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La Educación
Número: (116) III
Año: 1993

11. Adeline R. TINTNER. Henry James and the Lust of the Eyes: Thirteen Artists in His Work. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1993. xvi, 265 p., notes, illustrations, index. Cloth: $32.50.

Adeline Tintner’s new study of the visualist character of much of the fiction of Henry James, of his “lust” for the aesthetic pleasures afforded by the eyes, shows once more her versatility as a scholar and critic. In this work she offers a unified and authoritative perspective of James’ entire fictional oeuvre by uncovering references (ranging from the obvious to the most obscure) to works of painting, engraving and sculpture in the short stories and novels. Using evidence culled from auxilliary sources such as the hundreds of travel journals, art reviews and letters written by the prolific James, Tintner conveys the passion with which he absorbs the masterpieces of visual art and the ingenuity with which he incorporates them into his own literary art. In addition, she describes James’ overall development as an artist, his metamorphosis from nineteenth to “twentieth-century artist,” in terms of the increasing sophistication with which he employs these visual references in his fiction. For Tintner, the revisions that James makes toward the end of his life in his earlier novels are particularly telling with regard to the issue of his development, and thus she devotes most of her attention to the revised editions of novels such as Roderick Hudson (1907) and Portrait of a Lady (1911) where there is the option of using either the original or revised edition.

After a concise introduction Tintner proceeds in chronological order beginning with one of James’ earliest stories, “The Siege of London,” written in 1883. Here, too, Tintner makes good use of the differing intentions expressed by James’ later revisions. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Tintner’s approach lies in her ability to extract from the slightest allusion a systematic basis for interpreting and understanding a particular Jamesian work. The subtlety and refinement of her readings reflects an intimate knowledge of the whole range of James’ writings and an understanding of the love for the arts expressed by him therein. Rather than imposing a rigid critical structure upon a particular work to describe its internal workings, Tintner actually starts from within, stating the major artistic/visual parallel at the outset and gradually unraveling the various levels of significance implied by these allusions. In the aforementioned example, the author argues convincingly that James uses the allusions to Couture’s “The Romans of the Decadence” in “The Siege of London” not only to add aesthetic and intellectual depth to the story (which it undoubtedly does), but also to comment on the decadence of the British aristocracy as especially reflected by its interaction with American “invaders.” Like the Vandals or Visigoths of Roman times, these fin-de-siècle American “barbarians” transform the Europe of old through the sheer force of their enthusiastic ignorance.

In later chapters Tintner indicates a specific turning point in James’ fictional method; fittingly enough it occurs at the turn of the century. Using the 1902 novel The Wings of the Dove as an example, Tintner points to a new aspect of James’ use of artistic allusion; rather than merely using the artworks in his stories as fixed iconographic points of reference (much as one would experience them in a gallery), he begins to allow his characters to interact with the works as well. In the case of The Wings of the Dove, Milly Theale see herself in Bronzino’s portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi and experiences a vision of her own future. Thus, much as in Robert Browning’s dramatic monologues, the reader becomes twice removed, watching the fictional character experience a very real masterpiece of European art.

For Tintner the paintings, sculpture and architecture that so delighted Henry James the tourist or Henry James the art critic also give the critic and reader a powerful tool for understanding his art. As she states in the introduction, “in all the examples there is the subterranean presence of the analogic icon.” James expresses his “lust of the eyes” by weaving intricate structures about the works of visual art that fascinate him and by creating characters who change by coming into contact with them. It is in the revised Roderick Hudson that Tintner sees James as a truly modern artist, joining the ranks of contemporaries like Pablo Picasso and Rainer Maria Rilke through his imitation in prose of the style of Daumier’s etchings. In doing so, James goes beyond the works themselves, even beyond his own characters, and he himself becomes a very real protagonist: the modern author struggling to maintain authority over his own works. Though Joyce, Pound and the other modernists examine the problem more extensively, James anticipates their struggles with Roderick Hudson. Tintner leaves no doubt however that Henry James is unmatched by any other prose artist in the refinement of his visual sense, and in his ability to create out of this sense fiction of similar delicacy. Tintner’s own work shows an admirable “lust” for James’ work and an extensive knowledge of the works of art that inspired him. The book provides 98 black and white plates that allow the reader to feel something of this lust as well.

William C. Baldwin