hierarchy, and will” that McWhirter has defined as “the language of authority” (“Introduction” 10)—the very notion that criticism has been at pains to debunk. But what if James’s novel were constructed so that anybody could read their own intertextuality into it? What if the references sprinkled over the text were not so much intertextual as about intertextuality?

  • 20  I only found one figurative occurrence of bacon in the sentence, “let it save its own bacon and pa (...)
  • 21  Adeline Tintner has also underlined the meaning of the name, but from a different angle. According (...)
  • 22  In its original context, the text reads: “If his friend didn’t wish to express any sympathy for hi (...)

11Let me thus offer my own subjective, admittedly debatable, intertextual reading, hinging on one little, trivial detail—the mention of bacon in the text. I might point out pre­emptively that this food is served nowhere else in James’s fiction, although that certainly does not prove anything, but might at least be persuasive.20 In chapter 5, we find Hyacinth “staring at the striated sides of bacon, at the golden cubes and triangles of cheese, at the graceful festoons of sausage, in the most brilliant of the windows” (106, emphasis added)—an innocuous enough notation, if it weren’t for the fact that this irresistibly conjures up for me the famous passage in Oliver Twist which states that “[i]t is the custom on the stage, in all good murderous melodramas, to present the tragic and the comic scenes, in as regular alternation, as the layers of red and white in a side of streaky bacon” (chapter 17, emphases added). The superimposition of both phrases creates an intertextual effect suggesting the idea of a juxtaposition of literary topoi whose problematic coexistence necessarily generates tension. To support this idea of layers of conflicting intertexts, I will follow a thread of passages in the book that might be considered to be about intertextuality—or, to be more explicit, I will wittingly divert a few quotations from their context, in a rather postmodern gesture of self-reflexive reading which I am aware is quite open to discussion. I might thus compare the novel to Rosy’s “patchwork”, as the reader is presented with a textual fabric where the stitches are visible, or to her room, described as “crowded with heterogeneous objects, and [having], moreover, … thanks to a multitude of small prints, both plain and coloured, fastened all over the walls, a highly-decorated appearance” (133)—and a very baroque novel it is indeed, intertext-wise. I could also interpret the name of the Princess’s rented house, Medley, as a metaphor for the novel that houses it.21Reading the novel, I seem to hear James saying, as Paul to Hyacinth, “I give you your choice of comparison” (226). When the Princess describes class distinctions as “doubtless convenient in some ways, but when one has a reason—a reason of feeling—for overstepping them” (247), I of course cannot help applying the sentence to generic distinctions. “Restless references,” an expression used about the strained relationship between Hyacinth and Paul, could have been an alternative title for this paper.22 Lastly, Hyacinth’s remark that the “group of objects” which greets his eyes from the window of his room at Medley “evidently formed only a corner of larger spaces and a more complicated scene” (299), compellingly points towards the way in which each potentially Dickensian or Zolaesque topos forms “only a corner of larger spaces”—and “a more complicated scene” indeed.

  • 23  Davitt Bell has also underlined that the novel “is made up of chunks of antithetical materials, an (...)

12Consequently, I propose that James’s text is constructed so as to make intertexts proliferate, thus jeopardizing the very notion of verisimilitude through a conspicuous appeal to a textual reality, and questioning the very possibility of realism—and I am here using the term, not as a period-concept, but as a mode of representing the world that implies, in Levine’s words, “an attempt to use language to get beyond language, to discover some non-verbal truth out there” (6). The use of rival references enacts a reflection on referentiality, central to an understanding of the novel’s interplay with realism. This is why the notions of parody or pastiche fall short of accounting for the novel’s questioning of the representation of reality. This is also why the collage aspect of the book can hardly be seen as failure. Turton for instance wrote that “if The Princess Casamassima is an artistic failure, imaginatively misconceived and narratively diffuse, the cause of its failure may be seen as lying in James’s efforts to marry two incompatible forms (the extensive and the intensive, the Dickensian and the Turgenevan)” (97). But James, who was rather a shrewd critic, was certainly aware that these two forms are incompatible indeed; “marrying” them was not the point—juxtaposing them was.23 The constant switches between the different topoi is figured by the predominance of thresholds in the novel, as there is hardly a chapter that does not either begin or end with a door being closed or opened. In The Art of Fiction, published two years before The Princess, James had underlined the problematic implications of using such identifiable models of reality when he wrote that “the reality of Don Quixote or of Mr. Micawber is a very delicate shade; it is a reality so colored by the author’s vision that, vivid as it may be, one would hesitate to propose it as a model” (EL 51), a statement which gives an edge to his subsequent choice to mention Micawber twice in the novel, using parallel sentence structures that call attention to the repetition (417, 477). Putting aside the question of proposing a model, The Princess Casamassima is fashioned from literary constructs, recognizable systems of reality made conspicuous through their juxtaposition, but ultimately resisting definite identification, thus putting into motion, not meaning, but the play of meanings, and indeed “expand[ing] the boundaries of the text” (Tintner, Book World xxiii), as intertextuality should.

