The Princess Casamassima and the
Plebian Masquerade

I recently scanned the text of this dissertation, The Populist Romance: A Study of Michelet's Le Peuple and Selected Novels of Hugo, James, Zola, and Galdós (University of Texas at Austin, 1980), and have not finished proofing. (Move your mouse pointer over French or Spanish text to see translations.) —David McMurrey

Anyone familiar with the style, the sophistication, and the elegance of a Henry James novel must at least wonder at the spectacle of this great originator of the "International" theme writing a novel of the working classes. Considering the subtlety of his art and the highly civilized world his characters move about in, most readers might well be suspicious of The Princess Casamassima (1886)—a novel reputedly full of workers, revolutionaries, and anarchists. Indeed James's novel has been attacked for alleged inaccuracies in its portrayal of the nature and the politics of the working classes. Henry James himself seems so foreign to the plebian milieu that one wonders how he would dare to undertake such a subject.

He believed, however, that a certain amount of observation and intuition could overcome the problem of unfamiliarity with other milieux. Also, to be fair to James, the other authors studied here—Michelet, Hugo, Zola, and Galdós—have at best only a tenuous relationship to the people; they cannot claim an undivided and continuing identity in the people any more than Henry James can. But these problems are beside the point: The Princess Casamassima is in certain crucial respects James's own distinct and original contribution to the tradition of the populist romance.

Henry James's novel The Princess Casamassima incorporates in an ironic or satiric way some of the most important elements of the populist romance. Above all, the character-type of the romantic populist is satirized, in the central characters of the novel, the Princess, Lady Aurora, the Poupins, and even Hyacinth. Much irony is exercised upon the notion of "the people" as superior—the central idea of the romantic sociology of the people. In fact, the novel, through the voice of one particularly ironic character, breaks down the notion that there is any such thing as "the people" at all, though vestiges of the romantic view of the workers and the poor remain in the characterization of Millicent Henning. If the novel retains any sense that the lower classes are any different from other social classes, it can be found in James's redefinition of the object or goal of the people's strivings. Finally, the romantic populist's grand apocalyptic view of history as progressing toward a Utopia or Golden Age through revolutions—generally peaceful ones—is also viewed with great skepticism. The novel contains characters who view the people, revolution, and history in this romantic fashion and who are thoroughgoing romantic populists; but they are undercut by the pervasive irony of the novel.

One leaves The Princess Casamassima doubting not only whether any class is better than another but whether there is ultimately any difference between the classes at all. The novel also forces its readers to doubt the intelligence, the sincerity, and the usefulness of the romantic populist who goes to the people to take up a plebian identity, to fight in their struggles, and to espouse their causes. One leaves James's novel not simply doubting the likelihood of that progressive, utopian movement of history, but actually fearing the possibility; revolution to alleviate plebian misery comes to represent the destruction of civilization, particularly its cultural and artistic achievements.

In accomplishing this rather thorough satire upon the populist romance, James incorporates in The Princess Casamassima allusions of various kinds to the literature, the ideas, and even the private lives of the romantic populists—particularly Jules Michelet, Victor Hugo, and George Sand, In one of his "Parisian Sketches," and 1876 letter to the New York Tribune, James discusses the funeral of Michelet, which he apparently attended. He mentions a fairly sympathetic account of Michelet's life by a certain d'Haussonville beginning to appear in the Revue des Deux Mondes, which James finds "extremely interesting"1. This familiarity with Michelet appears in the early pages of the novel: Hyacinth feels that he looks like a Frenchman," one of those he had read about in Michelet and Carlyle"2 This familiarity is evident in the way the novel sets in contrast two styles of revolutionism: the earlier passionate, "romantic" form and the later 19th century tough, "scientific" one. Concerning the latter, one character in the novel who represents the romantic variety of revolutionism remarks, "Trop d'arithmétique!" (p. 263)—a figure of speech almost straight from Le Peuple. In the same year of his comments on Michelet's funeral, James makes some rather unsympathetic comments on Victor Hugo's political endeavors: "It seems incredible that Victor Hugo's political vaticinations should have a particle of influence upon any human creature; but I have no doubt that they reverberate sonority enough in some of the obscurer couches sociales."3

James has his Princess echo rather overtly that play upon the word "barbarian" that appears in both Michelet's Le Peuple and Hugo's Les Misérables. In both cases, those who are "civilized" are the real barbarians; those who are commonly called barbarians, that is, the "peuple," are the truly civilized. Comparing the British aristocracy to the Roman and French aristocracies before the fall as similar in their decadence and selfishness, she self-consciously proclaims, "You and I are the barbarians, you" (p. 290).

The life and works of George Sand are peculiarly relevant to The Princess; like the Princess and Lady Aurora, aristocratic ladies in, for example, Le Compagnon du Tour de France become interested in and even run away with handsome workers, and George Sand herself valiantly invoked the name of the peuple in the 1840's and went to the people herself, specifically to the person of Pierre Leroux. Of course other details—Lady Aurora's name which echoes George Sand's own real first name, the Princess's rejection of her husband, and her fascination with the piano, suggesting George Sand's association with Chopin—suggest the presence of that famous social romantic and woman novelist in The Princess.4

Thus a great many elements in The Princess reflect the populist romance and some of its principal voices and representatives, although with the irony of a disillusioned age. The plot of the novel itself turns constantly on a distinction between the People and the Aristocracy, or between the People and Civilization. The Princess Casamassima is the story of Hyacinth Robinson, the offspring of an English lord and a French commoner, and his efforts to choose between the two heritages mixed in his blood. Brought up by Miss Pynsent, Hyacinth loathes the common most of the time, longs for an entry into the aristocratic world, and finally gets it when the Princess wishes to meet him. The opportunity is a dubious one however: she wants to meet the "real" people and join their cause. Hyacinth has to play along with her and become radical too in a game of revolutionary oneupmanship with her in order to keep her interested in him. Once she meets his friend Paul Muniment, a tough "scientific," modern brand of revolutionist, Hyacinth becomes less interesting to her. Also out of favor is Lady Aurora, an aristocratic woman who spends much of her time and money helping London's poor and who is in love with Paul. At length, Hyacinth is called on by his secret anarchist society to assassinate an unnamed British lord, but, having discovered the values of established civilization on his trip to Europe and the threats to it that popular revolution and democracy pose, Hyacinth cannot go through with his assignment and kills himself instead.

Because of The Princess's obviously limited portrayal of the British working class movement in the latter half of the 19th century, and because of his novel's rather sharply critical attitude toward that movement, James has been castigated for not having done an accurate or authentic portrait of the working classes in The Princess Casamassima, a novel which has at least half its setting in that world.5 But as literature seems to issue forth from other literature, and as art often seems to be about other art, James's novel is about—among other things—a group of ideas and feelings about the common people found in literature, called here the populist romance. Nineteenth century British fiction is full of novels which concern themselves with the workers and the poor, though many of them—such as those by George Gissing, Walter Besant, Charles Kingsley, Benjamin Disraeli, and possibly Elizabeth Gaskell—go unread, by all but the literary scholar. Generally, these novelists comfortably assume the separate identity of "the people" although there is little that resembles the moral contrast "between the selfishly indifferent "bourgeoisie" and the crusading collection of plebian martyrs who will bring about the spiritual transformation of the world—elements which are found or suggested in Michelet and Hugo. The absence of repeated revolutions and a vigorous revolutionary tradition in England and the greater influence of such conservative thinkers as Edmund Burke and Macaulay take away much of that intoxicating romantic revolutionism one finds in the general literature of France in the nineteenth century.6 There is simply less to compare with Michelet, Hugo, and Sand on the other side of the Channel.

Henry James in The Princess Casamassima, bridges this gap, however, and creates a novel which reflects both the theme of the people as treated in Victorian novels and the romantic populist and revolutionary traditions of France. On a fundamental level, James satirizes the notion of "the people" as a completely separate social reality, as an almost separate species. James takes away the romantic populist's sense of moral value attached to the lower classes and the general sense of any moral value—good or bad—attached to any social class. Furthermore, the whole system of simplistic class distinctions is questioned in the novel.

The Sociology of Paradox

Unlike the common people envisioned by either Jules Michelet or Victor Hugo, James sees them as ordinary—living ordinary lives like the rest of us, though perhaps a good deal grayer and grimier. Otherwise, in the confused social world of James's London, the aristocrat can behave in a vulgar manner and have poor taste; the commoner can possess remarkably refined manners and have exquisite, educated tastes. In addition, commoners and nobility can espouse causes that seem utterly incongruous with their own social group.

Hyacinth Robinson, the main character of the novel despite its title, is one of the major examples of this social incongruity. Practically everyone in this novel tells him that he looks like—or is according to his foster mother Miss Pynsent—a gentleman. Millicent Henning, a young woman of the London plebian class with whom he grows up and whom he nearly marries, exclaims, "I always knew you were a gentleman" (p. 528); the Princess calls him "my dear infatuated little aristocrat" (p. 576) at one point, even though he objects that he is one of the people; "but I'm one of them myself." Hyacinth's is a "mixed, divided nature," full of "conflicting sympathies" (p. 471); he is marked throughout the novel by an "eternal habit of swinging from one view to another." From the first, his childhood playmate and eventual competitor with the Princess for his favor, Millicent Henning, is aware of his mysterious background: she asks him, "Come now, who are you?" (p. 68). Hyacinth responds as if he is not sure himself but then chooses one of his disguises, the plebian: "Who am I? I'm a wretched, little bookbinder." The point is that he does not know what he thinks, which side to take, or to what part of society he belongs. Unlike Jules Michelet's insistence that he had remained peuple, Hyacinth is not sure whether he really is plebian, nor is he sure he wants to be.

The Princess is a novel loaded with characters like Hyacinth striving to become, in terms of social class, other than what they are. This pattern is understandable as long as it is a question of the struggle of the lower classes to lift themselves out of the "lower world" in which they are trapped, out of that "hole" which is a dominant motif in this novel. Asked by Millicent whether his father was really a lord, Hyacinth responds, "That's the kind of rot they talk in that precious hole" (p. 65), meaning Lomax Place, his home. In general the people are imagined as living in a hole, if not underground, two motifs essential to Michelet's and Hugo's presentation of the peuple; such "rot" and romances are therefore a vital part of the lives of the poor, which redeems them from or anesthetizes them to their miserable lives.

But this struggle to transform one's identity in terms of social class is much less understandable when it comes to such comfortable, wealthy, and aristocratic characters as the Princess. She, Captain Sholto, at least for a time, and even Lady Aurora in her own less comic way, all strive to go to the people, to shed their fashionable and well-bred accoutrements, and to blend in with the commoners. Thus, the novel is filled with a dual pretension, one of which is common to the parvenus of Balzac's novels, the other of which is unique and unexpected.

