Painting the Novel: The Fine Art of Fiction in Henry James’s Prefaces
From the Introduction by Katy Carl
These prefaces describe Henry James’s formidable understanding of his own artistic sensibility, but they do so in terms that do not always lend themselves to easy access by the contemporary reader. Their prose is dense. Their arguments can be circuitous. Their insights, though brilliant, must be hunted through a forest of “supersubtle” complications. But the writer who can use James's secrets to “show what an ‘exciting’ inward life may do for the person leading it even while it remains perfectly normal” is made a free citizen of the kingdom of artistic representation. Such showing can “throw… the action further forward than twenty ‘incidents’ might have done.” It can “have all the vivacity of incidents and all the economy of picture.” Without excess sentimentality or false equivalence, it can draw moving music from the strings of commonality between human persons whose outward lives seem to be most unlike one another.