13Yet it seems that expansion has not quite been the effect of the intertextual readings of the text, probably because they have focused so much on trying to identify the “true” intertext(s). Paradoxically, such “intertextualizing” seems to have gone in the opposite direction by fixing, settling, the meaning(s) of the text, trying to clarify its obscurities and disinter its “secrets”—a word Tintner uses liberally. One of her metaphors for intertextuality is particularly revealing of this impulse, as she writes that “James clearly … provided the educated reader with liberal clues and factual signposts, like the pebbles dropped by Hop O’ My Thumb to lead his brothers and sisters out of the forest” (Book World xxi). Beyond the rather disturbing implication that non-educated readers are bound to get lost in the forest and never find the way out, this quotation foregrounds the elucidatory purpose often at stake in intertextual readings.

14Hyacinth, the apparent main character of the novel, has been a major focus of this effect of “intertextualization”. Walker for instance conjures up Feuillet’s La Veuve to make sense of Hyacinth’s suicide—although his tragic end does not seem so obscure, given his clearly exposed “predicament”. If one concentrates solely on his evolution, the diegesis displays no seeming incoherence; it is even rather predictable, if one follows the admittedly unfavorable description of the realistic model as given by Leo Bersani, according to which “the entire work is already contained in the presentation of the work, and the characters merely repeat in dialogue and action what has already been established about them in narrative summaries” (121). Once the “double nature” of Hyacinth has been established, and his meeting with the Princess set up, his fictional destiny is indeed likely to lead to an impasse. Suicide is the most plausible course; it is even, for readers of Virgin Soil in particular, rather expected. Intertextual criticism has also looked into Paul Muniment’s case, comparing him with Virgin Soil’s Solomin (Lerner 49), or else with Basil in The Bostonians (Kimmey, “Bostonians” 543). Yet Paul is a much more understandable character than is sometimes suggested. Although we are not given access to his thoughts, he states his beliefs and aims quite articulately, and his attitude is quite consistent with what he says, or what the other characters say about him. He is the very incarnation of the “straight,” potentially ruthless revolutionist—a recurrent word, appearing with a growing frequency as the novel draws to an end. Eustache Poupin is “unerring” (115), Paul and the other reliable revolutionaries are repeatedly said to “walk” or “go straight” (552; 559), Lady Aurora is as straight as can be, and Hyacinth, given his predicament, cannot but go straight to his death. In the Princess’s behavior, however, “the unexpected [is] the only thing to be looked for” (406), as Hyacinth comes to realize.

  • 24  As Wagenknecht noted, a trifle superlatively, “[t]here can hardly be a character in American ficti (...)
  • 25  I am aware that the prefaces are in fact “extremely problematic—and sometimes plainly inaccurate—a (...)

15It is thus no wonder that the major target of this strategy of elucidation has been the Princess, the most unaccountable character in the book,24 and probably one of James’s characters that has been interpreted in the most polarized and passionate ways—or rather, one of the characters who has been assigned “motive” most often, in a rather realistic gesture of attempting to confer coherence on a character that, by James’s own admission, lacks it. He confessed as much in his preface when, comparing Hyacinth with the Princess, he wrote: “I was not averse … to feeling that if his appearance of consistency were obtained I might at least try to remain comparatively at my ease concerning hers” (FW 1099).25 Walker’s book is a revealing instance of this tendency. Although he is one of these comparatively rare critics who acknowledge the status of the Princess as the novel’s “paramount enigma” (28), he still writes that the reference to Feuillet “is a very significant clue to understanding the major cruxes of The Princess Casamassima: Hyacinth’s and the princess’s friendship, the Princess’s supposedly capricious personality, and the end of the novel” (21, emphasis added). Tintner uses a similar strategy in her Cosmopolitan World of Henry James, yet with a radically different end, convoking another Feuillet novel to give a much less favorable interpretation of the Princess as “frivolous,” and Houssaye’s Capricieuse to show “how little [Hyacinth] means to Christina” (Cosmopolitan 77)—a reading that seems to me contradicted by the ending of the novel. In her Book World of Henry James, she had already conjured up Keats’s Lamia to “formulate the character of the Princess as a fatal woman” (86), as well as Shakespeare and Balzac to show that the play-within-the-play device aimed at reminding “the attentive reader that she has already been responsible for the death of one promising young man” (11, emphasis added), thus referring to another kind of Jamesian intertextuality with Roderick Hudson—a reading which, again, seems debatable to me, as Christina’s responsibility in both Roderick’s and Hyacinth’s death is far from mere cause-and-effect. The same strategy is at work in Kimmey’s comparison of The Princess with the other two novels of the so-called “naturalist series”. Arguing in a 1968 article about The Princess being a rewriting of The Bostonians, he found that the Princess was similar to Olive “in type and function” (542-3) —although Olive is a much more coherent character than the Princess. In a 1970 article focusing on The Tragic Muse, he then found the Princess to be similar to Julia Dallow, both described as “aggressive females impressing their wills on others” and “capricious personalities” (526). The ambiguous characterization of the Princess is again a casualty of Dove’s comparison of James’s novel with Le Rouge et le noir, in which he states from the outset that “there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that the later novel was in any way indebted to the earlier one” (131), but still concludes that the Princess is “a bored and capricious woman, like Mathilde” (150). Even Bell, who gives a new twist to the reference to Zola by likening the Princess to the figure of the naturalist writer—thus making intertextuality operate on the level of mise en abyme rather than mere imitation of plot or characterization—states that such an interpretation is necessary “to fully account for her motives for action in the novel” (172).

  • 26  Some critics have felt differently. Grenander thus wrote that “[a]t the conclusion of The Princess(...)
  • 27  The dynamics I am outlining is similar to Armstrong’s analysis of the link between the prefaces an (...)

16I am not sure, however, that the Princess’s motives are to be “accounted for”. I do sympathize with (almost) all the contradictory readings of the Princess offered above, whether friendly or hostile, as they are all supported by the text at one time or another, but I cannot resign myself to fix her in one meaning. Although she is the pivot around which everything revolves, she remains a missing pivot, through her elusiveness, and because both characters and readers’ attempts to make sense of her are ultimately frustrated. She is the character who does not quite fit into any of the plots of the novel. Her unexpected appearances and disappearances repeatedly disrupt the narrative, hence the almost fantastic sentiment governing the characters’ relations to her: “a vague apprehension that one might suddenly stretch one’s hand and miss her altogether from one’s side” (398). The only, recurrent explanation that is given for her attitude—which most critics have consequently attempted either to validate or to dispute—is her being a capriocciosa. Yet this is a non-explanation as a caprice is by definition what cannot be explained away; what is, in fine, unintelligible. Her theatricality, her sense of the mise en scène are repeatedly asserted but, as Hyacinth notes, “her performance of the part she had undertaken to play was certainly complete, and everything lay before him but the reason she had for playing it” (310). Her incommensurable beauty thus appears not as a mere descriptive characteristic, but rather as a sign for her unintelligibility: “she was too beautiful to question, to judge by common logic,” Hyacinth reflects (195). She can only be defined in terms of her opacity and the frustration she creates: indeed “a model of the unsatisfactory” (250). At the end of the novel, her course is undetermined, contrary to the other characters whom the readers can well imagine leading their narrative lives unchanged. Her extra-narrative future is the only one which is mentioned (i.e. her resuming her life with her husband), but the possibility is improbable and, again, radically unsatisfactory. Her trajectory calls for an unimaginable “outside of the text” in a novel that Hyacinth’s suicide seemed to end so neatly. If, according to what James later wrote in the preface, Christina Light was, at the end of Roderick Hudson, one of “those ghosts we have conjured but not exorcised” (FW 1098), she still cannot be said to have been “exorcised” as the Princess Casamassima in the novel bearing her name.26 Venturing into the intertextual fray again, I would thus argue that the reference to Roderick Hudson is all but explanatory. Contrary to Zola or Balzac, James shrank from resorting to recurrent characters, or, as he called it in the preface to The Princess Casamassima, “the revivalist impulse” (FW 1099)—with the notable exceptions of Gloriani who consistently figures as the successful and worldly artist in Roderick Hudson, The Ambassadors and “The Velvet Glove,” and of The Princess Casamassima which recasts three characters from Roderick Hudson. Madame Grandoni and the Prince Casamassima are constructed along identical lines in both novels, as opposed to the Princess Casamassima who cannot be unquestioningly assimilated to Christina Light. Her “aversion to the banal” and her world­weariness, to quote from James’s preface again (FW 1099), could indeed account for her behavior in Roderick Hudson, where she is repeatedly presented as a coquette and a flirt. The Princess Casamassima, however, cannot be simplified as a flirt, if only for her quietness, as opposed to Miss Light’s shriller note, and her kindness and fraternizing manners, at odds with Miss Light’s haughtiness. She is not radically different from Miss Light (in her pride or her dislike of the conventional, for example) but the deviation from Miss Light is precisely what makes her new character as the Princess even more impenetrable. “If you knew more about me you would understand what has led me to turn my attention to the great social question,” she tells Hyacinth (199-200). Readers of Roderick Hudson do know more about her than what is stated in The Princess Casamassima, which may help them to understand her hatred of her husband and her desire for revenge, but not quite why she has chosen to act like a socialist, or indeed why she takes such a fancy to the little bookbinder as to try and prevent him from keeping his promise when she appears so ruthlessly revolutionary. The earlier novel does not yield enough clues for a comprehensive understanding of the Princess, frustrating the expectation of clarification implied by the deceptive device of recurrent characters. Paradoxically, her character is rather obscured by the superimposition of Christina and the Princess Casamassima, enacted within the novel by the concurrent use of both names.27

17The determining gap in this loosely stitched fabric, is thus that of the character who gives her name to the novel and paradoxically becomes its very center through her absent presence. In Deleuzian terms, she might be considered as a figure of deterritorialization, with the elucidatory interpretations that have been given of her seeking to reterritorialize her. The Princess Casamassima is a novel which undermines realistic representation, or the representation of a “real,” coherent, intelligible reality, by drawing attention to its being a construction of reality, jeopardizing its coherence, and building it around a character whose property is to resist interpretation. The reality it proposes is a marked literary reality, a conspicuous construct—and thus no reality at all—in which the central character shuns intelligibility. It is a narrative that will not “[give] hostages to reality” (272), will not let reality build itself coherently and intelligibly by refusing to give it what it needs to lend itself to realistic representation—a narrative which refuses to sew up the gaps, persistently undoing the fabric by weaving in the subversiveness of lack. In the process, the novel makes meaning (as well as criticism) proliferate, questioning the realistic ethic of coherence and significance, while tricking readers into producing their own “realistic” readings.

