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p. 367Appendix 2 The Revised Version For The New York Editionlocked

p. 367Appendix 2 The Revised Version For The New York Editionlocked

  • Henry James
  • Published in print: 30 July 2009
  • Published online: 16 December 2020

As described in the Note on the Text, The American exists in several different versions but two main states, early and late. 4 There is no general agreement about which is the superior. This reflects differences of opinion about the merits of the New York Edition as a whole, and about the relative merits of the late James, the ‘difficult’ author of The Wings of the Dove and The Golden Bowl, as against the more accessible virtues of the early Daisy Miller and Washington Square and The Portrait of a Lady (albeit the admirers of this last may unwittingly know it in its later, revised form). 5

As regards the two Americans this is quite as it should be. The texts have their independent identities, their characteristic features, their ‘values’ (in the painterly sense of which James was so fond). To take some famous examples by way of comparison, one may think of the different versions of Shakespeare’s King Lear and Wordsworth’s The Prelude, or Titian’s The Rape of Lucrece and Delacroix’s The Death of Sardanapalus (the earlier version of which James saw in Paris when he was writing this novel.)6 To shift the figure from art to life, the two texts are as like and unlike each other as brothers, or even more simply, the same person at different ages.

Nevertheless, for an edition such as this one must choose between them, and my judgement here is for the later version, which is, by a paradox that James himself enjoyed, at once older and newer. This is not to say that it is necessarily wiser and fresher, but it does entail an increase in weight, depth, reach, and complexity. There remain good reasons for admiring the novel in its earlier and nimbler state, particularly if one is looking to its position in time in the late 1870s, and reflecting on the history of fictional forms and their relation to the world around them. John Carlos Rowe for example has written illuminatingly on Newman’s innocence of the French p. 368political situation in the late 1860s, just before the demise of the Second Empire, the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune (1870–1). 7 The first readers of this novel were close enough in time to these historical events to enjoy the possibility of a more sharply ironic relation to Newman than would later be the case. Edwin Sill Fussell points out how vividly the disasters of 1870–1 are deplored in the pages of Baedeker and Galignani, the guidebooks with which the tourists of the 1870s would have armed themselves. 8 Rowe is doubtless right that what he calls the ‘political allegory’ is more clearly seen in the earlier version.

However there are other political considerations that affect a choice between the versions. In 1962 Leon Edel felt it necessary to declare that James’s portrait of an American was ‘so rich in national ambiguities that several generations of readers have seen him largely as an expansive generous warm-hearted hero without sufficiently noticing that he embodies also everything that Henry disliked in the United States’. 9 Those generations of innocent readers were soon to wither from the face of the earth. ‘Dislike’ is a mild word for what a new generation of readers has come to feel for Christopher Newman—and sometimes for his author for failing to dislike him enough.

Three decades after Edel, Lewis O. Saum reflects on the alteration in readerly attitudes towards ‘The American’, or as he might also be known, ‘The Westerner’. In 1877 he was still a Man of the Future, and he could continue to presume on the sympathetic interest of readers until they began to feel uncomfortable at the thought of aligning themselves with a super-rich white western male chauvinist capitalist. To most academic readers at least, Newman seems now to be an object of calumny, for the reasons that Saum suggests when he concludes: ‘From being a prominent energizer of the American dream, a de-mythified West now serves frequently as a dark focal point of the bad dream from which we seek to awake. O, tempora; O, mores. Goodbye, Christopher Newman.’10

No amount of retouching can wholly save Newman—from his own attitude to women, for example. His dream of a lovely being to perch on his pile, as he puts it, will strike the enlightened reader as at best deplorable. But revision attenuates and mitigates many of his obnoxious features when it does not entirely purge them, and he undoubtedly emerges less crass, brash, boorish, and shallow (and therefore of course, one might well say, p. 369more dangerous). He reflects more intelligently on the world around him, he is quicker on the uptake and slower to trust his first impulse, he imagines more actively how others may think of him and feel about him. It is hard to agree with William W. Stowe when he justifies his decision to use the later version—a choice he significantly calls ‘eccentric’—on the grounds that ‘James’ perception of Newman as an inept interpreter is clearer in the 1907 New York Edition’. 11 Though this seems to me an eccentric judgement, Stowe’s motive coincides with the dominant trend. Despite a claim that the 1907 text ‘continues to have its champions’, all five contributors to the important volume of New Essays on the American, edited by Martha Banta (Cambridge, 1987), choose the earlier version. To put it bluntly, literary critics now queue up to give Newman a good mugging for all sorts of ineptness and worse. They might do better to pit themselves, if a good fight is what they want, against the distinctly more substantial antagonist that is the later Newman.

The differences between the two versions are so considerable that it is here only feasible to offer a frankly tendentious account with some samples. The following summary of some salient features of the later version seeks to understand and explain what the revising James thought he was doing.

Of the general features of James’s revision, one of the most important is the attention he gives to the quality of speech, its dramatic force and pitch and intonation. So that instead of the stiff little phrases ‘he said’ and ‘she said’, we get ‘Newman’s hostess wound up’, or ‘he patiently answered’, or ‘his friend sagaciously returned’, or ‘she safely enough risked’. These forms are sometimes dropped in favour of expressive physical gesture or posture, either introducing an utterance, as for instance ‘Madame de Cintré turned on him again her soft lustre’, or simply, ‘Newman thought’, or succeeding it, as in, ‘She gave, still with her charming eyes on him, the slowest, gentlest headshake.’

We also find an immense number of little alterations to the identification of characters by name. There is a movement towards informality, most obviously in the relations between Newman and Valentin, who regularly becomes ‘Valentin’ rather than ‘Bellegarde’. But there is also a consistent replacement of names by forms of words describing characters’ relations to each other, so that ‘Valentin’ becomes ‘his companion’ or ‘his guest’, ‘Madame de Bellegarde’ turns into ‘his hostess, if she might be so called’, ‘Newman’ is amended to ‘her generous patron’ (that is, Noémie’s). Instead of the ‘Madame de Bellegarde’ whom Mrs Bread goes back to see for her final rupture, it is ‘her old dread mistress’. A related step is for characters to be identified simply by the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’ rather p. 370than by their proper names. When a novelist gives a character his or her formal name, we look at them from more of a distance, as if we might need to be reminded who they are. The substitution of pronouns assumes the reader’s understanding of who is who, but it also serves to involve us in the illusion of live dramatic action, such as the recourse to names and titles—’the Marquise de Bellegarde’, ‘Christopher Newman’—inevitably tends to stiffen. This is a frequent move here in James’s revision (as it is in his later novels more generally). It means that when he does then have recourse to a formal name, it has all the more sharp an effect of marking a distance between characters, or between reader and character.

There is a small number of revisions to what can be called matters of fact. Amongst these we should probably not count the ‘roast dog’ Newman claims to have eaten in a gold-digger’s camp which turns into a ‘boiled cat’. (James liked dogs.) It is more certain that Newman’s age has crept up from 36 to 42 and a half, and Claire’s from 25 to 28. One important consequence of Newman’s new age is that he has now made his money before the Civil War. In 1879 he comes out of the war as penniless as he goes in, whereas now his interests are waiting for him (p. 33). By making Newman’s money ‘older’, James alleviates some of the stigma associated with the quick fortunes made in the post-war years. There has been some predictable inflation. Newman was going to revenge himself on a business rival by thwarting him of $60,000 (M); this swells to ‘a matter of half a million’ (NYE, p. 36).

The later Newman is in all sorts of ways made more sensitive. ‘I am not intellectual’ (M) becomes ‘I don’t come up to my own standard of culture’ (NYE, p. 45); and ‘I am a highly civilised man’ (M) becomes ‘I have the instincts—have them deeply—if I haven’t the forms of a high old civilisation’ (NYE, p. 45). As he waits for Claire the early Newman just takes up her books, while the later one does so with an added ‘vibration of tact in his long and strong fingers’ (NYE, p. 176). His hands also come into play when he takes his leave of the Bellegardes at the end of chapter 6. Instead of simply departing, he more civilly shakes hands all round before firmly marching away (NYE, p. 96). Shortly before this James cuts a substantial passage of dialogue in which Newman’s eagerness gets the better of his manners, as he himself partly realizes:

p. 371His later manners are more delicate, hesitant, apprehensive. ‘Anxious’ and ‘anxiety’ are words with which he is frequently credited. When Claire admits that she knows she has done him great wrong in breaking her word, his response runs the risk of seeming superficial: ‘“Oh, it’s a great step forward!” said Newman, with a gracious smile of encouragement.’ (M) In 1907 the smile changes more than his words, for he now replies ‘with a fixed and ah—as he even himself felt—such an anxious smile of encouragement’ (NYE, p. 278).

He is less confident in his innocence of the strange social world into which he has strayed. Compare these reactions to the Marquis de Bellegarde’s announcement of his belief ‘in the divine right of Henry of Bourbon, Fifth of his name, to the throne of France’.

Newman stared, and after this he ceased to talk politics with M. de Bellegarde. He was not horrified nor scandalised, he was not even amused; he felt as he should have felt if he had discovered in M. de Bellegarde a taste for certain oddities of diet; an appetite, for instance, for fishbones or nutshells. Under these circumstances, of course, he would never have broached dietary questions with him. (M)

This had in truth, upon Newman, as many successive distinct effects as the speaker could conceivably have desired. It made him in the first place look at the latter very hard, harder than he had ever done before; which had the appearance somehow of affording M. de Bellegarde another of the occasions he personally appreciated. It was as if he had never yet shown how he could return such a look; whereby, producing that weapon of his armoury, he made the demonstration brilliant. Then he reduced his guest, further, just to staring with a conscious, foolish failure of every resource, at one of the old portraits on the wall, out of which some dim light for him might in fact have presently glimmered. Lastly it determined on Newman’s part a wise silence as to matters he didn’t understand. He relapsed, to his own sense, into silence very much as he would have laid down, on consulting it by mistake, some flat-looking back-number or some superseded time-table. It might do for the ‘collection’ craze but wouldn’t do for use. (NYE, p. 176)

