"You must paint her just like that... as the Tragic Muse," suggests one of James' 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' 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."
Henry James, in his preface to The Tragic Muse, remarks that he’d long wanted to write about the artist's life and "the general question of its having to be not altogether easily paid for". To this end he describes two young artists' journeys toward self-fulfillment. There’s Nick, the young aspiring painter who must come to terms with his family's desire for him to go into politics. Parallel to Nick is Miriam whom he paints as "the tragic muse" and who devotes herself without reservation to her own art, acting. Victor Villar-Hauser’s eager and earnest performance captures this deeply personal view of the artist’s place in the world.
This is volume one the work, which was originally published as a serial in The Atlantic Monthly.
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impossibly bad reader