Henry James's reputation as The Master is so familiar that it's hard to imagine he was ever someone on whom some things really were lost. This is the story of the year--1875 to 1876--when the young novelist moved to Paris, drawn by his literary idols living at the center of the early modern movement in art. As Peter Brooks skillfully recounts, James largely failed to appreciate or even understand the new artistic developments teeming around him during his Paris sojourn. But living in England twenty years later, he would recall the aesthetic lessons of Paris, and his memories of the radical perspectives opened up by French novelists and painters would help transform James into the writer of his adventurous later fiction. A narrative that combines biography and criticism and uses James's writings to tell the story from his point of view, Henry James Goes to Paris vividly brings to life the young American artist's Paris year--and its momentous artistic and personal consequences.
James's Paris story is one of enchantment and disenchantment. He initially loved Paris, he succeeded in meeting all the writers he admired (Turgenev, Flaubert, Zola, Maupassant, Goncourt, and Daudet), and he witnessed the latest development in French painting, Impressionism. But James largely found the writers disappointing, and he completely misunderstood the paintings he saw. He also seems to have fallen in and out of love in a more ordinary sense--with a young Russian aesthete, Paul Zhukovsky. Disillusioned, James soon retreated to England--for good. But James would eventually be changed forever by his memories of Paris.
"In this affectionate study, Brooks concedes that the young James 'missed the point, completely,' but argues that what he observed in Paris deeply affected him, and was especially crucial to his late novels."--The New Yorker
"Brooks's main thesis is that when James lived in Paris he 'missed' much that was new and exciting. He didn't really like Flaubert's writing, he dismissed the Impressionists, and he found Wagner's music 'boring.' But twenty or more years later, Brooks argues, what James failed to appreciate at the time came back to haunt him and to affect his later great work. Though James was more of a Romantic realist in the tradition of Balzac (with a large taste for melodramatic kitsch and wild and improbable plot twists), he came to appreciate Flaubert's exquisite style and measured realism and to write several important essays on him."--Edmund V. White, New York Review of Books
"[E]ngaging and perceptive. . . . [A]n exceptionally clear-sighted account of James's boldness and importance as a novelist."--Times Literary Supplement
"Peter Brooks has produced a brilliant and accessible account of a young American landing in Paris and missing the point. In Henry James Goes to Paris . . . Mr. Brooks shows how James' year in the City of Light--1875 to 1876--left him in the dark, baffled about the French avant-garde."--New York Observer
"In the autumn of 1875, Henry James arrived in Paris . . . yet, a little more than a year later, he left for London, disappointed and disenchanted. In this masterly critique, Peter Brooks reveals why, and why also it would prove in time to be one of the most important years of his life. . . . With skill and sensitivity and unusual readability, Brooks reveals how, as James matured . . . he came to admire the passion and commitment, if not the work, of these men."--Anne Haverty, Irish Times
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1. To Paris 7 2. The Dream of an Intenser Experience 53
Chapter 3. What a Droll Thing to Represent 79
Chapter 4. Flaubert’s Nerds 101
Chapter 5. The Quickened Notation of Our Modernity 129
Chapter 6. The Death of Zola, Sex in the French Novel, and the Improper 156
Chapter 7. For the Sake of This End 177
Epilogue: Chariot of Fire 205
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Peter Brooks: