'You must paint her just like that ...as the Tragic Muse' Suggests one of James's characters to Nick Dormer, the young Englishman who, during the course of the novel, will courageously resist the glittering Parliamentary career desired for him by his family, in order to paint. His progress is counterpointed by the 'Tragic Muse' of the title, Miriam Rooth, one of James's most fierily beautiful creations, a great actress indifferent to social reputation, and triumphantly dedicated to her art. In portraying the conflict between art and 'the world' which is his novel's central idea, James engaged obliquely with current debates on the new aestheticism of Pater and Wilde and on the nature of the actor's performance. Through the living complexity of his protagonists he reveals how much, as Philip Horne puts it, 'to take art seriously as an end in itself ...is still a provocative course'.
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Henry James (1843-1916), born in New York City, was the son of noted religious philosopher Henry James, Sr., and brother of eminent psychologist and philosopher William James. He spent his early life in America and studied in Geneva, London and Paris during his adolescence to gain the worldly experience so prized by his father. He lived in Newport, went briefly to Harvard Law School, and in 1864 began to contribute both criticism and tales to magazines.
In 1869, and then in 1872-74, he paid visits to Europe and began his first novel, Roderick Hudson. Late in 1875 he settled in Paris, where he met Turgenev, Flaubert, and Zola, and wrote The American (1877). In December 1876 he moved to London, where two years later he achieved international fame with Daisy Miller. Other famous works include Washington Square (1880), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Princess Casamassima (1886), The Aspern Papers (1888), The Turn of the Screw (1898), and three large novels of the new century, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904). In 1905 he revisited the United States and wrote The American Scene (1907).
During his career he also wrote many works of criticism and travel. Although old and ailing, he threw himself into war work in 1914, and in 1915, a few months before his death, he became a British subject. In 1916 King George V conferred the Order of Merit on him. He died in London in February 1916.
Novel by Henry James, published serially in The Atlantic Monthly from 1889 to 1890 and in book form in 1890. This study of the conflict between the demands of art and those of the "real world" is set in London and Paris in the 1880s. Nicholas Dormer, an Englishman, gives up a career in Parliament and marriage to a beautiful, wealthy woman to become a portrait painter. He is encouraged by his actress friend Miriam Rooth, the "tragic muse" of the title. Although by the end of the novel Nicholas has still not achieved his goal, James implies that he made the right decision in choosing to live at a higher level of consciousness, whether or not he achieves material success. Written when James himself was suffering setbacks in his career as a playwright, the novel reflects many of the author's concerns about personal sacrifice for the sake of art. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
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