The Princess Casamassima is filled with the most ironic sort of inversions, all built upon and thwarting our expectations as to plebian and aristocratic: we find plebian characters expressing vehement and anti-democratic attitudes. For example, Rosy Muniment is vigorously opposed to any sort of revolution in which members of her class would pull down their "betters," even though her brother is a leading revolutionary and her family among the poorest. Other lower class characters, Amanda Pynsent and Millicent Henning, for example, have nothing but loathing for the vulgarities and crudeness of their own class. These inversions become more emphasized as these characters express their disappointment in each other for not being the "real thing," that is, for example, not what a real worker or a real aristocrat should think and feel. That Hyacinth may have aristocratic blood in his veins distinctly bothers the Princess who has befriended him for far different qualifications; that Lady Aurora makes light of her aristocratic background hurts Hyacinth; his own scornful attitude toward the class in which he has grown up and from which he longs to be disassociated pains Aurora.

If one starts with the assumption that members of a social class will generally hold ideologies and prejudices friendly to their own kind and will maintain a certain loyalty to that class, if one assumes their politics will reflect their own interests and needs, then The Princess presents a bewildering, confusing world where such neatness is not to be found. Characters like Rosy, Millicent, and Vetch—all solid lower class folk—we would expect to support "the rising democracy" and to idealize their own class, "the people." Such is not the case. One would expect plebians to portray solid plebian mannerisms, but Miss Pynsent, Vetch, and Hyacinth conduct themselves with great poise and sophistication. Similarly, the Princess's husband is called dull, mediocre, and boring (pp. 226-7) when it is usually expected of the aristocracy to be graced with lively, engaging, and original behavior. Captain Sholto also appears to several characters in the novel as plainly "vulgar" (p. 238), despite his family tree and his good breeding. Of course, vulgarity we more commonly associate with commoners than with gentlemen. These are simply inversions of stereotyped, expected class-bound behavior patterns: some of the first critics of this novel argued that it did not represent the lower classes authentically. Of course not. With the exception of Millicent, who was intended to be distinctly common, the characters of this novel are intentionally mixed or inverted in some respect. The novel explodes the stereotypes of "the people": for Besant, Eliot, Disraeli, Kingsley, the people were typically "the people" and nothing else. However, James in his novel indicates that reality is not that simple.

One of the foremost inversions of The Princess is of course Hyacinth; the Princess, mystified by the fact he hasn't a "vulgar intonation" or "a common gesture," exclaims somewhat disappointedly, "You come out of the hole you have described to me, and yet you might have stayed in country-houses all your life" (p. 316). Although it might seem that his character is determined purely by heredity, as Hyacinth himself wants to believe, the character of his foster mother, Miss Pynsent, and her influence explain his personality better. Miss Pynsent, showing us at every moment what values she has passed on to Hyacinth, considers Millicent too vulgar, too low, and too plebian for him (p. 51). She has spent her life reminding Hyacinth and others, as if to gain a certain superiority over them, that Hyacinth's "father was very high" (p. 7), although the claim is an uncertain one at best. She has simply bred into him a conviction that he is "finer clay" and has trained him in a "passionate idealism" that makes him seek lofty goals: "I'm sure a princess might look at you and be none the worse I" she tells him early in the novel (p. 116). James uses the metaphors connected with her trade, dressmaking, to underline how she has woven Hyacinth's character and his perception of the world and to indicate rather quietly how his character and behavior are not hereditarily determined. In an early scene in which she discusses with her friend, Anastasius Vetch, who acts as something of a foster father for Hyacinth, whether she should take the then ten-year-old boy to see his real mother who is dying in Millbank Prison, Miss Pynsent is concerned rather theatrically that this act will determine Hyacinth's future. In the room all sorts of patterns for dresses lie about, and as she talks to Vetch, she sews nervously—minor details carefully underlined by James. She has indeed selected a pattern for Hyacinth's life, one that he will struggle to live by, one that is emphatically anti-plebian.

The Princess Casamassima does, however, contain elements of that romantic sociology of the common people, elements which are articulated by the romantic populists of the novel, particularly the Princess and Lady Aurora, who idealize or sentimentalize the lower classes. On a visit to Lady Aurora, Hyacinth and she begin discussing the vulgarity of their various companions: Aurora finds Sholto "decidedly vulgar," an inversion of the usual view of nobility; on the other hand, Hyacinth wonders if Paul Muniment, his sister and their whole neighborhood of Audley Court are not vulgar; to this Lady Aurora issues a response which illustrates the intensity of her sentimental view of the people: "'The poor. The unhappy, the laboring class? Oh, I don't call them vulgar,' cried her ladyship, with radiant eyes" (p. 238). The values that these two ladies attach to the common people stem from everything other than the realities of the people themselves: the Princess seeks novelty, excitement, and an end to her "boredom; Lady Aurora seeks escape from the affluent world of her aristocratic parents, some sense of purpose and meaning in her life, and an end to her guilt over the suffering of the poor.

Both these women in The Princess are filled with a scorn for their own class and a longing to merge their identities into "the immensity of the people." Lady Aurora is more of a sympathetic character and less of a source of irony as is the Princess. Aurora has "dedicated, her life and her pocket-money to the poor and the sick; she cared nothing for parties, and races, and dances, and picnics, and life in great houses, the usual amusements of the aristocracy" (p. 101). Of course Hyacinth becomes vaguely disappointed in her as well as in the Princess in that neither of them provides sufficient access to the world of his dreams nor acts the parts of the grand lady. The Princess, on the other hand, looks to the people far less out of the passion, the guilt, and the simple desire to help that motivates Aurora than out of a desire to find something she imagines is "fascinating" and "interesting." Her search for the people is little else hut a commentary upon her own world:

You'll not persuade me, [she says to Hyacinth], either, that among the people I speak of, characters and passions and motives are not more natural, more complete, more naif. The upper classes are so insipid. My husband traces his descent from the fifth century, and he's the greatest bore on earth. This is the kind of people I was condemned to live with after my marriage. (p. 217)

As she herself puts it so naively, "intelligent mechanics...would be a pleasant change." Unfortunately, Hyacinth "certainly had not yet caught the point of view of a person for whom the aristocracy was a collection of bores" (p. 289). That her interest in the common people is no more than the expression of certain animosities, boredom with her life, and the desire for revenge is clear at every stage: her association with Hyacinth, the little bookbinder, is simply a trick she is playing upon society, "the false and conventional society she had measured and despised" (p. 294).

One concession to the romantic sociology of the people in particular is found in the characterization of Millicent Henning. She embodies elements of that idea of the common people: she is vigorous, healthy, rather unselfconscious, and spontaneous. She is also in many ways brutal, vulgar, insensitive; indeed, like the revolutionary people, Millicent seems to Hyacinth a destructive force, one that either through carelessness, clumsiness, or hostility would destroy the delicate and precious artistic achievements of a culture: "she was common, for all her magnificence...there was something about her indescribably fresh, successful and satisfying. She was, to her blunt, expanded fingertips, a daughter of London... she represented its immense vulgarities and curiosities, its brutality and its knowingness, its good-nature and its impudence" (p. 46). However, she has no "working class spirit," does not identify with her kind, and merely longs to escape from them.

The Princess Cassamassima contains a dialogue which occurs in Hyacinth's own mind concerning how much he is attracted to or repelled by her. In fact, he sways between her and the Princess as representatives of two vastly different worlds, which this novel directly sets into opposition to each other:

How fond she might be of him he could not take upon himself to say, but her affection would never take the form of that sort of delicacy, and their intercourse was plainly foredoomed to be an exchange of thumps and concussions, of sarcastic shouts and mutual défis. He liked her, at bottom, strangely, absurdly. (pp. 240-1)

As opposed to the arguments of some critics that Hyacinth clearly chooses the aristocracy in the end, part of the irony of this novel is that for all his aristocratic, high-flying pretension, he still unaccountably loves Millicent.7 Despite her "vulgar tricks of speech," her "perpetual clumsiness," and her bad taste, despite the brilliant, seductive example of the Princess, he still admires Millicent's "robust beauty and her primitive passions" and her "rich spontaneity" (p. 369). In the oscillation of his feelings toward Millicent is manifested Hyacinth's love-hate relationship with the lower classes. Millicent is marked by "such a strong, obvious, simple nature, with such a generous breast and such freedom from the sophistries of civilization" (p. 588). Even in such a thoroughly ironic novel, elements of the romance of the people remain. Hyacinth cannot simply be dismissed as a misplaced aristocrat: his affections, though divided between the two women, measure that plebian part of him that all the "good breeding" of Miss Pynsent cannot erode.

At the same time Millicent harbors that destructive force which Hyacinth fears will wipe away the blessings of civilization: he senses in her a "primitive, half-childish, half-plebian impulse of destruction, the instinct of pulling down what was above her" (p. 239). She has the "loud recklessness of danger and the qualities that shine forth in a row" (p. 120), which promise little for the more refined, delicate aspects of culture. And Hyacinth sees her as indeed revolutionary in her reckless, destructive efforts to better her life: he "could easily see her (if there should ever he barricades in the streets of London), with a red cap of liberty on her head and her white throat bared so that she should be able to shout louder the Marseillaise of that hour" (p. 121).

On the other hand, the more negative appreciation of the common people dominates The Princess. Oddly enough for one of the most professional, serious, and committed of revolutionaries in the novel, Paul Muniment voices this attitude. In rebellion against their gray plebian milieu, Hyacinth and his substitute mother, Miss Pynsent, also see the people as rather brutal and stupid.

This attitude towards the people—ironically enough, an attitude found among the people—can be sensed in the earliest moments we see Hyacinth. When Miss Pynsent, who brings him up, takes him to see his real mother, Florence Vivier, who is dying in Milbank Prison where she had been sent after murdering Hyacinth's real father, an English aristocrat. Hyacinth is repelled by the woman.8 Hyacinth has already absorbed much from his guardian: he says to Miss Pynsent at his real mother's bedside, "She must be very low; I don't want to know her" (p. 33). Later, as the grown-up Hyacinth glances through the last number of the Revue des Deux Mondes at the Princess's country place, called Medley, he reflects that "the struggles and the sufferings of the millions whose life flowed in the same current as his constantly excited his disgust and made him shrink away" (p. 120) though he continues to feel a certain sympathy nonetheless. However, he cannot put aside his genuine loathing for the plebian world. Several different characters in the novel educate Hyacinth to recognize the rare and hate the cheap: "This made the brutal, garish, stodgy decoration of public-houses, with their deluge of gas light, their glittering brass and pewter, their lumpish woodwork and false colours, detestable to him. He had been still very young when the 'gin-palace' ceased to convey to him an ideal of the palatial" (p. 112). Millicent Henning's attitude toward the people is similar: "She simply loathed them, because they were so dirty, with the outspoken violence of one who had known poverty" (p. 120).

Of course, it is Vetch who ultimately calls into question the existence of a social group called "the people." Vetch is one of those who feels he is a renegade from the people yet cannot help but question the restricted use of the phrase:

The way certain classes arrogate to themselves the title of the people has never pleased me. Why are some human beings the people, and the people only, and others not? I am of the people myself, I have worked all my days like a knife-grinder, and I have really never changed, (p. 453)

Vetch's remark is a challenge to the more stereotyped characterization of the working classes in, for example, the popular novels of Walter Besant. James's "The Art of Fiction," in part a response to Besant's own statements about the genre, had stressed that "reality has a myriad of forms,"9 including lower class reality. It is only logical that as literary fantasy more than social fact, the people becomes a pretext in The Princess Casamassima for masquerade, play-acting, and a wide assortment of theatrics; one plays at being "the People."

Theatrical Populists

The Princess Casamassima is particularly ironic concerning that type of earlier nineteenth century revolutionary—the "romantic, idealist, bourgeois" type—described here as the romantic populist. James creates a satiric representative of the romantic populist in The Princess. Perhaps one of the most outstanding features of The Princess Casamassima is precisely the unusual romance pattern, in this novel, the comedy of the aristocratic woman rather theatrically going to the people, attempting to cast off her wealth and join the cause of the people. In the terms established by this study, this is the quest of the romantic populist to traverse that social as well as geographical or spatial distance to the world of the people. As an alien or outsider to that world, his or her vision of it is a distortion and a product of projected needs, anxieties, or fantasies. The Princess, who seems to have read literature with elements of the populist romance in it, sees the people as noble, martyred sufferers. As outsiders and strangers to that world, the Princess and Lady Aurora are motivated in their quests by needs which reflect the problems of their own milieu, and the gratification they seek in the plebian world naturally represents some absence or failing in their own.

As Hyacinth reflects on Lady Aurora, "Her behavior, after all, was more addressed to relieving herself than to relieving others" (p. 188). To Hyacinth she passionately declares, "I want to live," and when Hvacinth comments that he does not understand whv she does not like her wealthy position, she responds, "I'll tell you what my position is, if you want to know: it's the deadness of the grave" (p. 188). The address of her family's home—Belgrave Square ("beautiful grave") reiterates this theme of morbidity as well as the onomastic sense of her last name—Langrish. James, of course, saw the British aristocracy in decline, and Lady Aurora's effort to regenerate herself by immersion in the plebian world is straight from Michelet. Naturally, Lady Aurora is beset by that guilt of the upper class: "She was so ashamed of being rich that she wondered that the lower classes didn't break into Inglefield and take possession of all the treasures of the Italian room" (p. 95).

The Princess, on the other hand, seems more cynical or comical in her populist quest.10 She seeks an escape from boredom; she seeks a certain revenge on the aristocratic world, which she will achieve by the scandal of her affairs with commoners and anarchists. When Hyacinth is with her at her country estate, the Princess seems to enjoy having him about as a way of "playing a trick upon society, the false and conventional society she had measured and despised" (p. 294). When we hear her speak as a revolutionary, it is seldom out of a deep sympathy for the people; in fact, her rejection of the commoners' public-house is indicative of how inauthentic her populism is: in the "Happy Land," the name of the establishment,

The softer sex...was embodied in a big, hard red woman, the publican's wife, who looked as if she were in the habit of dealing with all sorts and mainly interested in seeing whether even the finest put down their money before they were served...and when Hyacinth asked her in a low tone what disposal they should make, when the great changes came, of such an embarassing type as that, the Princess replied, off-hand, 'Oh, drown her in a barrel of beer! (p. 405)

And of course, in spite of herself, the Princess is constantly finding things banal and vulgar—the very attributes of the world she embraces. As Madame Grandoni sardonically observes, "It is the common people that please her" (p. 207), or, as she puts it elsewhere, "She must try everything; at present she is trying democracy and socialism" (p. 228). The Prince sadly reflects, "She had passed through so many follies in her efforts to escape her boredom" (p. 507). Even the Princess's own language gives her away: she finds that being one of the people, that "aggrieved body," and being revolutionary as well, affords her "extreme diversion" (p. 404). As she puts it elsewhere, she wanted "to know the'people, and know them intimately—the toilers and strugglers and sufferers—because she was convinced they were the most interesting portion of society" (p. 216).

Both the Princess and Lady Aurora seek romance and create their own separate variations on the populist romance pattern. Both seem to envision and attempt to act out a romance story in which, more than helping the people or joining their cause, they as aristocratic ladies form amorous, and of course rebellious and even scandalous, attachments with a member of the working class. Lady Aurora's reasons for charitable work among the poor seem linked as much to her love for Paul Muniment as to her generous, kind spirit. When the Princess appears and eventually pulls Paul away from Lady Aurora, it is clear that for the Princess revolutionary activity is linked to amorous intrigues with a working-class revolutionary. Such a story pattern is built on at least one crucial element of the populist romance tradition—the greater health and fertility of "the people." Unfortunately, this romance fails for both women: at the end of the novel Lady Aurora is apparently giving up her charitable work among the poor, the Princess has tired of radicalism among the working classes, and neither has succeeded with Paul Muniment.

Hyacinth too is an example of the romantic populist, but an extraordinary one—the product of Henry James's own inventive, clever, endlessly ironic imagination. Psychologically and emotionally alien to the people, though brought up in their midst, he seeks the plebian only as a means to dwell in the presence of the Princess or Lady Aurora and to ascend into the aristocratic world these two ladies reject.

For one thing, Hyacinth is simply too ironic—too alive to the perplexities of his life—to think in those grand, confident terms about revolution, history and the people the way the proper romantic populist would. From the very first, James describes him as having a sensitivity to the paradoxes and the absurdities of the world: "...even at the age of ten Hyacinth Robinson was ironical" (p. 12). Even in the face of the heated, passionate rhetoric of the French socialist exiles, the Poupins, he remains rather cool and detached:

Hyacinth knew their vocabulary by heart, and could have said everything, in the same words, that on any given occasion M. Poupin was likely to say. He knew that "they," in their phraseology, was a comprehensive allusion to everyone in the world but the people—though who, exactly, in their length and breadth, the people were was less definitely established. (p. 79)

If Hyacinth is skeptical about the people, it is no wonder that his loyalty is never strong.

Later in the novel, he is quite ironic in his account of his initiation into the secret anarchist society: "I was hanging about outside, on the steps of the temple, among the loafers and the gossips, but now I've been in the innermost sanctuary. Yes, I've seen the holy of holies..." (p. 308). Hyacinth is only sarcastically echoing the religious language used by the romantic populist in this secular faith of the nineteenth century. It is typical of Hyacinth that when he stays with the Princess at Medley just after making his ultimate commitment to the same cause he is so cool toward, he is struck by the enormous absurdity of the "Princess's having retired to that mangificent residence in order to concentrate her mind upon the London slums" (p. 286). Life, it seems to Hyacinth, practices on his already highly developed "sense of the tragic-comical" constantly in this novel. He experiences a world filled with anomalies, a world completely unlike what he had come to expect in the romantic novels of his youth.

Hyacinth's idea of a revolutionized world retains much of the genteel—an incongruous element, to "be sure: the Utopia he imagines is "some "brighter, happier vision—the vision of societies where, in splendid rooms, with smiles and soft voices, distinguished men, with women who were both proud and gentle, talked of art, literature and history" (p. 104). Instead, for a young man who had dreamed of taking what he believed and had been brought up to believe was his rightful place in the high and fashionable world, he is taken up by one who values him only because he is low and common. To continue to stay in the Princess's favor, to maintain this valuable contact with a world to which he believes he belongs by birthright, he must wear a disguise—that of "the people." Despite his attempts to play the working-class revolutionary, the Princess begins to find Hyacinth inadequate—not the "real thing." But as the novel progresses, the real thing bores and offends the Princess; Hyacinth is her only successful contact with the "nether world," as George Gissing had called it, because he is comfortably well-mannered and gentlemanly enough not to offend her haughty tastes. Often in her dealings with him, she slips into a regal and commanding attitude, scarcely the democratic behavior that she should adopt. She also reveals that she still scorns the "banal" and the "vulgar" and the "common" even though these are precisely the qualities that mark the social group that she seeks.

Despite this ironic treatment of the populist romance, romance permeates the novel. The reason for this is the fact that the chief centers of consciousness—Hyacinth and the Princess—both strain to perceive and create romance situations in the world about them. The novel is dominated by their consciousness though we as readers see through it rather readily. Henry James can in this way create a highly ironic novel while still enjoying much of the atmosphere of romance.11

Rosy Muniment stands for a kind of perception of the world that produces romance visions—whether of the people or of the nobility. She is a frail, apparently lifelong invalid, and around her bedside most of the main characters meet and begin their complicated relationships. Rosy Muniment embodies James's idea that an isolated and restricted individual can indeed know much about the outside world. With her keen inductive sense and despite her lifelong, though vaguely described paralysis, she can build up rather accurate mental pictures of places that she can never visit: as her brother Paul says, "It's very wonderful: she can describe things she has never seen, and they are just like the reality." Rosy converts her bed-ridden state into a positive advantage: "There's nothing I've never seen...That's the advantage of my lying here in such a manner. I see everything in the world" (pp. 109-110). Although her sense of reality outside her bedroom is vivid, concrete, and detailed, it is not necessarily perfectly "realistic," rather, her vision of the world, is a mixture of the imagined, the "rosy" colored, as well as the real. Rosy stands for that way of seeing that so marks the novel as well as the populist romance: her distance from and lack of access to the world of the aristocracy, which she like Hyacinth so highly idealizes, simply increase the romantic value that she puts upon it. The same process occurs in this novel to those who are not physically handicapped: the Princess and the exiled. French radicals, the Poupins, for whom Hyacinth works and from whom he learns much of his politics, view the people with this same mixture of the imagined. Although the objects of their romantic vision are different, Rosy's perception of the world is similar to Sigismond's in L'Argent: the latter's perspective is limited to the windows of a small room high above the Bourse in Paris.

Not only does Rosy embody this roseate way of seeing the world, and that brand of inductive access to reality, she is also one of many characters whose attitudes are strangely the reverse of what one would expect of someone of their social rank. Able to find a certain amount of contentment despite her restrictions, she prefers the social world as it is: her political conservatism is vigorously opposed to her brother's radicalism. Thus, she views the world optimistically, rosily. Her counterparts, the Poupins, the French exiles in London since 1871, also view reality naively, as their name, which derives from the French for "doll," implies. For them, however, it is a confidence that the revolution will inevitably come and usher in a veritable utopia. In other ways they are rather like Rosy in that as foreigners they have only limited access to the reality of the strange city, and more importantly, to the political and social realities of their homeland. Again, it is the distance and separation that call forth the optimistic, roseate view of the world, no matter whether it be of the aristocracy, of the political situation, or of "the people."

Roseate hues also mark Hyacinth's view of things but not to the extent that they overpower his dual vision, that tragic-comic perception he has of the world. Although he is aware of the less sublime aspects of the aristocratic world he has long dreamed of, he is still helplessly enamored of it. As he tells Captain Sholto how strange it is to be in the company of princesses and gentlemen, he includes "all these dim, rich curiosities hanging on the walls and glinting in the light of that rose-coloured lamp" (p. 197). In The Princess, rose color is a cue to the idea that something or someone is perceived through the vague and dreamy distortions of romance. Similarly, when Hyacinth is in Paris, which for him is one of the pinnacles of civilization, it is that city's "brilliancy, perhaps, that made him see things rosy" (p. 370). The roseate hues of this novel are usually signs that a character sees things—whether they are the world of high society or the lower world of "the people"—through the filtering of his own romantic imaginings.13

The Princess Casammasima is a novel marked by disguises, masks and assumed identities, of miraculous and spurious ascents and descents; thus it is logical that The Princess Casamassima should he also marked by a fundamental theatricality on the part of many of the important actors of the novel, a theatricality of both action and perception of the world. Unique in this novel is the fact that certain characters, particularly the Princess and Hyacinth, take up in distinctly theatrical ways the role of the romantic populist. In The Tragic Muse (1889) published, only a few years later, Henry James focuses at full length on the "theatrical case," which Edel claims always fascinated James.14 In a description that applies well to the Princess, James began with the idea of a "study of the nature of an actress, her egotism, her perseverance, her image as a creature for whom reality was illusion and illusion was reality."15 Unquestionably, some of the situations of this novel are the stuff of the melodramatic theater and perfectly romantic: Hyacinth's origins, his encounter with the Princess, his fairy tale-like stay at Medley—these are the things of romance and intersect nicely with the kind of reading that his foster mother brought him up on. The novel provides a series of unique opportunities to certain characters to exercise their romantic imaginations: Miss Pynsent is convinced that Hyacinth "belongs 'by the left hand,' as she had read in a novel, to an ancient and exalted race" (p. 8). Her vision of reality is formed by the popular novels, romances and drama of the time, and she passes this way of seeing on to Hyacinth. She is typically a creature through whose "confused little head" races "an infinite succession of fantastic possibilities" (p. 17). She too paints the future in "rosy hues" as her "furious imagination" envisions her foster child's rightful return to his aristocratic heritage.

That she passes this perceptive habit onto Hyacinth is clear from the very first description of him: he first appears at the "small-paned, dirty window" of a sweet-shop standing there for hours "spelling out the first page of the romances in the Family Herald and the London Journal, and admiring the obligatory illustration in which the noble characters (they were always of the highest birth) were present" (p. 4). Hyacinth as a boy valued, his experience at the pantomime: "There were things in life of which, even at the age of ten, it was a conviction of the boy's that it would be his fate never to see enough, and one of them was the wonder-world illuminated by those playhouse lamps" (p. 18). When Hyacinth first meets the Princess, it is at the theater which

... in any conditions, was full of sweet deceptions for him. His imagination projected itself lovingly across the footlights, gilded and coloured the shabby canvas and battered accessories, and lost itself so effectively in the fictive world that the end of the piece, however long, or however short, brought with it a kind of alarm, like a stoppage of his personal life. It was impossible to be more friendly to the dramatic illusion. (p. 140)

While melodrama, romance, and popular literature are a means to the rosy-hued aristocratic world for commoners like Miss Pynsent, Hyacinth, and Rosy Muniment, the cheap and tawdry theater where plays for the masses are presented is conversely a means of access for such nobles as the Princess and the Captain to the people.

Part of that atmosphere of melodrama is transmitted by the traditional, vividly contrasting imagery of the aristocratic and plebian worlds: the commoners live in a dark, subterranean place; the nobility, in an airy, elevated world of light. The Princess Casamassima radically simplifies the world in which it occurs: there is the aristocratic milieu of Mayfair, Belgrave Square, and Medley and the plebian one of Lisson Grove and Lomax Place, with few or no in-between stations. This imagery and symbolic distribution of urban space emphasize that distance which the romantic populist traverses in order to reach the world he seeks.

Of course this distribution of the urban landscape serves to reinforce the more familiar, symbolic use of heights and depths, which is typical of the populist romance, certainly in the works of Michelet and Hugo, and which abounds in The Princess. The aristocracy has always existed up on high, the people down below, almost as creatures of the underground. Miss Pynsent imagines from her lower world in Lomax Place that Hyacinth's father must have been very "high" (p. 7). Her romantic love of the aristocracy even extends to a love of "all winged creatures," animals in which she projects her longing to soar out of her plebian depths. She forces herself to see in her violinist neighbor Vetch a man who belongs to a "higher social sphere" (pp. 18-19), because she insists in seeing in his hack work at a cheap, common theater great and sublime artistry. Vetch realizes that the poor little dressmaker loves Hyacinth not only because she has brought him up, but because as Vetch tells her, "he brings you up;" that is, the presence of Hyacinth in her life ennobles her, at least in her romantic imagination. Miss Pynsent and Vetch realize that knowledge of the lowly origins of his real mother—the murderess—would "take the youngster down" (pp. 24-25).

Even Hyacinth's perceptions are trained in these symbolic dimensions of "high" and "low." Even at the early age of ten he has been schooled in the prejudices of his foster mother: when he first sees his real mother and while he still does not know who she is, he says, "She must be very low; I don't want to know her" (p. 35). When Millicent visits Lomax Place again after many years, she reminds the little dressmaker she had always wanted Hyacinth "to hold himself so high" (p. 45). She herself has seen her family go "down-hill, to the very bottom" while she has luckily been able to "mount the slope" (p. 49). Even so, Miss Pynsent does not want Hyacinth meddling with the common girl and making a marriage "beneath his station" (p. 59). Although brought up to think in these dimensions, the poor and ironic Hyacinth wonders what or who could be lower than he or his own station.

The first scene in which Hyacinth meets Lady Aurora in the company of Paul and Rosy is a fascinating interplay of the "high" and the "low," of aristocratic and plebian cultures. The "highly evolved" Aurora, ridden with upper class shame and guilt, so often a feature of the populist romance, wants "to make up to the people for being less fortunate than herself" (p. 95). Her friends the Muniments wonder why she wastes her "good nature in trying to let herself down." Rosy proclaims that "When you're up so high as that you've got to stay there...the best thing you can do is to hold up your head" (p. 99). Nevertheless, Aurora droops and seems "to want to give up everything to those who were below her" even though her family is one of "the highest in the land" (p. 102). Concerning the revolution her brother is preparing. Rosy, the fierce advocate of the status quo, warns Aurora that the people in trying to "come up" will pull their "betters" down. As she puts it, "I haven't the least objection to seeing the people improved, but I don't want to see the aristocracy lowered an inch. I like so much to look at it up there" (p. 107).

Millicent Henning, who also scorns the common and the vulgar and aspires to great heights although she is the very epitome of the common people, is comic in her misguided pretensions: "She desired at last to raise their common experience to a loftier level, to enjoy what she called a high-class treat" (p. 122), but Hyacinth is continually struck by her vulgar, hideous bad taste. James plays with great ingenuity upon this spatial metaphor involved in the usual way of thinking about the lower classes, the "bas peuple" as the French call them, the "basso popolo" as Prince Casamassima calls them. The Princess views the historical moment not only in terms of the "upward struggles of those who are below" (p. 164), but also In terms of a "gathering force, underground in the dark, in the night, in little hidden rooms," which will one day burst forth and set the world on fire. This lurid, nightmarish underground metaphor reoccurs later, at a moment when times are particularly bad in London: the workers come more often to the Sun and Moon tavern, a hotbed or radical working-men's discussion, "for the season was terribly hard; and as in that lower world one walked with one's ear nearer the ground, the perpetual groan of London misery seemed to swell and form the whole undertone of life" (p. 257).

Hyacinth himself is the supreme example of the character who undergoes the mysterious levitation that marks this novel. Once he has visited Europe and Medley and has experienced the charms of the aristocratic world, his point of view changes; as Paul Muniment observes; "You have risen in the were always a bloated little swell;" (p. 433). Hyacinth is continually bewildered that "his society should have become indispensable to ladies of high rank and the obscurity of his rank only an attraction the more" (p. 234). It seems to him that they are "taking him up then, one after another." Indeed, the Princess takes him "up" to such an extent that he, perched on a ladder in her library at Medley, feels "giddy" (p. 279).

In addition, this dimensionality is further exploited by the use of bird names for some of the characters and by the symbolic distribution of physical stature. The symbolism of the common people as novelities, trinkets, or "miniatures" is carefully reinforced by James in his distribution of physical size and stature between the two opposing social regions of the novel. Hyacinth, "the little bookbinder," is not the only smallish plebian character; rather, most of the well-born are tall and most of the commoners are short or little. Thus, the Princess in this phase of her chronic ennui is literally collecting little specimens of "the people." Amanda Pynsent, Hyacinth's foster mother, is regularly described as the "little dressmaker," and indeed she is exceedingly diminutive as if in physical agreement with her social position and with her actual address, Lomax Place. From the first, her foster child is described as "exceedingly diminutive" even for his years, and though his appearance was not "positively sickly," a definite code feature of the Romantic Shelleyan figure, "it seemed written in his attenuated little person that he would never be either strong or tall" (p. 13).

Similarly, Rosy Muniment, the commoner with high-flown ideas, is described as "a diminutive dark person, pale and wasted with a lifelong infirmity" (p. 92). James never tells us about the height of her brother Paul. When Hyacinth first meets Rosy, however, he also meets Lady Aurora, the first aristocrat he has ever known; she is described as a "tall figure," "a figure angular and slim, crowned with a large, vague hat" (p. 89). She seems to Hyacinth "to look down at him from a height" (p. 237); even her domestics peer down at him (p. 537). Even more appropriately, Aurora is marked by a "drooping erectness" (p. 90); which in itself symbolizes her efforts to shed her elevated status, her nobility, to go to the people, to descend into the vast ocean of the people. Her posture emphasizes her shyness as well as her effort to slump down to the level of the people. Captain Sholto is also described as "tall and loose-jointed" (p. l43). At the theater this "easy, genial gentleman, at least six feet high" (p. 146), greets Hyacinth and Millicent as "a pair of children." While her height is never alluded to, the Princess incessantly calls Hyacinth "my little bookbinder," as if to reinforce the power dynamics of their relationship, and she too smiles "down" on him (p. 222). The Prince himself is described as a "high, lean person" (p. 200).

This careful arrangement of dimensions in the novel is reinforced by a group of names which have to do with various sorts of birds. Character names here as elsewhere in James's fiction are usually selected "for those further ironic overtones which James often invoked in baptizing his characters."16 Hyacinth's last name, Robinson, can be associated with spring. His foster mother. Miss Pynsent, has a name rather closely resembling the French "pinson," or sparrow; Millicent Henning's last name contains the word "hen." All three of these individuals are strivers toward the upper world; their names embody that longing to flutter up out of that nether region of the base and common people and to attain the realm of the noble, the world of sweetness and light.

From the very first, Miss Pynsent is described a number of times as "fluttering" nervously about. But sparrows are such multitudinous and common creatures that crowd and swarm the streets and squares; and hens can scarcely fly up at all. Only the robin holds symbolic promise. Naively the Princess promises that if Hyacinth will take her to the slums and to scenes of misery and remove some of the obstacles to her getting to know the people, "I will do the same for you, with yours." While she may have intended that she would help him as a revolutionary, he takes it to mean she will help him ascend into her world. These words of the Princess "gives him wings" and "help him to soar and float" (p. 223). Birds figure into the novel in one other respect: Hyacinth looks upon the Poupins, those visionary French, exiles, as "French featherheads" (p. 555).

In a novel in which romantic populists are caught in a world stubbornly unresponsive to their romantic expectations and are so thoroughly alien to the plebian world they seek, it is natural that there should be the masquerade behavior and the general theatricality that marks The Princess. The romance consciousness requires the more dramatic, the more exciting, the heightened; life must arrange itself in romance plots and situations. But, since Lady Aurora and the Princess's world is decidedly unlike this, the Princess in particular must engage in self-deception or half-conscious masquerade to attempt to make it so. What may be viewed in other quarters as noble, passionate commitment to the plebian cause is viewed here as a questionable act at best and, at the ludicrous extremes, a masquerade of fashionable slumming and play-acting the role of the commoner.

Of a particularly theatrical bent is the Princess, who first appears appropriately enough at a theater, a plebian one at that, where she has come in search of "the people." Her meeting with Hyacinth is for her as full of romantic and novelistic possibilities as it is for the bookbinder. She has been trained in some of the same literature of social romanticism as Hyacinth, and in fact shares some of the characteristics of George Sand with Lady Aurora. Both the French novelist and the Princess live life at high theatrical pressure; both become despondent at the emptiness of life and search avidly to raise it to an unusual intensity; both become enamored with lower class figures; both live apart from their husbands; both are in different ways preoccupied with the piano.

The Princess seeks to build romance into her own daily existence, and her journey to the people—to the revolutionary people—is the means she uses in this phase of her life. At the end, of the novel, while she waits for Hyacinth below his window to stop him from carrying out his assassination orders, "she could still relish the romance of standing in a species of back-slum and fraternising with a personage looking like a very tame horse whose collar galled him" (p. 591). She thinks it would be "magnificent," "heroic," like something out of a novel, if Paul and Lady Aurora were to marry in rebellion against the obstacle of their class differences (p. 481).

The Princess is a character who thrives on keen emotions. She is constantly described as a woman in search of amusement, not on stage, but in the audience, "the people." Her source of entertainment in this novel is the people, and later their revolutionary struggles. She even longs for the danger of revolution and wants to take Hyacinth's place as assassin. Like Hyacinth's, her vision of the revolution is heavily theatrical; her political talk is loaded with melodramatic references to the people. It is only appropriate that no one is further from them or more politically confused than this particular romantic populist.

The Princess strikes everyone as an actress who is playing successive roles of humanitarian, liberal, radical, and commoner. Practically everyone in the novel wonders whether she is playing a game or is sincere. At Medley for example Hyacinth awaits her entry into the room with great suspense: "It was much the same feeling with which, at the theater, he had sometimes awaited the entrance of a celebrated actress" (p. 213). Vetch is sensitive to this aspect of her character and watches her with "something of the same excitement with which he would have watched a clever taut uncultivated actress, while she worked herself into a passion which he believed to be fictitious" (p. 320). The poor Princess never convinces anyone of her role; she stamps her feet before the skeptical and sarcastic Paul, "I am not playing. No, I am not playing" (p. 443), although she is. To Vetch she explains in a curiously self-defeating statement, "You think me affected, of course, and my behavior a fearful pose; but I am only trying to be natural" (p. 456). One of her strategies is to study the ways of Lady Aurora carefully and to model her own activity after hers, at least at first; "The Princess delighted in her clothes, in the way she put them on and wore them, in the economies she practised, in order to have money for charity... She wished to emulate her in all these particulars" (p. 477). She wants to transform herself into the "image of her friend" and to play her role. She finds Aurora "quaint and touching, like something in some English novel" (pp. 419-20), no doubt a Walter Besant novel. She admires Lady Aurora for her apparent ability to alter her social identity: "She has got out of herself more perfectly than anyone I've ever known...She has merged herself in the passion of doing something for others. That's why I envy her" (p. 440).

In her well-publicized move to Madeira Crescent, whose ugliness she mistakenly believes to be plebian but whose solid, spacious comfortableness is far from anything that the lower class could afford, the Princess imagines that she has become one with the people, but it is simply another bit of theatrics. She has made herself humble, but still commands those around, her in regal fashion; she has learned to radiate a "glorious charity" and almost has the attitude of a hosptial nurse. After his first visit. Hyacinth feels that "she performed admirably, artistically," for his and Lady Aurora's benefit (p. 393). When the Princess, in full character, gravely but quite inaccurately proclaims, "I have nothing in the world—nothing but the clothes on my back" (p. 397), Rosy cries with added irony, "Gracious, was it all make-believe?" Rosy of course is well aware what the real make-believe is.

Most importantly however, the Princess employs the traditional and hackneyed rhetoric of "the people" to discuss the revolution and the social question: it is a world of "toilers and strugglers and sufferers." While Aurora seems partly compelled into the slums by guilt, an idea James may have picked up from his conversations about Russian nobility with Turgenev, the Princess explains her interest this way: "they press upon me, they haunt me, they fascinate me" (p. 217). As figments of her melodramatic imagination, of course they do. For her, it is simply interest, fascination, curiosity, and at worst, amusement. She often slips into her revolutionary rhetoric of the people in wonderfully casual, decorous ways: to Aurora,

Possibly you don't know that I am one of those who believe that a great social cataclysm is destined to take place, and that it can't make things worse than they are already. I believe, in a word, in the people doing something for themselves (the others will never do anything for them), and I am quite willing to help them. (p. 420)

At another moment she proclaims to Hyacinth,

I want to do something for the cause you represent; for the millions that are rotting under our feet—the millions whose whole life is passed on the brink of starvation, so that the smallest accident pushes them over. (p. 443)

Her vision is marked by black and white moral terms; innocence and virtue reside entirely with the people; the people exist as an ominous underground force; the revolution itself looms as a grand apocalyptic event, as the great dramatic climax of a well-staged play. To Vetch she explains that she and Hyacinth have "inquired and explored together..., and in the depths of this huge, luxurious, wanton, wasteful city we have seen sights of unspeakable misery and horror." In the same breath, however, as if to undercut all that she has said, she adds that they have also been "to a music hall and a penny-reading" (p. 454). One wonders if these artistic and literary endeavors are the only plebian things that they have explored.

As the novel progresses, the entire notion of the people comes to suggest simply theatrics—a particularly melodramatic kind of theatrics—and less a matter of reality. At length the idea of the people, the populist romance, a thing of imaginative literature, separates from the reality of the London working-class and becomes nothing more than an illusion held in the minds of those too distant from that lower world to know the reality. "The People" in this novel are so various, so different, that the notion of a homogeneous body, labelled as such, becomes an illusion. Hyacinth, who has always been somewhat repelled by the vulgarity of the common people with whom he has grown up, begins to accept and appreciate them far more, in a non-revolutionary light, particularly in the person of Millicent. While he grows toward an acceptance of the people as they really are, not as they are envisioned in the populist romance, the Princess, because of boredom, because of a too heavy dose of the real thing, becomes more and more repelled by the people. Both travel beyond their distorted perceptions to a vision of the more authentic reality of the working classes.

While this play-acting of the role of the plebian and.the romantic populist by members of the upper classes—this extravagant "slumming"—is one of the unique features of the novel, play-acting of the more traditional sort—that of the commoner putting on gentlemanly or lady-like airs—also exists in The Princess. Millicent Henning's attempts to act the part of the fashionable lady are equally ironic and amusing, but much more expected and understandable. The pretensions of the lower class characters in the novel are comical but forgivable because they all conform to what James must see as the common people's striving for grace, gentility, and cultural "sweetness and light." That struggle begins to seem less comically pretentious and more heroic once it is considered in the light of Rosy Muniment's story of her father's struggle to escape the mines and to "rise above the common" (pp. 104-5). Likewise, Millicent's pretension for the smug middle class life is in its own way heroic also:

She had no theories about redeeming or uplifting the people; she simply loathed them, because they were so dirty, with the outspoken violence of one who had known poverty...Millicent, to hear her talk, only wanted to keep her skirts clear and marry some respectable tea-merchant...She summed up the sociable, humorous, ignorant chatter of the masses...their ideal of something smug and prosperous, where washed hands, and plates in rows on dressers, and stuffed birds under glass, and family photographs would symbolize success. (p. 120)

Only those with no experience of the people in this novel idealize them as the Princess so amply demonstrates.

Hyacinth's masquerade, however, is a complicated, double one: both plebian and aristocratic roles are equally masks to this character who has no real home in any single social class. He must play the role of plebian—a role that he has been brought up to despise—to gain acceptance with the Princess. Yet this role is only superficial; the Princess ultimately values him, partly unconsciously, for the refinement in his manners. Thus, Hyacinth is playing both roles simultaneously—a virtuoso masquerade performance in a novel full of such theatrics. His comment to the Princess when he first meets her—appropriately enough at the theater—is to claim, meekly and self-consciously, "I'm a mere the immensity of the people" (p. 163) when he obviously refuses this identification.

Hyacinth's life in this novel is bounded on all sides "by theatricality: his origins are loaded, with it; he himself feels that he must assume a certain "conscious cockneyism" (p. 59) and play the role of commoner all his life when he believes he is really a "duke in disguise" (p. 434); he sees his relations with the Princess as something straight out of a novel or a play; even his vision of the revolution and the terms of his great secret "pledge" to lay down his life for the cause are theatrical. He only plays the role of the commoner; he has been compelled "to assume the disguise of a person of a social station lower still than his own" (pp. 56-7). He is, he thinks, simply a gentleman "masquerading" among the people, but one trapped in his masquerade. No doubt the fact that to Millicent he looks "almost theatrical in his whole person" and looks "the way an actor would look in private life" (p. 58) has much to do with the dreamer romantic that the little dressmaker has "brought him up to be. Ultimately he is deeply divided as to which "character" he should play: "His own character? He was to cover that up as carefully as possible; he was to go through life in a mask, in a borrowed mantle; he was to he, every day and every hour, an actor" (p. 64).

His perception of his relationship with the Princess is filled with the same theatrics. When he first meets her at the theater, he finds it is pleasant "to sit with fine ladies, in a dusky, spacious receptacle which framed the bright picture of the stage and made one's own situation seem a play within a play" (p. 155). The whole situation makes "things dance...appear fictive, delusive," particularly off stage. In fact, Hyacinth even fears vaguely that he and Millicent are "being served up for the entertainment of imperious triflers" (p. 149) when Solto tells him that the Princess would like to meet some real specimens of the lower classes. Even the Princess senses the theatrical in Hyacinth's pledge to the secret revolutionary society: "It's too absurd, it's too vague. It's like some silly humbug in a novel" (p. 479). Hyacinth, as if to prove the lady's point, calls his role as assassin the "great rehearsal" for the real revolution (p. 309). Later, with great unintentional irony, the Princess accuses Hyacinth, "But you persist in remaining humble, and that is very provoking" (p. 298). In the early stages of their friendship Hyacinth fears any "wrong movement" will break the charm of their relationship: that wrong movement would involve letting down his plebian pretense. In fact she mildly reproaches him for wearing clothes uncharacteristic of the common people: "she liked him better shabby than when he was furbished up" (p. 385).

In this way then, Hyacinth acts out the mythological suggestions of his name. The mythological Hyacinth, a beautiful mortal loved by Apollo, was killed accidentally when Apollo's discus was blown off course into Hyacinth's skull. It may have been no accident at all if the jealous wind god, Zephyr, had intentionally caused the discus to kill Hyacinth. This story, illustrating the dangers to mortals playing among the gods, translates into the dangers Hyacinth faces in playing among the aristocracy.17 Finding himself caught between two social worlds and belonging fully to neither, Hyacinth is destroyed as much by his lack of a secure home in a social class as by his political confusion.

The Populist Threat to Civilization

The Princess Casamassima casts an ironic gaze on one other crucial area of the populist romance—that progressive view of history which sees plebian misery transformed into an edenic existence at the end of a revolutionary process. This Golden Age is seen as the result of an apocalyptic revolution which suddenly transforms and perfects man and nature. As Michelet, Hugo, and even Zola's fictional character Florent in Le Ventre de Paris see it, this sweeping transfiguration takes place not by armed struggle and class warfare but by a moral transformation in individual men, by a welling up of fraternal love and communal sympathies, and by a silencing of egoism, self-interest, and class hatred.

The Princess embodies a more general familiarity with the traditions of French popular revolutionism and socialism. The Poupins in the novel are the embodiment of the tradition of the French peuple so perpetuated by Michelet, Hugo, Sand, and others. In fact, M. Eustache Poupin borrows something of Victor Hugo's own obstinate exile: "passionate refugee—Poupin had come to England after the Commune of 1871, to escape the reprisals of the government of M. Thiers, and had remained there in spite of amnesties and rehabiliations" (p. 69). Like Michelet, Poupin was a "Republican of the old-fashioned sort, of the note of 1848, humanitary and idealistic, infinitely addicted to fraternity and equality." He appears to Hyacinth strangely obsolete and vacuous in an era marked by revolutionaries of the dry, scientific sort like Paul Muniment. The Poupins symbolically adopt Hyacinth and thus raise him in the traditions of the revolutionary people. Like Michelet and Hugo, Poupin is a "visionary" and sees the French as the "sacred race" (p. 75) and can be considered a typical romantic populist. For him the peuple is always "disinherited" and "expropriated"; Poupin speaks of a day of justice on which will occur the "reintegration of the despoiled and the disinherited" (p. 78). He speaks of an "irresistible force" just as Michelet does, which will bring about something not too short of an apocalypse, "the revindication, the rehabilitation, the rectification." Like Michelet he defines 1789 as "an irresistible force" and envisions both the greed and the fear of the bourgeois as it is described in Le Peuple: "I mean a force that will make the bourgeois do down into their cellars and hide, pale with fear, behind, their barrels of wine and their heaps of gold" (p. 82). The people are to Poupin a "sacred body, for which the future was to have such compensations." There is something of the mystic Hugo, the table-turner on Jersey Island, in Poupin: "It's before my eyes, in its luminous reality, especially as I lie here" (p. 78).

Hyacinth provides an example of the ironist amused somewhat by the obsolescence of this spirit of the romantic populist more associated with but also limited to 1848: he regards the French exiles "with a mixture of veneration and amusement" and wonders "at their zeal, their continuity, their vivacity, their incorruptibility; at the abundant supply of conviction and prophecy which they always had on hand" (p. 79). One reason of course is the Poupins' distance and separation from the realities of their homeland. The connection with Hugo is emphasized in Paul's remark to Hyacinth that "Poupin would he very sorry if he should be enabled to go home again (as he might, from one week to the other, the Republic being so indulgent and the amnesty to the Communards constantly extended), for over there he couldn't be a refugee; and however this might be he certainly flourished a good deal in London on the basis of this very fact that he was miserable there" (p. 258). Appropriately enough just as "sweetness" and "light" or close synonyms can regularly be found in passages concerned with the Princess, the word "miserable" continually crops up when Poupin is on the scene. Not that James intended his readers to see Poupin as a Hugo or Michelet figure; rather it is a means of tying the character into that traditional romantic, passionate, idealistic, but somewhat obsolete view of popular revolution.

The Princess Casamassima, however, is a highly ironic novel in which happy endings on either the individual or the historical or social level are unrealistic. Hugo's and Michelet's idea of history as a record of mankind's progress toward material and spiritual perfection, particularly as the record of the triumph of the long-suffering people, "the good guys," in history, is simply inadmissable to the ironic view. History goes nowhere: at worst, it is an endless repetition of errors, failures, cruelties, and folly. The ironist ultimately, like Hyacinth, cannot help but see social problems, the misery of the poor, as "inevitable and insurmountable" (p. 47O). The ironist withdraws from the struggle of human affairs like Vetch, one of the most embittered, characters of the novel:

He had given up that problem [the social question] some time ago; there was no way to clear it up that didn't seem to make a bigger mess than the actual muddle of human affairs, which, by the time one had reached sixty-five, had mostly ceased to exasperate. (p. 349)

Michelet had of course made the hero of French history "le peuple tout entier," but for the satirist, there are no real heroes, especially of the type that appear in romance. Few individuals, let alone the masses, are great enough to be heroes; man's reason and powers of action are simply too limited. Both the individual hero and the collective hero can win few of their struggles and achieve few of their dreams.

Just as to the ironist the individual can accomplish rather little in the world., he can be certain of very little. Ironists are marked by a habit of intellectual caution in great contrast to the enormous certitude of Michelet and Hugo whose prophetic pronouncements sweep all philosophy and history. In this respect, Michelet appears enormously powerful intellectually in his view of all human history as the rise and the triumph of the peuple, who collectively act out all of the stages of the passion of Christ or the triumph of the romance hero.

To such an uncertain world, which at times lurches toward the comic, sometimes toward the tragic but which is practically at all times folly-ridden, the ironist's accustomed response is withdrawal. Against this basic impulse to escape, the populist romance has always called on individuals to "go to the people," to enter into their struggles, and to commune with their wisdom and spirit. But to the ironist who sees in the ignorant masses the greatest condensation of the stupidity and corruption of mankind, the only recourse is a withdrawn communion with the few intelligent and sensitive souls like himself who know the truth about the world.

Hyacinth is unable, apparently, to accept the necessity of resignation and withdrawal, that is, of following in the footsteps of his surrogate father, Anastasius Vetch. Thus, unlike the linear, progressive, Utopian vision of history suggested by Michelet and Hugo and the other romantic revolutionaries of their times, The Princess embodies a more static one.18 In such a view there only seems to be progress, for example, in political and technological areas. However, time stands still in terms of the real progress of the human spirit and human society. Vetch's statement that men's attempts to clear up the muddle of human affairs lead only to a "bigger mess" contains this general attitude toward history. In such a view, great advances or triumphs are completely cancelled by equally great setbacks and disasters: a democratic society which had solved the problem of the poor, The Princess implies, would no longer appreciate or produce great art and in fact would be the enemy of great art.

James in part satirizes the romantic view of revolution as an impossible fantasy and in part presents it as a nightmarish, undesirable possibility. The highly melodramatic, apocalyptic view of revolution held by the Princess is certainly discredited. The possibility of popular revolution accomplished by men more of the stripe of Paul Muniment and Hoffendahl is certainly not. The outcome, however, is wholly undesirable as Hyacinth gradually realizes: such revolution would mean the destruction of European civilization's valuable cultural heritage. Furthermore, Hyacinth realizes that popular revolutions are carried out more in the spirit of revenge, envy, or greed than in the spirit of fraternal love and desire for liberty.

The novel sets into opposition these two grand terms, the People and Civilization, to the extreme; indeed, this fierce opposition provides the intellectual framework for the entire novel. As Vetch explains Hyacinth's moral predicament to the Princess:

The misery of the people is by no means always weighing on his heart...he has told me that the people may perish over and over, rather than the conquests of civilization shall be sacrificed to them. He declares, at such moments, that they will be sacrificed—sacrificed utterly—if the ignorant masses get the upper hand. (p. 455)

For Hyacinth the more pictures, statues, and works of art the better, "whether people are hungry or not" (p. 399). He imagines that an "invidious jealousy," not a longing for justice is at the bottom of the idea of a redistribution of wealth and that a revolution with such programs "would cut up the ceilings of the Veronese into strips, so that everyone might have a little piece." Hyacinth, fully aware of the evils of the past that have made cultural achievement possible, cannot help but value

The monuments and treasures of art, the great palaces and properties, the conquests of learning and taste, the general fabric of civilization as we know it, based, if you will, upon all the despotisms, the cruelties, the exclusions, the monopolies and the rapacities of the past, but thanks to which, all the same, the world is less impracticable and life more tolerable. (p. 380)

Despite the pessimistic view of history and of the people that pervades The Princess, the people retain a certain heroic quality. In the redefinition of the people that James performs in the novel, they are not entirely the brutal, vulgar herd waiting to rip up the paintings and destroy the sculpture and architecture. Most of the important working-class characters retain that heroic striving to ascend, to lift themselves up out of their plebian existence. They too strive for the "lumière," but not the light associated with utopian, idealism or spiritualism found in Michelet and Hugo. James redefines the object or goal of the people's striving in The Princess: the light they seek is the same possessed by the Princess—Christina Light—toward which Hyacinth strives.19 This ideal is more what one would associate with sophistication, grace, elegance, refinement, good taste, and culture. Obviously it is one of the major sources of irony in The Princess that the very symbol of this idea is the Princess, who is in rebellion against her aristocratic trappings. Nonetheless Hyacinth, Millicent, Rosy Muniment, Miss Pynsent, Vetch—all seek this undemocratic, unrevolutionary, individualistic ideal rather than the vague revolutionary utopian idealism posited by Michelet.

The two words "sweet" and "light" are used so frequently in relation to the Princess that, not to mention her original name, she must embody in certain respects Matthew Arnold's definition of the object of culture, that is, "sweetness and light." In the space of a few short pages, in the scene in which Hyacinth and the Princess first meet, she is called "sweet" several times: "Her dark eyes, blue or gray, something that was not brown, were sweet as they were splendid, and there was an extraordinary light nobleness in the way she held her head" (p. 154). In fact, James practically coins a synonym for Arnold's famous phrase when Hyacinth notices in the Princess's face "nothing but luminous sweetness" (p. 158). Rosy remarks once the Princess has left one of their gatherings that the Princess "seemed to make a kind of light in the room and to leave it behind her after she had gone" (p. 425). Rosy admires the aristocracy, and no doubt it represents an ideal or goal for commoners to strive toward, one that somehow lessens the bleakness and hardness of their lives. Even Rosy's own father, years ago, when he struggled his way out of the mines toward "light and air," was unknowingly struggling his way toward the lightness, the grace, and the brilliance of a cultural ideal that the Princess embodies: the mines, where the filthy coal's dug out. That's where my father came from—he was working in the pit when he was a child often. He never had a day's schooling in his life, but he climbed, up out of his black hole into sunlight and air. (p. 104)

But if she is the object of so many lower class characters' striving, if she represents the highest value and the perfect flowering of culture, then the novel once again proves itself vexingly ironic: not only is she a source of ironic comedy, but she is also described and self-described as a corrupting force: in Roderick Hudson, an earlier James novel, where she first appears she claims that she is corrupted, corrupting and corruption. Her status, as Irving Howe points out, is false, "even as far as purchased nobility goes" and is merely the result of an "evil marriage engineered by an adventurous mother." The Christina Light who comes away from Roderick Hudson suspects that "all social currencies may be counterfeit."20 Paul asks Hyacinth if she has corrupted him; even the Princess off-handedly remarks to Hyacinth that "she herself was very corrupt—she ought to have mentioned that before" (pp. 289-90). In a thoroughly ironic novel, it is appropriate that even culture and civilization, given such high value above anything also in the novel, are not absolutely good but imperfect and flawed. That irony is further reinforced by the fact that James saw the old world of the traditional aristocracy as declining. The nobility he felt was no longer concerned for politeness, honor or dignity but was marked rather by expediency and "sheer material greed."21 Of course the Princess also rebels against these qualities though she is in other respects an expression of that decline. Captain Sholto, however, exemplifies what James believed the English aristocracy was becoming and what commoners like Hyacinth, Millicent and Miss Pynsent so mistakenly romanticize.

The Princess Casamassima, on the whole, is a deeply ironic novel in which good and evil are painfully and inextricably mixed, in which there are no heroes, heroines or villains, and in which there are no happy endings or satisfyingly cathartic, tragic endings. Popular revolution, which promises an end to poverty and suffering, also threatens the cultural heritage. At the same time, that cultural heritage—the cathedrals, the frescoes, the sculptures and paintings—is produced at the expense of the people's suffering. Hyacinth is forced to choose one or the other—the People or Civilization. Though finely aware of this moral dilemma, ultimately he chooses the preservation of the cultural heritage, even though this choice causes him to betray his pledge to the anarchist group and ultimately causes him to commit suicide: it makes Hyacinth "rather faint to think that he must choose; that he couldn' underground for the enthronement of the democracy and yet to continue to enjoy in however a platonic manner a spectacle which rested on a hideous social inequality" (p. 125). Thus Peter Brook's discussion of how the melodramatic in James's fiction forces everything toward a central ethical choice, the terms of which are in absolute moral opposition, applies particularly to The Princess. A Henry James novel becomes a "melodrama of consciousness" and moves toward a conflict of "polarized moral conditions," which often takes the appearance of almost a "manichean struggle of good and evil, light and darkness."23

It is part of James's novelistic strategy to "pressure" those aspects of the two worlds he portrays in The Princess Casamassima such that they will become all the more contrastive and polarized. The two poles in this novel are, in their most schematic, civilization and "the people." There is no middle ground, socially speaking. One of the purposes of this immense contrast is to present itself to the consciousness of Hyacinth Robinson who must choose between the two. In fact, James himself implies this argument when he defends himself against the charge of not having rendered Hyacinth and his proletarian friends' political ideas and affiliations adequately. His answer is rather bluntly that such documentation would have diluted and ruined the effect for which he was striving: "The value I wished most to render and the effect I wished most to produce were precisely those of our not knowing, but only guessing and suspecting and trying to ignore, what 'goes on' irreconcileably, subversively, beneath the vast smug surface."24 Thus, "the people" is all the more mysterious and even frightening and terrifying. The chief source of terror in this novel—just as it is the chief source of hope, meaning, vitality in other works and for other writers—is the potential present in the revolutionary working-class of a destruction of civilization. This is the ethical choice the novel builds toward: Hyacinth is aware that the revolution, which will supposedly end the injustice and misery suffered by the people, will also destroy that same civilized world that centuries upon centuries of suffering on the part of the common people have built up; he is equally aware, however, that the sweetness and light of civilization is possible only at the expense of the people.

Such an ironic view is embodied in the novel in the character of Anastasius Vetch. Unlike the ironic character in Les Misérables Grantaire, who is discredited, Vetch represents a point of the view that begins to appear increasingly wise and practical in the novel. His name is, like the other names discussed previously, symbolic also. The character in the novel who more than once is described as a father figure for Hyacinth also possesses the name of a plant, but not a flower. In many ways, Vetch is simply an older Hyacinth, a Hyacinth who has lived beyond his youthful flings and disillusionment with ideals and causes. Vetch also works at a job that is half-craft or common labor and half-art: his fiddling at the cheap theater is more of a trade than art just as Hyacinth's book-binding is such a skilled trade or craft that it is almost an art. No doubt Vetch once had pretensions as a great artist until one day he saw himself sawing away in a miserable little sideshow of a theater. Vetch's fate is to "play a fiddle at a second-rate theater for a few shillings a week." Discussing Hyacinth's bookbinding, Miss Pynsent cries out, "A trade! should hear Mr. Robinson speak of it. He considers it one of the fine arts" (p. 50). As opposed to the hyacinth which is a pretty, sweet flower with a lovely mythological past, the vetch is practically a weed and often associated with the adjective ""bitter." It is a common plant but a highly useful one, whereas the hyacinth is useless. Indeed, the former has a crudely practical use as feed for cattle. The names of these two characters, plus the suggestion that Vetch has had a youth all too similar to Hyacinth's, imply a kind of natural, normal cycle in a person's spiritual growth and maturation, from the hyacinth-phase which embodies youthful dreams and optimism, sweetness and freshness, to the vetch-phase which embodies bitterness, disillusionment, sober realism, but practical usefulness as well. Asked by the Princess whether he is fond of the young bookbinder, Vetch responds, "Fond of him? Pray, who can doubt it? I made him, I invented him!" (p. 453). Vetch in so many words claims a symbolic fathership of Hyacinth and represents fulfillment of the life cycle Hyacinth refuses to undergo.

Standing away from the novel and Hyacinth's fate within it, critics have more than once questioned the tragic proportions of the novel. To Irving Howe, Hyacinth is one of the most passive heroes of James's fiction, and Howe also thinks that he is "too noble to be genuinely interesting and too pathetic to be tragic. 25 However, several references to Hyacinth as a tragic hero and two attempts to discuss the novel as tragedy have been made. Frederick C. Crews sees in Hyacinth rebellion, over-reaching, and ultimately a transcendence of the limited and limiting social or class definitions of the self. He achieves a greater vision or understanding of the world though individual possibilities for living within it are narrowed; thus The Princess is a "tragedy of manners."26 Kimmey goes further and sees Vetch, Hyacinth's surrogate father, as a tragic choral figure.27 However, a much more convincing point of view taken of the perplexing combination of comedy and tragedy in James's fiction is suggested by Ronald Wallce. Noting that often his fiction seems tragic in shape but comic in style and tone, that often the stories involve the "tragic expulsion of the artist," or an artist-like figure such as Hyacinth, but at the same time a ridiculing of "the habits of mind which make the tragedies possible," Wallace argues that Northrop Frye's description of satire more closely defines James's method: "Bitterly ironic plots" with "high comedy of style" result "formally in satire."28 Satire is of course a mode in between comedy and tragedy and partaking of the characteristics of both modes. It should be emphasized that the combination of satire and irony as a mode can apply not only to the grotesque, absurd slapstick or the mocking parodies of a Pope or Dryden but also the more serious, seemingly tragic fictions like The Princess where the the character is not ridiculed.

Embodied in The Princess is a distinct view of history, civilization and popular revolution that is remarkably similar to that of the famous German historian Jacob Burckhardt.29 Though there is some evidence that James had the author of The Civilization of the Rennaissance in Italy in mind in his development of the novel's theme, more important is the general kinship of ideas these two share in the ironic, pessimistic later nineteenth century. Burckhardt's vision of history is vastly different from that of Michelet and serves to highlight the differences underlying Les Misérables and The Princess Casamassima. In the former the people are the builders of the true "civilization"; in the latter, the people threaten to destroy it.

In his letter to the Princess while he is traveling in Europe, Hyacinth writes that he has learned to love, "The monuments and treasures of art, the great palaces and properties, the conquests of learning and taste, the general fabric of civilization as we know it, based if you will upon all the despotisms, the cruelties, the exclusions, the monopolies and the rapacities of the past, but thanks to which, all the same, the world is less of impracticable and life more tolerable" (p. 300). It is not surprising that one with such a view ends by setting a high value upon the cultural achievements of civilization in its past rather than its potential in the future, as Hyacinth does. One can only value what has been accomplished, and what exists rather than what is promised by the social romantics and visionaries. Clearly portrayed in The Princess Casamassima, the impulse becomes one of preserving what is left and preventing a further deterioration. Civilization becomes a symbol of what has been accomplished, not what might be accomplished. Hugo and Michelet dwell more upon the idea of civilization as the product of injustice and misery, the idea that civilization is not really "civilization" at all but institutionalized barbarism. For Hyacinth, however, the barbarism is once again that of the masses which threatens to destroy cultural value in the world.

As a deeply ironic novel, The Princess Casamassima reflects that skepticism, doubt, and pessimism of the post-1848 years that contrast so completely with the optimism and certainty that marked the years before 1848. The image of decline and decay seemed to have replaced that of progress in the great minds of the latter half of that century, like Jakob Burckhardt, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Arnold Spengler. Just as at the core of Hugo's Notre-Dame de Paris and Les Misérables had been a world view much in the spirit the historian Jules Michelet, at the philosophical and historical heart of James's The Princess Casamassima is an attitude much like that of Jakob Burckhardt, described as a "sensitive commentator on the degeneration of culture as a result of the nationalization, industrialization and massification of society"30 and as one of the most important historians of the second half of the nineteenth century.31 The connection between the thought of the German historian and the novelist is strong: James mentions Burckhardt at least once in his letters; he had been reading The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, a work whose admiration of Italian art is remarkably similar to Hyacinth's.32 Burckhardt's Cicerone may have served as a guide to James to the art work of the Italian Renaissance. The term itself "cicerone" or guide, appears often in the novels: Hyacinth ironically, after his trip to Europe and particularly to the cultural centers of Italy, considers himself the Princess's "cicerone" to the underworld of the poor in London.

Hyacinth's names and his mysterious origins and his anomalous refinement in a plebian milieu also conjure up Burckhardt's favorite metaphor for the Renaissance, that miraculous flowering of culture in the midst of the despotism and barbarity and fanaticism of the dark ages. Hyacinth is a similar miraculous flowering—a sophisticated, refined, literate and gentlemanly sort of young man who lives in the plainest, grayest of circumstances. Hyacinth celebrates the same art that Burckhardt's widely read book had done so much to exalt; he does so in language surprisingly similar to Burckhardt's. Like him. Hyacinth saw civilization primarily in terms of its paintings, its sculpture, its poetry, its architecture; like Burckhardt, he saw it endangered on all sides—the oppressive forces of state and religion and popular revolution. Other aspects of Burckhardt's thought are remarkably similar to The Princess Casamassima; a general melancholy at the decline of or threat to civilization; an enormous appreciation for the artistic achievements of civilization, particularly the Italian Renaissance; a deep, post-1848 skepticism, a refusal to think in grandiose and almost mythic terms as did Michelet and Hugo; the view of culture, specifically its art, as a tender, fragile, and mysterious flowering threatened by the tyranny of church and state; a general scorn and fear for revolutions, particularly popular ones; a dislike of the ignorant masses, as destroyers of culture; a general attitude of resignation toward the problems of the world.

One historian argues that the work of Jules Michelet had an important effect on Burckhardt's own history, but that effect was surely limited, to Michelet's example as a writer of vivid, "organic" historical description and narration. In the whole of Burckhardt's writing there persists, as Hayden White and Karl Löwith show, a vigorous rejection of the idea of the people—as both a visionary fantasy and as a social group.33 His work then can be considered as much the classic, strident voice of the century opposed to "the people" as Michelet's was the classic voice exalting them; they are as extremely opposed as are the novels of Hugo and James. Above all the other historians of the latter half of the century, Burckhardt is the perfect counterweight to Michelet, he is the voice of that skeptical attitude shared by James which in the later nineteenth century treated so many ideals, in this case, the populist romance, with such severity.

With or without the specific connection between Henry James's novel and Burckhardt, the ideas of the German historian are surprisingly similar to those found in The Princess; the value placed upon civilization and culture, the definition of culture and civilization by their artistic heritage, the notion of culture as a rare and miraculous flowering, and the language in which these ideas are conveyed—all establish important areas of similar thinking common to both the historian and the novelist.

The ironic, acid severity of this historical and social view which Burckhardt took to the people, which is incorporated consciously to a certain degree in The Princess Casamassima, underlines the enormous challenge faced by Benito Pérez Galdós, who certainly was abreast of all these intellectual movements, when he finally came to write La Revolución de Julio, a work which attempts go beyond but not ignore the anti-romance of the people.

Contents Next chapter


1Henry James, Parisian Sketches: Letters to the New York Tribune 1875-1876. Ed. and Introd. by Leon Edel and Ilse Dusoir Lind. (New York; New York University Press, 1957), p. 163.

2Henry James, The Princess Casamassima (1886; rpt. New York: Crowell, 1976), p. 56. All further references to this novel will appear in parentheses in the text.

3Parisian Sketches, pp. 64-65.

4David Leeming, "Henry James and George Sand," Revue de littérature comparée, 43 (1969), p. 53.

5P. J. Keating argues that the novel can hardly be called a successful working-class novel because James avoided "the main issues of British working-class life and made Hyacinth a special, atypical, exceptional character, not at all a genuine product of the London slums." (The Working Classes in Victorian Fiction [London: Routledge, Kegan Paul, 1971], PP. 47-49).

6According to Jonah Raskin, James had learned from his experience of the Paris Commune of 1871 to appreciate that precious British art of compromise, the way in which the British ruling classes had continually throughout the century acquiesced to reform. ("Henry James and the French Revolution," American Quarterly, 17 [1965], p. 725).

7Wesley H. Tilley, The Background of The Princess Casamassima (Gainesville, Fla., Univ. of Florida Press, 1961), p. 58.

8Hyacinth's model, Nezhdanov of Turgenev's Virgin Soil becomes violently sick, nauseated, once he encounters the coarse, ugly, vulgar reality of the people (Eunice C. Hamilton, "Henry James' The Princess Casamassima and Turgenev's Virgin Soil," South Atlantic Quarterly, 61 [1962], p. 360).

9Leon Edel, Henry James: the Middle Years (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1962), p. 122.

10Irving Howe too sees the Princess as a "creature of high comedy" and observes that at a period "when the characteristic social climber in the English novel was still laboriously making her way up, following the calculated footsteps of Becky Sharp, James realized that the really interesting and troublesome climbers had begun to hurry down." (Politics and the Novel [New York: Avon, 1967], P. 146-147).

11"James's use of romantic convention is inseparable from his portrayal of characters. Not only does he represent their inward states by imagery of romantic adventure, but he often presents his central action, the journey from ignorance to knowledge, as the passage from romantic illusion to perception of realities which call into question the basic premises of romantic fiction on which the characters' romantic illusions have in part been nourished. If the worlds in which James places his characters have characteristics of the contrived world of romance, many of the characters themselves seek what they define as romance. (Elsa Kettels, James and Conrad [Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1977], p. 93).

12Walter Dubler is right then to see The Princess as an "interesting drama of perception" rather than one of action. One of the most important objects of that drama is "the people." ("The Princess Casamassima: Its Place in the James Canon," Modern Fiction Studies, XII, 1 [Spring, 1966] p. 52).

13Roseate hues were for James a consistently used code color for that hazy, idealized vision of reality. As Patricia Thompson has found, "As an elderly man, James looked back to the 'fairly golden glow of romance' with which the mere act of perusal of Sand's novels was invested; in fact, his memories of that time are all couleur de rose." The volumes of the Revue des Deux Mondes Henry James, Sr., received were always pink and during Henry James's youth were regularly filled with George Sand's works. Thompson points out that although he might later disapprove of certain aspects of Sand's fiction and become more ironic towards her, James never ceased to be fond of her work and her character. Furthermore, James made it clear in one of his many essays and reviews on George Sand that "To read George Sand in America was to be a socialist, a transcendentalist and an abolitionist." She was simply one of Henry James's foremost literary idols for a long time, but one upon whom he was capable of exercising a kindly irony. In a criticism in 1875 he faulted her for her lack of "that tender appreciation of actuality" and the violence she regularly did our sense of reality by the application of a "single coat of rose-colour." To a great extent, the Princess embodies this type of vision, and in fact inherits many of the traits of George Sand. (Patricia Thompson. George Sand and the Victorians [London: Macmillan, 19771, p. 217).

14Edel, The Middle-Years, p. 256.

15Edel, The Middle Years, p. 254.

16Edel, The Middle Years, p. 224.

17One critic has looked into this mythological parallel: stressing the fact that Zephyr was in love with Hyacinth rather than with Apollo. Reid Badger argues that Paul Muniment is the Zephyr figure with that "Western breeze of democratic egalitarianism and revolution" ("The Character and Myth of Hyacinth: A Key to The Princess Casamassima," Arizona Quarterly, 32 [Winter 1976], p. 324).

18For Howe, James was a conservative, less in formal opinion than "as a tangle of what might be called cultural emotions: a hushed reverence before the great things of the past," less in terms of ideology than of "personal esthetic." That esthetic involves an acute understanding of "all the effort and agony that has gone into the achievements of the past" and a refusal to "skimp their value in the name of an unborn and untested future." (Howe, pp. 143-144).

19She first appears in one of James's earlier novels Roderick Hudson (1875); before she is forced into the marriage with Prince Casamassima by her ambitious mother, her name is Christina Light.

20Politics and the Novel, p. 146.

21J. A. Ward, "Social Criticism in James' London Fiction," Arizona Quarterly, XI, 1 (Spring, 1959), pp. 36-37.

22James found the English upperclass to be in many ways very much the same rotten and collapsible one as that of the French aristocracy before the revolution—minus cleverness and conversation. Or perhaps it was more like the heavy, congested and depraved Roman world which the barbarians came down upon. Quoted in Leon Edel, Henry James; The Middle Years, p. 191.

The sight of the ruined churches provoked James to condemn the French Revolution, not as a religious man, but as an artist grieved by the mutilated paintings and statues. He revered the great medieval churches as monuments to art, and not as centers of worship. Accordingly, he concluded that the spectre of the great Revolutions "appeared" in the shape of the destruction of something beautiful and precious (Raskin, p. 730).

23Peter Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama, and the Mode of Excess (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), p. 167.

24Cited in Brooks, p. 173.

25Howe, pp. 155-56.

26Frederick C. Crews, The Tragedy of Manners: Moral Drama in the Later Novels of Henry James (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957), pp. 27-28.

27John L. Kimmey, "The Princess Casamassima and the Quality of Bewilderment," Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 22 (1967), pp. 47-62.

28Ronald Wallace, Henry James and the Comic Forum (Ann Arbor; University of Michigan Press, 1975), pp. 16l-164.

29There has been an effort to see The Princess as a "Schopenhauerian novel" because of several specific references to the German philosopher in the novel and some general thematic similarity. Firebaugh's attempt to see in Hyacinth's deep appreciation of civilization in its cultural artefacts Schopenhauer's doctrine of "disinterested contemplation," however, is unsatisfactory. Though Burckhardt's celebration of the Italian Renaissance is much closer to the language, themes and spirit of James' novel, obviously both philosopher and historian reflect the greater pessimism of the later nineteenth century (Joseph J. Firebaugh, "A Schopenhauerian Novel; James's The Princess Casamassima," Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 13:3 [December, 1958], p. 196).

30Hayden White, p. 233.

31White, p. 243.

32The more likely source of James's familiarity with the general nature of Burckhardt's thought—all of which is not entirely evident from his Civilization of the Renaissance—is James's friend John Addington Symonds whose own Renaissance in Italy (1875-86) was strongly influenced by Burckhardt. (Phyllis Grosskurth, John Addington Symonds: a Biography [London; Longmans, 1964], pp. 251-252).

33Karl Löwith, Meaning in History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), pp. 20-32. White, pp. 232-44.