Henry James Joyce

p.s. I don’t understand why James doesn’t acknowledge Flaubert among the antecedents to his project of doing justice to a representative type of the young women who are “the frail vessels…[of] the treasure of human affection,” as Madame Bovary seems pretty obviously the most tremendous previous effort in this vein. Perhaps he wanted to blot out Emma Bovary and replace her with a heroine who evokes grandeur rather than mere pity. In any event, the world seems to have taken to Madame Bovary more on the whole, perhaps because James, in his effort to make his heroine grand, had to not only make her but repeatedly emphasize the fact of her being exceptional, a necessity at odds with the goal of rendering her representative, and Flaubert’s portrayal of the bourgeois tragedy of a fundamentally ordinary, typical woman is more in keeping with the spirit of the age and the nature of the project. Flaubert stared unflinchingly into the brave new democratic world, while James implicitly denied it by trying to create classic aristocratic tragedy out of modern materials, a notion as anachronistic in its way as James Joyce summoning up the shadow of Ulysses in the streets of Dublin.

p.p.s. After all these years I’ve finally found a way to link Henry James and James Joyce beyond just their names. Perhaps in this link one can almost pinpoint the moment when the “aristocratic” strain in literature switched from a function of the genuine aristocratic ethos to that of the academic.

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