  • 28  A phrase that James may have found too transparent, for he revised it to “[w]ith so many grand con (...)

18It would be tempting to conclude, like Hyacinth, that “[w]ith so many narratives in the air, I certainly had better take myself off” (435)28—if not for the fact that such an attitude of retreat, beyond being obviously unadvisable to critics, would ignore the dynamics of intertextuality whose property is precisely to engage the readers in the production of their own text. As Linda Hutcheon has argued, “autoreference and intertextual reference actually combine to direct readers back to an outer reference,” and “[t]he two most self-reflexive modes of reference point directly towards the least so and, from there, outside the text’s boundaries” (10). Tintner, in the preface to her 1987 book, repeatedly—and revealingly—used metaphors of disinterment, describing her intertextual method as an “archeological expedition into James’s fiction,” mentioning the “ingredient of the parallel text which [she had] dug out of the tale or novel” (xxiii), and encouraging readers “to do some digging of their own in the rich soil of James’s fiction” (xxi). This is consistent with what seems to be often at stake in intertextual readings, i.e. a “figure in the carpet” wish to unearth allegedly buried meaning and elucidate the paradoxes of a resisting text that is yet another “model of the unsatisfactory”. Yet the proliferation of references and interpretations seems to encourage a horizontal rather than a vertical conception of a novel that stages a reflection on the whole question of Reference and the lures and traps of the representation of the elusive real. The later novels of Henry James have been considered as enacting a “drama of reference” (Steele). An exploration of the referential dynamics of The Princess reveals that its realism is much more complex than a simple use of traditional realistic topoi, and that a similar “drama” can also be traced in a novel from the “Middle Period”.

  • 29  Izzo reaches similar conclusions concerning the relationship between James’s fiction and the sensa (...)

19Such a reading of the novel, although it could admittedly be described as “postmodern”, is not meant to work at “eviscerating the idea of realism in James”—a perspective Hocks deplores in “postmodernist dogma” (97)—but rather at presenting the realism of James’s novel as “experimental” (although not in Zola’s sense) in its interplay with the reader.29 Kaplan, in her book on American realism, voices a similar complaint when she criticizes the “postmodern critics” who “locate the power of realistic texts precisely in their ability to deconstruct their own claims to referentiality,” adding that “[t]hrough the lenses of contemporary theories, those characteristics once considered realistic are revalued for exposing their own fictionality” (5), and concluding that “the concept of realism disappears in the current critical discourse” (6). Yet such a presentation seems to me an instance of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, if I may say so, as it should be possible to shun the rather sterile alternative according to which either a work is considered to be non-problematically realist, or its realism vanishes with any acknowledgement of its self-awareness. What I have tried to show, rather, is that The Princess does not so much “expose” its own fictionality as works with and within it. The outcome of such a venture need not be the failure of realism, or its self-destruction, but an appreciation of the dialogical nature of a mode of representing reality whose fate is “to be divided, to the point of torture, to be split open by sympathies” that relentlessly pull it “in different ways” (PC 165).

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Works by Henry James

PCThe Princess Casamassima (1886). London: Penguin, 1987.

PC IIThe Princess Casamassima (1908). Lionel Trilling, ed. New York: Macmillan, 1948.

The Portrait of a Lady. Novels 1881-1886. William T. Stafford, ed. New York: Library of America, 1985.

ELEssays on Literature, American Writers, English Writers. Ed. Leon Edel. New York: The Library of America, 1984. Vol. 1 of Literary Criticism.

FWFrench Writers, Other European Writers, The Prefaces to the New York Edition. Leon Edel, ed. New York: Library of America, 1984. Vol. 2 of Literary Criticism.

NThe Notebooks of Henry James. F.O. Matthiesen and Kenneth B. Murdoch, eds. New York: George Braziller, 1955.

Other works cited

Anderson, Charles R. “James and Zola: the Question of Naturalism”. Revue de littérature comparée 57 (1983): 343-57.

Armstrong, Paul B. “Reading James’s Prefaces and Reading James”. Henry James’s New York Edition: The Construction of Authorship. Ed. David McWhirter. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995. 125-137.

Bell, Millicent. Meaning in Henry James. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991.

Bersani, Leo. Baudelaire and Freud. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977.

Betensky, Carolyn. “Philanthropy, Desire, and the Politics of Friendship in The Princess Casamassima”. The Henry James Review 22 (2001): 147-62.

Blair, Sara. Henry James and the Writing of Race and Nation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Briggs, Anthony D. “Someone Else’s Sledge: Further Notes on Turgenev’s Virgin Soil and Henry James’s The Princess Casamassima”. Oxford Slavonic Papers n.s., 5 (1972): 52-60.

Brodhead, Richard H. “Henry James: Tradition and the Work of Writing”. The School of Hawthorne. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986. 104-20.

Colmer, John. “Political Action and the Crisis of Conscience”. Coleridge to Catch-22: Images of Society. New York: St. Martin’s, 1987. 91-104.

Davitt Bell, Michael. The Problem of American Realism: Studies in the Cultural History of a Literary Idea. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Delbaere-Garant, Jeanne. “Henry James’s Divergences from his Russian Model in The Princess Casamassima”. Revue des Langues Vivantes 37 (1971): 535-44.

DeVine, Christine. “Revolution and Democracy in the London Times and The Princess Casamassima”. The Henry James Review 23 (2002): 53-71.

Dove, Roland. “The Alienated Hero in Le Rouge et le noir and The Princess Casamassima”. Studies in Comparative Literature. Ed. Waldo F. McNeir. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1960. 130-54.

Dubler, Walter. “The Princess Casamassima: Its Place in the James Canon”. MFS 12 (1966): 44-60.

Flannery, Dennis. Henry James: A Certain Illusion. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000.

Ford, George H. Dickens and his Readers: Aspects of Novel-Criticism Since 1836. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955.

Genette, Gérard. Palimpsestes. Paris: Seuil, 1982.

Glazener, Nancy. Reading for Realism: The History of a U.S. Literary Institution 1850-1910. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997.

Graham, Wendy. Henry James’s Thwarted Love. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.

Grenander, M.E. “Henry James’s Capricciosa: Christina Light in Roderick Hudson and The Princess Casamassima”. PMLA 75 (1960): 309-319.

Grover, Philip. Henry James and the French Novel: A Study in Inspiration. London: Paul Elek Books, 1973.

Hamilton, Eunice C. “Henry James’s The Princess Casamassima and Ivan Turgenev’s Virgin Soil”. The South Atlantic Quarterly 61 (1962): 354-64.

Hayes, Kevin J., ed. Henry James: The Contemporary Reviews. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Hocks, Richard A. “Henry James”. American Literary Scholarship: An Annual. 1992. Ed. David J. Nordloh. Durham: Duke University Press, 1994. 97-116.

Holton, Dorothy B. “Henry James’s The Princess Casamassima: A Bibliography of Primary and Annotated Criticism”. The Henry James Review 16 (1995): 321-39.

Hutcheon, Linda. “Metafictional Implications for Novelistic Reference”. On Referring in Literature. Eds. Anna Whiteside and Michael Issacharoff. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. 1-13.

Izzo, Donatella. Portraying the Lady: Technologies of Gender in the Short Stories of Henry James. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001.

Johnson, Warren. “Hyacinth Robinson or The Princess Casamassima?”. Texas Studies in Literature and Language 28 (1986): 296-323.

Kaplan, Amy. The Social Construction of American Realism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Kimmey, John L. “The Bostonians and The Princess Casamassima”. Texas Studies in Literature and Language 9 (1968): 537-46.

——. “The Tragic Muse and Its Forerunners”. American Literature 41 (1970): 518-31.

Kretsch, Robert W. “Political Passion in Balzac and Henry James”. Nineteenth-Century Fiction 14 (1959): 265-70.

Kristeva, Julia. Séméiotikè. Paris: Seuil, 1969.

Langbaum, Robert. “Thoughts for Our Time: Three Novels on Anarchism”. American Scholar 42 (1973): 227-50.

Lee, A. Robert. “Odd Man Out? Henry James, The Canon and The Princess Casamassima”. Tensions and Transitions (1869-1990): The Mediating Imagination. Ed. Michael Irving, Mark Kinkead-Weekes and A. Robert Lee. London: Faber and Faber, 1990. 103-20.

Lerner, Daniel. “The Influence of Turgenev on Henry James”. Slavonic and East European Review 20 (1941): 28-54.

Levine, George. The Realistic Imagination: English Fiction from Frankenstein to Lady Chatterley. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Mackenzie, Manfred. Communities of Honor and Love in Henry James. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976.

McMahon, Helen. Criticism of Fiction: A Study of Trends in the Atlantic Monthly 1857-1898 (1952). New York: AMS Press, 1973.

McWhirter, David. “Henry James, (Post)Modernist?”. The Henry James Review 25 (2004): 168-94.

——. “Introduction. ‘The Whole Chain of Relation and Responsibility’: Henry James and the New York Edition”. Henry James’s New York Edition: The Construction of Authorship. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995. 1-19.

Meissner, Colin. “The Princess Casamassima: ‘a dirty intellectual fog’”. The Henry James Review 19 (1998): 53-71.

Nies, Frederic and John Kimmey. “David Copperfield and The Princess Casamassima”. The Henry James Review 10 (1989): 179-84.

Perosa, Sergio. Henry James and the Experimental Novel. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978.

Powers, Lyall H. “Henry James and Zola’s Roman Experimental”. The University of Toronto Quarterly 30 (1960): 16-30.

——. Henry James and the Naturalist Movement. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1971.

Riffaterre, Michael. “La trace de l’intertexte”. La Pensée 215 (1980): 4-18.

Rowe, John Carlos. “Social Values: The Marxist Critique of Modernism and The Princess Casamassima”. The Theoretical Dimensions of Henry James. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984. 147-88.

Scanlan, Margaret. “Terrorism and the Realistic Novel: Henry James and The Princess Casamassima”. Texas Studies in Literature and Language 34 (1992): 380-402.

Seed, David. “Hyacinth Robinson and the Politics of The Princess Casamassima”. Études Anglaises 30 (1977): 30-9.

Seltzer, Mark. Henry James and the Art of Power. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984.

Smith, Peter. “The Princess Casamassima: James’s address to the public”. Public and Private Values: Studies in the Nineteenth-Century Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984. 121-45.

Steele, H. Meili. Realism and the Drama of Reference: Strategies of Representation in Balzac, Flaubert and James. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988.

Stoehr, Taylor. “Words and Deeds in The Princess Casamassima”. EHL 37 (1970): 95-135.

Stowe, William W. Balzac, James, and the Realistic Novel. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Sypher, Eileen. “Anarchism and Gender: James’s The Princess Casamassima and Conrad’s The Secret Agent”. The Henry James Review 9 (1988): 1-16.

Teahan, Sheila. The Rhetorical Logic of Henry James. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995.

Tingle, Nicholas. “Realism, Naturalism, and Formalism: James and The Princess Casamassima”. American Literary Realism 21 (1989): 54-66.

Tintner, Adeline R. The Book World of Henry James: Appropriating the Classics. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1987.

——. The Cosmopolitan World of Henry James: An Intertextual Study. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991.

Tintner, Adeline R. and Leon Edel. The Library of Henry James. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1987.

Turton, Glyn. “The Fiction of James and Turgenev”. Turgenev and the Context of English Literature 1850-1900. London: Routledge, 1992. 58-100.

Veza, Laurette. Henry James: le champ du regard. Paris: la Table Ronde, 1989.

Wagenknecht, Edward. Eve and Henry James: Portraits of Women and Girls in His Fiction. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978.

Walker, Pierre A. Reading Henry James in French Cultural Contexts. Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1995.

Walton, James. “A Mechanic’s Tragedy: Reality in The Princess Casamassima”. English Studies Collections 1 (1976): 1-20.

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1  Brodhead singles out The Princess as being particularly allusive, but he also underlines that James’s novels are in general organized “from a master,” quoting Washington Square (Balzac), The Portrait of a Lady (Eliot), and The Bostonians (Hawthorne). He then concludes that “the novel becomes, in James’s hands, a form written in continual awareness of a fixed set of literary precedents” (117). Because The Princess has been considered as James’s most “realist” novel, I will try to examine the implications of such an acute “awareness” on the strategies of representation at work in the novel.

2 The Portrait of a Lady (1881) is in many respects another “library book,” although here James rather pointedly declines to give names, at least in the original version. The references to Eliot and Browning in chapter 4, for instance, were added for the New York Edition. Those mostly unnamed books also remain strikingly unread—most characters seem to use them for composure rather than for entertainment or instruction. Isabel herself is repeatedly portrayed, as in chapter 19, “with a volume to which her attention [is] not fastened” (402). It thus comes as no surprise that, although Isabel is supposed to be so “literary” (746), Ralph leaves her the furniture of Gardencourt, “exclusive of the pictures and books” (790).

3  “L’intertexte est la perception, par le lecteur, de rapports entre une œuvre et d’autres qui l’ont précédée ou suivie” (4, emphasis added). Kristeva, who defines intertextuality as the dynamics of all texts and opposes it to the static aspect of the intertext as object, focuses more on the links between “écriture” and “parole” than on the reader-text relationship as such (Séméiotikè 54). As for Genette, he emphatically denies the validity of such a relationship, writing that he is not interested in tracking down, in a work of fiction, the partial, localized, elusive echoes of any other work, whether posterior or anterior, because such an attitude would grant the hermeneutic activity of the reader a part that he finds “hardly bearable”: “Je puis également traquer dans n’importe quelle oeuvre les échos partiels, localisées et fugitifs de n’importe quelle autre, antérieure ou postérieure. Une telle attitude aurait pour effet de verser la totalité de la littérature universelle dans le champ de l’hypertextualité, ce qui en rendrait l’étude peu maîtrisable; mais surtout, elle fait un crédit, et accorde un rôle, pour moi peu supportable, à l’activité herméneutique du lecteur—ou de l’archilecteur ” (19, emphasis added).

4  I will thus exclude the body of works studying the relationship between James’s novel and other texts—often posterior to the writing of The Princess—from a comparative angle that does not focus on how the interaction between both text creates meaning for and in James’s novel, but rather on similarities and differences between the novels in question concerning a specific point. This includes such studies as Eileen Sypher’s comparison of James’s novel with Conrad’s The Secret Agent as “two texts that attempt to contain the disruptive forces of anarchism and sexuality,” with a view to “demonstrate the power of the new marxism to both explore the text’s discontinuities and to interpret the particular historical moment that produced them” (1), or else Langbaum’s article, which focuses on The Princess, The Secret Agent, and Dostoievski’s The Possessed. Its title, “Thoughts for Our Time: Three Novels on Anarchism” (1973), states the focus of analysis clearly enough.

5  “Naturalism” is of course to be understood here in its French sense, since the emergence of American Naturalism was not quite contemporaneous with the writing of The Princess. As for American realism, we know that James shared many critical assumptions with what came to be called the “Atlantic group,” as has been shown by MacMahon for instance, and The Bostonians can be seen as involving a specifically American intertextuality, not only in terms of its setting but also through the use of the topos of the female doctor (on this point, see Glazener 137 passim). Yet it seems to me (and obviously to the many critics who have worked on that novel) that James was engaging with the European tradition in The Princess, as is indirectly underlined by his awareness that The Bostonians was “an attempt to show that [he could] write an American story” (N 47)—even though his literary references somewhat belied his project, for he wrote to Grace Norton, in a 1885 letter: “Do like The Bostonians, dear Grace; it is something like Balzac!” (quoted in Tintner 1987, 259).

6  Anderson systematically counters the argument of the three critics in his 1983 article. Seltzer quotes Powers’s statement that James had made his peace with the naturalists by the mid-1880’s, and comments: “It is, rather, James’s attempt to disaffiliate himself from the realist or naturalist ‘group’, and from the politics that their method implies, that I emphasize here” (53).

7  Scanlan, for instance, writes about “the famous ‘naturalist’ description of Millbank prison” (394). See also note 18.

8  See for instance Ford (210), Walton (15), Lee (114), or Bell (169). Interestingly enough, the only piece of criticism that James wrote on Dickens was a scathing review of Our Mutual Friend published two decades earlier. He called the novel “the poorest of Mr. Dickens’s works,” branding its characters as “mere bundle[s] of eccentricities” (EL 853-54), and found Jenny Wren particularly unbearable—the stuff of “very cheap merriment and very cheap pathos” (854).

9  For instance, Delbaere-Garant noted that the prison scene was “a melodramatic Dickensian passage” (537) and Seed that the prison scene owed obvious debts to Dickens (32).

10  Davitt Bell goes so far as to write of “James’s pilfering of Turgenev’s novel” (93). See also Lerner, Hamilton, Delbaere-Garant, Briggs, Colmer, Smith and Brodhead.

11  Smith also examines Dickens, Balzac, and, indirectly, Flaubert.

12  For Histoire des Treize, see for instance Kretsch (265). For Les Illusions perdues, see Stowe (56-99), or Johnson (314). Walton underlines the “Balzacian parlor arrangements at Lomax Place” (8)—while according to Brodhead, the “heavy interior decoration” of the novel comes “straight out of Zola” (144). Smith notes that, when Hyacinth goes to Paris, “[t]he shadowy, thickly-textured associations of an immobilized Dickensian London give way to Balzac’s hectic pace” (126).

13  This is an instance of the occasional, and unfortunate, wavering between such concepts as “naturalism” and “realism,” or the lack of definition of what a Dickensian, Balzacian, or Zolaesque politics of representation might entail. On this point, see Anderson (345 passim).

14  Annie R.M. Logan wrote in The Nation in 1887 that the novel “fits an empirical yet generally accepted definition of realistic fiction about as neatly as does Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” (Hayes 191). The Critic’s reviewer wrote: “Here is a genuine romance, with conspirators, and harlots, and stabbing, and jails … I cannot congratulate the author too heartily on his escape into fiction” (quoted in Blair 226). The reviewer in Lippincott Magazine wrote that the characters were “realistically unreal” (quoted in Holton 4), and the New York Times review was entitled “A Slumming Romance” (quoted in Holton 5).

15  See Bell for an analysis of alternative “plots” rather than specific genres or novels. She writes for instance that in The Princess “the intertextual reference to myth and literary tradition and even autobiography lives only fitfully in the text and is finally thrust aside” (25).

16  Tintner compares The Princess to Feuillet’s La Petite Comtesse (Cosmopolitan 61-76), while Walker focuses on Histoire d’une Parisienne and La Veuve (18-41). It should be noted that the 1886 New York Times review mentioned above made a reference to Octave Feuillet who “at his worst has written up a woman of this kind,” alluding to the Princess.

17 Stowe for instance wrote that the description of Millbank prison was “got up à la Zola” (83).

18  Anderson notes that “[i]t would be a mistake to take this remark literally” (347). Bell comments similarly that James’s use of the word “naturalist,” as well as his mention of “taking notes,” is ironic, “contained in invisible and sometimes even visible quotation marks” (152).

19  For a comparison with Stendhal, see Dove’s article. Veza states that The Princess is James’s “most Stendhalian” novel (147), but does not elaborate on this hint, while Teahan remarks that the novel “rejects the Stendhalian plot of political commitment as a vehicle of self-realization” (23). Brodhead (161) and Bell (178) both compared the Princess to Zenobia in Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance—a novel with which The Bostonians has also been compared. Tintner analyzes the chapters where Hyacinth meets the Princess (chap. 12-13) as relying on the Shakespearean play-within¬the-play device; yet further down, she analyzes it as the Balzacian play-within-the-novel device, so that it is not quite clear in the end whether one should consider the scene as owing debts to Shakespeare or to Balzac (Book World). David J. Davies compared the prison scene to the ending of Goncourt’s La Fille Elisa, in an unpublished dissertation entitled “A Comparative Study of London and Paris in the Works of Henry James and Zola, with special reference to The Princess Casamassima and L’Assommoir”.

20  I only found one figurative occurrence of bacon in the sentence, “let it save its own bacon and pay its own debt”. This appears in Summersoft (a 1895 one-act comedy), Covering End (a 1898 story), and The High Bid (a 1907 play in three acts), which are all rewritings of the same plot.

21  Adeline Tintner has also underlined the meaning of the name, but from a different angle. According to her, the word “means, literally, a blending of musical forms, and as a musical term it implies the notion of a leitmotif” (Book World 85). However, it seems to me that a “medley” relies on collage rather than blending. The difference in interpretation is unsurprisingly explained by our divergent purposes: Tintner states that “[t]he first three Medley chapters are the locus for James’s full development of the Keatsian motif”—she is following a motif while I am trying to argue for a layering of motifs.

22  In its original context, the text reads: “If his friend didn’t wish to express any sympathy for him he was not going to beg for it (especially as he didn’t want it), by restless references” (391).

23  Davitt Bell has also underlined that the novel “is made up of chunks of antithetical materials, and antithetical modes, that will not combine” (97), and that it enacts a “thematizing of competing realisms” (96), but he concludes that “the realist project self-destructs” in the process (103). What I am trying to argue, rather, is that, if the realism of The Princess is relentlessly jeopardized, it is never destroyed—as the reception of the novel partly attests.

24  As Wagenknecht noted, a trifle superlatively, “[t]here can hardly be a character in American fiction concerning whose motives there has been more critical speculation than Christina Light” (66)—which does not prevent him from giving his own conclusion, in rather unambiguous terms: “The basic truth … about Christina Light, then, is that at heart she is not a cynical adventuress but a romantic idealist” (71, emphasis added). Incidentally, the other most common critical reaction to the Princess has been silence, as many studies have simply ignored her, which spurred Johnson’s comment that “[c]ontrary to the opinion which has always prevailed among its readers, The Princess Casamassima has a heroine” (296). I do share his view that “the Princess Casamassima is precisely what The Princess Casamassima is all about” (298), but not quite for the same reasons, for his arguments mainly revolve around the question of which character best represents James’s own consciousness.

25  I am aware that the prefaces are in fact “extremely problematic—and sometimes plainly inaccurate—as guides to the texts they discuss” (McWhirter, Introduction 8), and I am not trying (or willing) to reinstate them as the “authorized” interpretations of James’s fiction—which would be something of a quixotic task in the wake of such a book as Henry James’s New York Edition: The Construction of Authorship. However, for James to acknowledge such a thing as a lack of consistency in what was, in McWhirter’s words, “the central performance” in the construction of the myth of the Master (1), is conspicuous enough to deserve notice.

26  Some critics have felt differently. Grenander thus wrote that “[a]t the conclusion of The Princess, one feels, as James must have felt, that she has been at last ‘completely recorded’” (319). I feel, rather, that she is left even more “en l’air” than Isabel at the end of The Portrait (N 18).

27  The dynamics I am outlining is similar to Armstrong’s analysis of the link between the prefaces and the works they are supposed to introduce: “James’s prefaces call attention to this ambiguity by both raising and refusing to satisfy the reader’s expectation that they will provide anticipatory structures of interpretation to help make sense of the works they introduce” (125). For other instances of comparisons between Roderick Hudson and The Princess, see Grenander, who argues that “the later Christina develops logically” from the first (309), Johnson, who focuses on the similarity between Roderick and Hyacinth, or Mackenzie, who proposes that James rewrites Roderick Hudson “in order to show that the barbarian can convert to and affirm the civil idea” (19).

28  A phrase that James may have found too transparent, for he revised it to “[w]ith so many grand confidences in the air” for the New York Edition (PC II, 180).

29  Izzo reaches similar conclusions concerning the relationship between James’s fiction and the sensation novel when she writes that his use of the sensational genre, “as always happens with his intertextual reference, is experimental, wary, and cognitive” (212).

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Anne-Claire LE RESTE, « Intertextualizing The Princess Casamassima: Realism and Reference(s) »E-rea [En ligne], 3.2 | 2005, document 2, mis en ligne le 15 octobre 2005, consulté le 18 septembre 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Anne-Claire LE RESTE

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