Or consider the more complex sense of triumph with which he escorts Mrs Tristram through the Bellegardes’ rooms, on the occasion of their grand party:

p. 372He led Mrs Tristram through all the rooms. There were a great many of them, and, decorated for the occasion and filled with a stately crowd, their somewhat tarnished nobleness recovered its lustre. Mrs Tristram, looking about her, dropped a series of softly-incisive comments upon her fellow-guests. But Newman made vague answers; he hardly heard her; his thoughts were elsewhere. They were lost in a cheerful sense of success, of attainment and victory. His momentary care as to whether he looked like a fool passed away, leaving him simply with a rich contentment. He had got what he wanted. The savour of success had always been highly agreeable to him, and it had been his fortune to know it often. But it had never before been so sweet, been associated with so much that was brilliant and suggestive and entertaining. The lights, the flowers, the music, the crowd, the splendid women, the jewels, the strangeness even of the universal murmur of a clever foreign tongue, were all a vivid symbol and assurance of his having grasped his purpose and forced along his groove. If Newman’s smile was larger than usual, it was not tickled vanity that pulled the strings; he had no wish to be shown with the finger or to achieve a personal success. If he could have looked down at the scene, invisible, from a hole in the roof, he would have enjoyed it quite as much. It would have spoken to him about his own prosperity and deepened that easy feeling about life to which, sooner or later, he made all experience contribute. Just now the cup seemed full. (M)

He led Mrs Tristram from one room to another, where, scattering wide glances and soft, sharp comments, she reminded him of the pausing wayfarer who studies the contents of the confectioner’s window, with platonic discriminations, through a firm plate of glass. But he made vague answers; he scarcely heard her; his thoughts were elsewhere. They were lost in the vastness of this attested truth of his having come out where he wanted. His momentary consciousness of perhaps too broad a grin passed away, and he felt, the next thing, almost solemnly quiet. Yes, he had ‘got there’, and now it was, all-powerfully, to stay. These prodigies of gain were in a general way familiar to him, but the sense of what he had ‘made’ by an anxious operation had never been so deep and sweet. The lights, the flowers, the music, the ‘associations’, vague and confused to him, yet hovering like some odour of dried spices, something faraway and, as he had hinted to the Marquis, Mongolian; the splendid women, the splendid jewels, the strangeness even of the universal sense of a tongue that seemed the language of society as Italian was the language of opera: these things were all a gage of his having worked, from the old first years, under some better star than he knew. Yet if he showed again and again so many of his fine strong teeth, it was not tickled vanity that pulled the exhibition-string: he had not wish to be pointed at with the finger or to be considered by these people for himself. If he could have looked down at the scene invisibly, as from a hole in the roof, he would have enjoyed it quite as much. It would have spoken to him of his energy and prosperity and deepened that view of his effective ‘handling’ of life to which, sooner or later, he made all p. 373experience contribute. Just now the cup seemed full. (NYE, pp. 223–4)

Newman is made generally quicker on the uptake. When M. Nioche appeals to him to respect his daughter’s ‘innocence’, both Newmans, we are told, ‘had wondered what was coming’, but while one ‘at this broke into a laugh’ (M), the other, fractionally swifter, ‘had already burst into mirth’ (NYE, p. 64). Newman’s French has advanced more rapidly, so that instead of saying merely ‘Come . . . let us begin’, he can now playfully invoke the opening words of the Marseillaise. He becomes generally wittier. When Mrs Tristram hopes he’ll cut the knot or untie it, instead of simply avowing ‘“I am sure I shall never fumble over it”’ (M), he more sportively exclaims, ‘“Oh, if ever there’s a big knot”, he returned—”and they all seem knots of ribbon over here—I shall simply pull it off and wear it!”’ (NYE, p. 46). He is given some more American colloquialisms, such as ‘Hang it then’, ‘Where are you hanging out?’, and ‘I really kind of pine for a mate’.

Newman’s antagonists, the old Marquise and her elder son Urbain, are made even more formidable and sinister. The atmosphere in which the old lady first receives Newman furtively darkens from ‘The room was illumined’ (M) to ‘The dimness was diminished’ (NYE, p. 133). In 1879 she shakes his hand and in 1907 she refuses to do so, but on both occasions she does so ‘with a sort of British positiveness which reminded him that she was the daughter of the Earl of St Dunstans’ (p. 133). Newman thinks that the Marquise resembles her daughter, ‘and yet she was utterly unlike her’ (M), or rather, ‘as an insect might resemble a flower’ (NYE, p. 134). Both Newmans are peculiarly repelled by her mouth, ‘that conservative orifice’. The early Newman only hears the word with which she refuses his suit, but the later one takes in something more. This is a general truth about the 1907 text, that we hear not just what people say but the way they say it, so that much more than words seems to pass between them:

‘Favour it?’ Madame de Bellegarde looked at him a moment then shook his head. ‘No!’ she said softly. (M)

Madame de Bellegarde looked at him hard and shook her head. Then her so peculiarly little mouth rounded itself to a ‘No!’ which she seemed to blow at him as for a mortal chill. (NYE, p. 143)

The mortal chill induced by her elder son, Urbain, also gets more fully registered. ‘“He’s the old woman at second-hand”, Newman said to himself, as he returned M. de Bellegarde’s greeting.’ (M) Newman’s thought is preserved, but the reflection is coloured by an additional sense—’the sense of having his health drunk from an empty glass’ (NYE, p. 137). p. 374Or again, we are given an added little glimpse of the effect of Urbain’s smile: ‘and he went through that odd dim form of a smile that affected his guest as the scraping of a match that doesn’t light’ (NYE, p. 160). Such resourcefully comical figures of speech are new gifts in Newman—donated of course by author to character, but shared in the telling between them. Compare:

but the Marquis seemed neither more nor less frigidly grand than usual (M)

but the Marquis seemed neither more nor less frigidly grand than usual (M) but if the Marquis had been ruffled he stepped all the more like some high-crested though distinctly domestic fowl who had always the alternative of the perch. (NYE, pp. 164-5).

Or this, of the Marquise, a moment later:

and in this position she stood a moment, holding her head high and biting her small under-lip. (M)

and in this position she stood a moment, bridling, almost quivering, causing her ornaments, her earrings and brooches and buckles, somehow doubly to twinkle, and pursing, as from simple force of character, her portentous little mouth. (NYE, p. 165)

James also gives more substance to the whole social order represented by the Bellegardes, and to Newman’s correspondingly enriched but confused sense of it, as here for instance, in a description of some of the guests at the grand evening party:

They were elderly gentlemen, of what Valentin de Bellegarde had designated as the high-nosed category; two or three of them wore cordons and stars. They approached with measured alertness, and the marquise said that she wished to present them to Mr Newman, who was going to marry her daughter. (M)

They were elderly gentlemen with faces as marked and featured and filled-in, for some science of social topography, as, to Newman’s whimsical sense, any of the little towered and battered old towns, on high eminences, that his tour of several countries during the previous summer had shown him; they were adorned with strange insignia, cordons and ribbons and orders, as if the old cities were flying flags and streamers and hanging out shields for a celebration, and they approached with measured alertness while the Marquise presented them the good friend of the family who was to marry her daughter. (NYE, p. 217)

p. 375Newman’s ability to read the social text in front of him has developed new resources. But this text has deepened, and it still exceeds his grasp, as a further look at the Bellegardes’ guests reveals:

It is a pity, nevertheless, that Newman had not been a physiognomist, for a great many of the faces were irregularly agreeable, expressive, and suggestive. (M)

It was a pity for our friend, nevertheless, that he had not been a physiognomist, for these mobile masks, much more a matter of wax than of bronze, were the picture of a world and the vivid translation, as might have seemed to him, of a text that had had otherwise its obscurities. (NYE, p. 219)

‘Might have’, we note—but did not. What had earlier been a brute deficiency in Newman becomes now more of a missed opportunity.

The revising James also took a lot of pains over the confrontations Newman has with the Bellegardes, at Fleurières and in the Parc Monceau. In the former the Bellegardes no longer flatly deny Newman’s story that the dying Valentin denounced them, and the Marquise in particular behaves with even more formidable dignity:

The marquise gathered herself together majestically. ‘This is too gross!’ she cried. ‘We decline to accept your story, sir—we repudiate it. Urbain, open the door.’ (M)

The Marquise wrapt herself for a minute in a high aloofness so entire, so of her whole being, as he could feel, that she fairly appeared rather to contract than to expand with the intensity and dignity of it; and out of the heart of this withdrawn extravagance her final estimate of their case sounded clear. ‘To have broken with you, sir, almost consoles me; and you can judge how much that says! Urbain, open the door.’ (NYE, pp. 293–4)

Even more than the coldness of the Bellegardes, the revised version stresses their impenetrably smooth surfaces. When Urbain’s composure trembles in the balance, James forgoes ‘the breaking up of the ice in his handsome countenance’ (M), in favour of this, which recalls amongst other things the ‘dark oaken floor polished like a mirror’, in the room that has just before witnessed Newman’s last meeting with Claire: ‘Urbain’s face looked to him now like a mirror, very smooth fine glass, breathed upon and blurred; but what he would have liked still better to see was a spreading, disfiguring crack’ (NYE, p. 295). He does see ‘something of that’, but it is a measure of Bellegarde’s resistance that—like his mother—whereas p. 376in 1879 he ‘gave a shrug’, his shoulders now ‘declined even a shrug’ (NYE, p. 295).

There are comparable amendments to the dramatic confrontation in the Parc Monceau. James renews the ‘Gothic’ atmosphere created by Mrs Bread with a touch of Poe, when he makes the Marquis give ‘a hiss that fairly evoked for our friend some vision of a hunched back, an erect tail and a pair of shining evil eyes’ (NYE, p. 330). And instead of going ‘fixed and dead’ (M), the eyes of the old Marquise fasten on Newman, the eyes that ‘might well have been, he recognised, those with which, according to Mrs Bread, she had done her husband to death’ (NYE, p. 330). There is even more emphasis on Madame de Bellegarde’s self-possession, but there is an added dimension to Newman’s curiosity about its sources, his reluctant admiration for it, even perhaps envy.

Her self-possession continued to be extraordinary. (M)

Her coolness continued to affect him as consummate; he wondered of what alarms, what effronteries, what suspicions and what precautions she had not had, from far back, to make her life. (NYE, p. 333)

This is his last sight of her; the old lady, we note, is accorded the respect of her title.

The old lady stooped and kissed her grandchild. ‘Damn it, she is plucky!’ said Newman, and he walked home with a slight sense of being balked. She was so inexpressively defiant! (M)

The Marquise stooped and kissed her grandchild. ‘Damn it, she is plucky!’ he sighed; and he walked home with a sense of having been almost worsted. She was so quite heroically impenetrable. (NYE, p. 334)

Other eyes are important apart from those of the Medusa Marquise. Instead of being ‘brilliant and mild’ (M), Claire’s eyes become, the narrator repeats talismanically, ‘intense and mild’ (NYE). The more intimate bond between narrator and character is confirmed by the later Newman’s repetition of this phrase, as if one of them has overheard the other. When he asks Mrs Tristram about Claire, instead of ‘And how were those eyes?’ (M), his words are now ‘And how were those intense mild eyes?’ (NYE, p. 85). Revisions to the formal description of Claire diminish and destabilize the solidity of her independent existence; we see her more through the eyes and mind of the observing Newman.

Her clear gray eyes were strikingly expressive; they were both gentle and intelligent, and Newman liked them immensely; but they had not those depths of splendour—those many-coloured rays—which illumine the brow of famous beauties. Madame de Cintré was rather thin, and she looked younger than she probably was. In her whole person there was something both youthful and subdued, slender and yet ample, tranquil yet shy; a mixture of immaturity and repose, of innocence and dignity. (M)

Her wide grey eyes were like a brace of deputed and garlanded maidens waiting with a compliment at the gate of a city, but they failed of that lamp-like quality and those many-coloured fires that light up, as in a constant celebration of anniversaries, the fair front of the conquering type. Madame de Cintré was of attenuated substance and might pass for younger than she probably was. In her whole person was something still young and still passive, still uncertain and that seemed still to expect to depend, and which yet made, in its dignity, a presence withal, and almost represented, in its serenity, an assurance. (NYE, pp. 93–4)

p. 377There is very extensive revision to the passage at the start of chapter 13, which describes the state of Newman’s mind and heart over the six weeks of his courtship. The ‘intense all-consuming tenderness’ he feels is unchanged and its object remains a woman ‘extraordinarily graceful and delicate’, but whereas she was once ‘impressive’ (M), she is now ‘insidiously agitating’ (NYE, p. 169). James carves out much more inner space for Newman, and fills it with more apprehension: ‘He was in truth infinitely anxious, and, when he questioned his anxiety, knew it was not all for himself ‘(NYE, p. 169). This Newman tries to think of Claire and for her as well as for himself. The following is a representative kind of expansion:

She was a woman for the light, not for the shade; and her natural line was not picturesque reserve and mysterious melancholy, but frank, joyous, brilliant action, with just so much meditation as was necessary and not a grain more. To this, apparently, he had succeeded in bringing her back. He felt, himself, that he was an antidote to oppressive secrets; what he offered her was, in fact, above all things a vast sunny immunity from the need of having any. (M)

She was a creature for the sun and the air, for no sort of hereditary shade or equivocal gloom; and her natural line was neither imposed reserve nor mysterious melancholy, but positive life, the life of the great world—his great world, not the grand monde as there understood if he wasn’t mistaken, which seemed squeezeable into a couple of rooms of that inconvenient and ill-warmed house: all with nothing worse to brood about, when necessary, than the mystery perhaps of the happiness that would so queerly have come to her. To some perception of his view and his judgement, and of the patience with which he was prepared to insist on them, he fondly believed himself to be day by day bringing her round. She mightn’t, she couldn’t yet, no doubt, wholly fall in with them, but she saw, he made out, that he had built a bridge which would bear the very greatest weight she would throw on it, and it was for him often, all charmingly, as if she were admiring from this side and that the bold span of arch and the high line of the parapet—as if indeed on occasion she stood straight there at the spring, just watching him at his extremity and with nothing, when the hour should strike, to prevent her crossing with a rush. (NYE, pp. 172–3)

p. 378The bridge that Newman is here imagining reflects on the confession James makes in his Preface, that as regards Claire, ‘a light plank, too light a plank is laid for the reader over a dark “psychological” abyss’. James makes some efforts to reduce the implausibility, as he sees it, of Newman’s failure to spend more time with her after the ‘engagement party’. To this end he makes some extensive revisions to the interview Newman has with Claire, just after she has seen her brother Valentin, though she doesn’t know it, for the last time. Again Newman is made prey to additional ‘worry’.

In the afternoon Newman called upon Madame de Cintré, but his visit was brief. She was as gracious and sympathetic as he had ever found her, but she was sad, and she confessed, on Newman’s charging her with her red eyes, that she had been crying. . . . Newman, of course, was perforce tongue-tied about Valentin’s projected duel, and his dramatic talent was not equal to satirising Madame de Cintré’s presentiment as pointedly as perfect security demanded. (M)

In the afternoon Newman called on Madame de Cintré for the single daily hour of reinvoked and reasserted confidence—a solemnity but the more exquisite with repetition—to which she had, a little strangely, given him to understand it was convenient, important, in fact vital to her, that their communion, for their strained interval, should be restricted, even though this reduced him for so many other recurrent hours, the hours of evening in particular, the worst of the probation, to the state of a restless, prowling, time-keeping ghost, a taker of long night-walks through streets that affected him at moments as the alleys of a great darkened bankrupt bazaar. But his visit today had a worry to reckon with—all the more that it had as well so much of one to conceal. She shone upon him, as always, with that light of her gentleness which might have been figured, in the heat-thickened air, by a sultry harvest-moon; but she was visibly bedimmed, and she confessed, on his charging her with her red eyes, that she had been, for a vague, vain reason, crying them half out. . . . Newman was of course tongue-tied on what he himself knew, and, his power of simulation and his general art of optimism breaking down on this occasion as if some long needle-point had suddenly passed, to make him wince, through the sole crevice of his armour, he could, to his high chagrin, but cut his call short. (NYE, pp. 244–5).

p. 379But in terms of Newman’s relations with other characters it is the quality of his friendship with Valentin that enjoys the most significant rethinking. Early on a dry comment of Valentin’s that is followed by ‘murmured the young man’ (M) modulates into ‘the young man returned in a tone that Newman thought lovely’ (NYE, p. 95). This sets the tone for his warmer appreciation of the young Count. Valentin’s admiration for Newman is also more fulsome. Compare these responses to Newman’s declaration that he never quarrels.

‘Never? Sometimes it’s a duty—or at least it’s a pleasure. Oh, I have had two or three delicious quarrels in my day!’ and M. de Bellegarde’s handsome smile assumed, at the memory of these incidents, an almost voluptuous intensity. (M)

‘You mean you just shoot? Well, I notify you that till I’m shot,’ his visitor declared, ‘I shall have had a greater sense of safety with you than I have perhaps ever known in any relation of life. And as a sense of danger is clearly a thing impossible to you, we shall therefore be all right.’ (NYE, p. 101)

Both men are relieved of a certain complacency. The early Newman is at times insufferably condescending towards the younger man. Instead of telling Claire that ‘He’s a noble little fellow’ (M), he roundly affirms ‘I just love him, you know, and I regard him as perfectly straight’ (NYE, p. 124). The obnoxious note struck by the following sentence simply disappears: ‘Bellegarde did not in the least cause him to modify his needful premise that all Frenchmen are of a frothy and imponderable substance; he simply reminded him that light materials may be beaten up into a most agreeable compound’ (M). From the start the two men minister to much more than each other’s amusement. Valentin is less frothy and more ponderable, as p. 380witness the disappearance of passages such as the following which depicts his light-hearted reaction to Newman’s plan to woo Claire.

‘It will be more than amusing’, said Bellegarde; ‘it will be inspiring. I look at it from my point of view, and you from yours. After all, anything for a change! And only yesterday I was yawning so as to dislocate my jaw, and declaring that there was nothing new under the sun! If it isn’t new to see you come into the family as a suitor, I am very much mistaken. Let me say that, my dear fellow; I won’t call it anything else, bad or good; I will simply call it new.’ And overcome with a sense of the novelty thus foreshadowed, Valentin de Bellegarde threw himself into a deep armchair before the fire, and with a fixed intense smile, seemed to read a vision of it in the flame of the logs. After a while he looked up. ‘Go ahead, my boy; you have my good wishes,’ he said. (M)

The changes to Valentin are partly responsible for some changes to Noémie Nioche. She too becomes less frivolous, less cheap. She is not so often called ‘young’ and ‘little’, and generally suffers less condescension, both from the characters and the narrator. This sort of sentence of Valentin’s gets cut: ‘I see she is a vulgar little wretch, after all. But she is as amusing as ever, and one must be amused’ (M). Just as Valentin and Newman become less simply amusing to each other, so too does Noémie become, for both men, a more serious quantity, as James might have said. The interest she incites in Valentin is still of course sexual, but the disappearance of this paragraph from the scene of their first meeting makes it less crude:

Valentin took advantage of her downcast eyes to telegraph again to his companion. He renewed his mysterious physiognomical play, making at the same time a tremulous movement in the air with his fingers. He was evidently finding Mademoiselle Noémie extremely interesting; the blue devils had departed, leaving the field clear. (M)

Instead Valentin simply looks at Newman ‘with eyes of rich meaning’ (NYE, p. 148), and again, when Noémie draws the red cross on her painting, instead of Valentin indulging ‘in another flash of physiognomical eloquence’ (M), we are more quietly told that ‘The two men looked at each other, Valentin as with vivid intelligence’ (NYE, p. 149). Valentin’s passion is given more of an edge—or more teeth, one might say, as he thinks himself, in a distinctly post-1890s’ idiom, of ‘a pretty panther who has every one of her claws in your flesh and who’s in the act of biting your heart out’ (NYE, p. 211). The early Valentin calls her ‘a frightful little monster!’ (M); the later one, ‘a beautiful little monster!’ (NYE, p. 212).

The aftermath of his fatal first encounter with her entails some massive additions to the end of chapter 11. There is a surge of interest on James’s part in the effect of Noémie on the relations between Newman and Valentin—and an expansion of Newman’s feelings about her father, M. Nioche. p. 381The passage deals with Newman’s desire to save both these men, and an idea of their honour. Here for example is a telling addition which tries to explain Newman’s need to defend M. Nioche’s honour from Valentin’s imputations:

He was, to an extent he never fully revealed, a collector of impressions as romantically concrete, even when profane, as the blest images and sanctified relics of one of the systematically devout, and he at bottom liked as little to hear anything he had picked up with the hand of spirit pronounced unauthentic. (NYE, p. 151)

But it is Valentin who inspires a wholly new passage of dialogue, and of reflective, anxious, resigned emotions in Newman:

The grace of him, of Valentin, was all precious, the growth of him all fortunate, the quantity of him elsewhere all doubtless limited. ‘I might perhaps have been a factor in that young lady’s moral future,’ Newman presently said—‘but I don’t come in now. And evidently,’ he added, ‘you’ve no room for me in yours.’ (NYE, p. 153)

When Valentin tells Newman, at the end of chapter 12, that Noémie has left her father’s protection and so given him licence to pursue her, the tone of the exchange between them is significantly altered.

 

‘I suppose that now you will raise your protest?’

‘I suppose’, he wound up, ‘that I may now cease so elaborately to neglect her?’

‘My protest be hanged!’ murmured Newman, disgustedly.

Newman, struggling up out of intenser inward visions, listened as he could, and then, having listened, remained with his eyes on his friend’s face. ‘It would do you good to fall in love. You want it badly,’ he at last remarked.

But his tone found no echo in that in which Valentin, with his hand on the door, to return to his mother’s apartment, exclaimed: ‘But I shall see her now! She is very remarkable—she is very remarkable!’ (M)

‘Well, that’s perhaps exactly what, according to my perpetual happy instinct, I’m now trying to do!’

 

‘Oh hell!’ said our hero impatiently as he broke away again. (NYE, p. 168)

Note that it is impatience now rather than disgust.

The disgust of the later Newman is roused rather by the duel into which Valentin is lured. There are very considerable differences in the dialogue the two men share the evening before Valentin’s departure.

‘Do you call this sort of thing satisfaction?’ Newman asked.

‘Does it satisfy you to receive a present of the carcass of that coarse fop? does it gratify you to make him a present p. 382of yours? If a man hits you, hit him back; if a man libels you, haul him up.’

‘Do you call this sort of thing satisfaction?’ Newman groaned. ‘Does it satisfy you to put yourself at the disposal of a bigger fool even than yourself? I’d see him somewhere first! Does it satisfy you that he should set up this ridiculous relation with you? I’d like to see him try anything of the sort with me! If a man has a bad intention on you it’s his own affair till it takes effect; but when it does, give him one in the eye. If you don’t know how to do that—straight—you’re not fit to go round alone. But I’m talking of those who claim they are, and that they don’t require some one to take care of them.’

‘Haul him up, into court? Oh, that is very nasty!’ said Valentin.

‘The nastiness is his—not yours. And for that matter, what you are doing is not particularly nice. You are too good for it. I don’t say you are the most useful man in the world, or the cleverest, or the most amiable. But you are too good to go and get your throat cut for a prostitute.’

Valentin flushed a little, but he laughed. ‘I shan’t get my throat cut if I can help it. Moreover, one’s honour hasn’t two different measures. It only knows that it is hurt; it doesn’t ask when, or how, or where.’

‘The more fool it is!’ said Newman.

Valentin ceased to laugh; he looked grave. ‘I beg you not to say any more,’ he said. ‘If you do I shall almost fancy you don’t care about—about—’—and he paused.

‘About what?’

‘About that matter—about one’s honour.’

‘Fancy what you please,’ said Newman. ‘Fancy while you are at it that I care about you—though you are not worth it. But come back without damage,’ he added in a moment, ‘and I will forgive you. And then,’ he continued, as Valentin was going: ‘I will ship you straight off to America.’ ‘Well,’ answered Valentin, ‘if I am to turn over a new page, this may figure as a tail-piece to the old.’ And then he lit another cigar and departed.

‘Blast that girl!’ said Newman, as the door closed upon Valentin. (M)

‘Well,’ Valentin smiled, ‘it would be interesting truly to go round with you. But to get the full good of that, alas, I should have begun earlier!’

Newman could scarcely bear even the possible pertinence of his ‘alas’. ‘See here,’ he said at the last: ‘if any one ever hurts you again—!’

‘Well, mon bon?’—and Valentin, with his eyes on his friend’s, might now have been much moved.

‘Come straight to me about it. I’ll go for him.’

Matamore!’ the young man laughed as they parted. (NYE, pp. 246–7)

Finally, as one might expect, Valentin’s deathbed rouses in Newman a more plangent rhetoric. It is not clear whether he is thinking mainly of the loss of Claire when he reflects on ‘his own situation’, or of the loss, as now seems inevitable, of both the sister and brother. In 1907 the cumulative force of his love for Valentin makes the latter seem more likely.

p. 383What had happened to him seemed to have, in its violence and audacity, the force of a real calamity—the strength and insolence of Destiny herself. It was unnatural and monstrous, and he had no arms against it. (M)

What had happened to him was violent and insolent, like all great strokes of evil; unnatural and monstrous, it showed the hard hand of the Fate that rejoices in the groans and the blood of men, in the tears and the terrors of women, and he had no arms against it. (NYE, p. 265)

There is a good deal of revision in the final phase of the novel, as Newman takes stock of what he has been through. There are additions which characterize the sense of his loss: ‘He had yet held in his cheated arms, he felt, the full experience, and when he closed them together round the void that was all they now possessed, he might have been some solitary spare athlete practising restlessly in the corridor of the circus’ (NYE, p. 353). And he relives with a new sense of self-justification the impression he made on the Bellegardes who have left his arms empty.

If he had been too commercial, he was ready to forget it, for in being so he had done no man any wrong that might not be as easily forgotten. He reflected with sober placidity that at least there were no monuments of his ‘meanness’ scattered about the world. (M)

He believed there had been as few reflexions of his smugness caught during all those weeks in the high polish of surrounding surfaces as there were monuments of his meanness scattered about the world. (NYE, p. 354)

The narrator enriches an allusion which associates him with Othello’s desolation (see note to p. 356):

He had nothing to do, his occupation was gone, and it seemed to him that he should never find it again. (M)

He had nothing to do, his occupation was gone, had simply strayed and lost itself in the great desert of life. (NYE, p. 356)

And the bells of Notre Dame say something more to him.

He sat a long time; he heard far-away bells, chiming off, at long intervals, to the rest of the world. He was very tired; this was the best place he could be in. (M)

He sat a long time; he heard far-away bells chiming off into space, at long intervals, the big bronze syllables of the Word. He was very tired, but such a place was a kingdom of rest. (NYE, p. 359)

He recognizes that now ‘he could close the book and put it away’ (M), or to make a nice distinction between learning a lesson and understanding it, ‘he had learnt his lesson—not indeed that he the least understood it—and could put away the book’ (NYE, p. 359). This is his own thought, be it p. 384noted, not the narrator’s judgement on him. Meanwhile the narrator memorably refuses to say why exactly it is that Newman decides to let the Bellegardes go.

Whether it was Christian charity or unregenerate good nature—what it was, in the background of his soul—I don’t pretend to say. (M)

Whether it was Christian charity or mere human weakness of will—what it was in the background of his spirit—I don’t pretend to say. (NYE, p. 359)

The extensive revisions to the final scene with Mrs Tristram, in which Newman burns the incriminating paper, and in particular the closing paragraph, have attracted a good deal of attention. Here are the respective endings.

‘Is it quite consumed?’ she asked, glancing at the fire.

Newman assured her that there was nothing left of it.

‘Well then,’ she said, ‘I suppose there is no harm in saying that you probably did not make them so very uncomfortable. My impression would be that since, as you say, they defied you, it was because they believed that, after all, you would never really come to the point. Their confidence, after counsel taken of each other, was not in their innocence, nor in their talent for bluffing things off; it was in your remarkable good nature! You see they were right.’

Newman instinctively turned to see if the little paper was in fact consumed; but there was nothing left of it. (M)

‘Is it quite consumed?’ she asked, glancing at the fire. He assured her there was nothing left of it, and at this, dropping her embroidery, she got up and came near him. ‘I needn’t tell you at this hour how I’ve felt for you. But I like you as you are,’ she said.

‘As I am—?’

‘As you are.’ She stood before him and put out her hand as for his own, which he a little blankly let her take. ‘Just exactly as you are,’ she repeated. With which, bending her head, she raised his hand and very tenderly and beautifully kissed it. Then, ‘Ah, poor Claire!’ she sighed as she went back to her place. It drew from him, while his flushed face followed her, a strange inarticulate sound, and this made her but say again: ‘Yes, a thousand times—poor, poor Claire!’ (NYE, pp. 362–3)

Readers and critics have been known to ask which ending is ‘better’, and many express a preference for the earlier one. It is indeed very good. But such judgements are meaningless when taken in isolation from the total narrative in its alternative guises. Each of the endings is entirely appropriate; these are different Newmans in two distinct novels.

Notes

  • 4 The texts referred to in this Appendix are those of the first English edition of 1879 by Macmillan and the New York Edition of 1907; these are abbreviated to ‘M’ and ‘NYE’. Page numbers refer to the present edition.

  • 5 For concerted recent accounts of the New York Edition, see Philip Horne, Henry James and Revision: The New York Edition (Oxford, 1990), and David McWhirter (ed.), Henry James’s New York Edition: The Construction of Authorship (Stanford, Calif., 1995).

  • 6 See note on p. 49. James’s comments on the painting can be found in his letter to the New York Tribune of 19 February 1876, reprinted in Parisian Sketches, ed. Leon Edel and Ilse Dusoir Lind (London, 1958), 72–3.

  • 7 John Carlos Rowe, ‘The Politics of Innocence in Henry James’ The American’, in Martha Banta (ed.), New Essays on the American (Cambridge, 1987), 69–98.

  • 8 Edwin Sill Fussell, The French Side of Henry James (New York, 1990), 27–32.

  • 9 Leon Edel, Henry James: The Conquest of London, 1870–1883 (London, 1962), 250.

  • 10 Lewis O. Saum, ‘Henry James’s Christopher Newman: “The American” as Westerner’, Henry James Review, 15 (1994), 9.

  • 11 William W. Stowe, Balzac, James, and the Realistic Novel (Princeton, 1983), 182.

    ‘Mrs Tristram told you the literal truth,’ he went on; ‘I want very much to know you. I didn’t come here simply to call to-day; I came in the hope that you might ask me to come again.’

    ‘Oh, pray come often,’ said Madame de Cintré.

    ‘But will you be at home?’ Newman insisted. Even to himself he seemed a trifle ‘pushing’, but he was, in truth, a trifle excited. (M)