previous next

[376] slow: in some of his work there seems to be no story at all, only the analysis of a situation. The method requires space: James has stretched the length of the short story to its extreme. The Aspern papers, the bare story of which could have been told in three pages, dragged through three magazine instalments. Twenty-eight of the one hundred and three stories in Henry James's final list are long enough to appear as volumes. Yet one may not doubt they are short stories: they are each of them the presentation of a single situation and they leave each of them a unity of impression.

James was the most consummate artist American literature has produced. He was fastidious by nature and by early training. He had studied his art in France as men study sculpture in Italy, and he had learned the French mastery of form. Nowhere in his writings may we find slovenly work. His opening and closing paragraphs are always models, his dialogue moves naturally and inevitably,—in all the story despite its length nothing too much,—and everywhere a brilliancy new in American fiction. He is seldom spontaneous; always is he the conscious artist; always is he intellectual; always is he working in the clay of actual life, a realist who never forgets his problem to soar into the uncharted and the unscientific realms of the metaphysical and the romantic.

The chief criticism of the short stories of James must concern their spirit rather than their form. The tendency of science has been to repudiate the spiritual. Romance with intuition in place of sense perception found at least the heart. With James the short story became an art form simply, cold and brilliant, a study of the surface of society, manners, endless phenomena jotted down in a note-book, human life from the standpoint of the laboratory and the test tube. Beyond the brilliant art of Henry James, the impressionistic study of situations from the standpoint of scientific truth, the American short story has never advanced. He gave distinctness to the form. Nevertheless, he is not a supreme master: that dominating factor in life that eludes scapel and test-tube he never found, and, neglecting it, he falls inevitably into second place as an interpreter of human life.

That James and others of his school, like T. B. Aldrich, for instance, and H. C. Bunner, could have directed the short story

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
France (France) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Henry James (3)
William James (1)
Henry Cuyler Bunner (1)
Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: