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This article is taken from PN Review 215, Volume 40 Number 3, January - February 2014.

Introduction to Washington Square, translated by John Ashbery Pierre Martory
One could scarcely call Washington Square a youthful work or a beginning: In 1881 James was thirty-eight years old; his first novel had appeared five years earlier. In 1879 Daisy Miller had achieved a solid success with the English reading public, while numerous articles in American reviews had already established this scion of one of the Union's wealthiest families as an informed critic of the European literature of his day. Yet at first glance, there seems nothing in Washington Square that anticipates James's great novels, the ones best known in France, wherein we discover a genuine temperament, along with an inimitable way of telling a story. These masterworks (which one could recognise from a single sentence, so vastly does his 'manner' differ from that of any other writer) have earned James a reputation as a difficult and even boring writer among lazy readers, and, among admirers of literary dexterity, that of a subtle splitter of hairs; in any case, they are real monuments; the fictional donnée always has something imprecise that empowers all the developments, all the feats of composition; the main characters being thus placed in a state of compromised equilibrium which renders plausible their consideration of the several paths of conduct they might follow; these take place in a world where the good and the wicked, while perhaps not clearly depicted as such, nevertheless form opposing parties whose conflict - with all the nuances that good breeding provides - assumes the proportions of tragedy; the intolerable atmosphere in which they unfold is made up of an infinity of small details whose importance appears only in their juxtaposition. They ...

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