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Provence and the British Imagination

Claire Davison
Béatrice Laurent
Caroline Patey
et al.

Victorian variations

Eccentric Naturalists: Henry James and the Provençal Novelist Alphonse Daudet

Simone Francescato

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A Softened Mistral: James on Daudet’s Provençal Heritage

  • 1 In his travel book A Little Tour of France, James often mentioned Daudet while commenting on his vi (...)

1Provence plays a major role in Henry James’s appreciation of Alphonse Daudet, the writer who immortalized the beauty of this region in famous works such as the collection of sketches Lettres de mon moulin (1870) and the picaresque novel Tartarin de Tarascon (1872). Both in his travel writing and in his literary criticism, James always referred to Provence as something that shaped and distinguished Daudet both as a man and as an artist. He wrote: “The bright light, the warm color, the spontaneity and loquacity, of his native Provence have entered into [Daudet’s] style, and made him a talker as well as a novelist”. As time went by, James further pondered, “the Parisian has been added to the Provençal, fortunately without crowding him out” (1984b, 216).1 Although transplanted in Paris, Daudet (who was born in Nîmes in 1840) remained in fact for James exquisitely provincial, in the sense that he – very much like Ivan Turgenev, another outsider in the group gathered around Gustave Flaubert – preserved a certain independence and autonomy of thinking from the other naturalist writers who orbited aesthetically and philosophically around the French capital.

2Daudet exerted a remarkable influence on the James of the so-called ‘middle phase’and his venture into naturalism. James’s notebooks reveal that he derived the general outline for The Bostonians (1886) from Daudet’s novel L’Évangéliste (1883) and was inspired by Daudet’s Numa Roumestan (1881) for his short story The Liar (1887). These few brief notebook entries, however, do not reveal much about Daudet’s role in James’s reworking of naturalist style, and further information should certainly be looked for elsewhere.

3In his 1882 essay, James wrote that Daudet was somehow more endowed than the common naturalist, as he displayed both great accuracy in the material observation – the typically French “faculty of seeing”– and an extraordinary sensibility to subjective impressions – described by James as “the faculty of feeling”. These two faculties blended so much in him that setting description and character construction often resulted as perfectly combined (Daugherty 1981, 66). In Daudet’s prose, James argued, “the ray of fancy, the tremor of feeling, always light[ed] up the picture” (James 1984 b, 217).

  • 2 In his 1882 essay James quotes a lengthy passage of Zola’s essay Une Campagne, where the latter exp (...)

4Daudet’s reluctance to leave aside ʻfeelingʼ to strictly adhere to the harsh tenets of the new French realism was particularly criticized by Émile Zola, who scolded his fellow writer for yielding to what he believed to be the trap of an old-fashioned sentimentalism. This was particularly evident when it came to Daudet’s description of his native land. As James noticed: “The Provence of Alphonse Daudet is a delightful land; even when the mistral blows there it has a music in its whistle. Émile Zola has protested against this; he too is of Provençal race, he passed his youth in the old Languedoc, and he intimates that his fanciful friend throws too much sweetness into the picture” (James 1984, 238).2 Very much at odds with Zola, James definitely believed that Daudet’s best works were indeed those where the latter had not fully surrendered to the naturalist dogmas: his earlier and shorter things, so much infused with those delicate and pleasing descriptions of his land. For James, these works contained “the cream of the author’s delicate and indescribable talent” (1984, 217).

  • 3 Vivien Jones pointed out that: “James frequently used his articles on Daudet to score unfair points (...)

5These opposing views on Daudet’s representation of Provence foreshadowed the much trickier question of a writer retaining provincial elements that contradicted the aesthetics theorized and practiced by Zola and his acolytes.3 As James put it, at his best Daudet managed to add poetry (‘the warmth of the Provençal element’) to a skilful representation of the crude aspects of reality. “M. Daudet,” he further argued, “never sees plain prose [and] discovers everywhere the shimmer and murmur of the poetic” (James 1984b, 217). This poetic element preserved Daudet’s works from falling into the boring and stifling prescriptions of metropolitan naturalism. In spite of criticizing an excessive tendency to flatter the reader at any cost with beautiful impressions (another Provençal trait, for James), the American writer concluded that Daudet’s works offered a larger perspective on life which, unlike Zola’s or the Goncourts’, was not ideologically tied and limited by the banlieue.

  • 4 This latter essay was reprinted in Partial Portraits (1888). After the publication of Roumestan, Ja (...)
  • 5 James repeatedly mentions this as a distinctive trait of Daudet’s personality in his He wrote: “[Da (...)

6James’s appreciation of what we may define as Daudet’s eccentric naturalism is particularly evident in his critique of Numa Roumestan, a novel which he discussed quite extensively in two essays (in the Atlantic Monthly 1882 and in the Century Magazine 1883)4 disclosing his predilection for this over other works by the French writer. For James, this novel successfully combined a merciless portrait of contemporary French society with an effective exploration of individual psychology, mixing the two tendencies that he recognized as constitutive of Daudet’s personality: Nordic reason (observation and analysis) and southern/Provençal temperament (poetic sensibility).5 “The beauty of Numa Roumestan,” James wrote “is that it has no hollow places; the idea and the picture melt everywhere into one”. And again “[this novel is] a masterpiece; it is really a perfect work; it has no weakness, no roughness; it is a compact and harmonious whole” (James 1984b, 224 and Daugherty 1981, 67).

  • 6 In The Golden Bowl, for instance, Maggie Verver is called to face a double disenchantment, involvin (...)

7Daudet’s novel offers a characterization that is strikingly Jamesian. The ambitious protagonist – a rising politician who starts by marrying the daughter of a “distinguished member of the French judiciary” (James 1984b, 226) – is a provincial featuring the same hypocritical innocence displayed by James’s American (male) parvenus with all their clumsy pretensions (Christopher Newman, Adam Verver etc.). But it is the characterization of women to elicit the clearest analogies: the protagonist’s wife (Rosalie Le Quesnoy), for instance, features a psychological complexity and a moral endurance equalling those of James’s ‘Puritan’ heroines (Isabel Archer, Maggie Verver).6 If we stick to the textual evidence of his 1883 literary essay, we notice that the American novelist was particularly impressed by Rosalie’s sister, the young Hortense Le Quesnoy. This is of utmost interest as the appreciative remarks on this character seem to be first of all a way for James to discuss and affirm once again his divergence from Zola regarding the question of Daudet’s sentimental element.

8James dwells extensively on Zola’s critique of the episode when the wealthy and educated young Hortense falls in love with the penniless and rather dull southern tambourine-man Valmajour. Zola called this episode “an example of the folly of a departure from consistent realism” on Daudet’s part, deeming it an invention made to “please the ladies” and a downright “violation of nature”. James had an entirely different view, and found this episode “perfectly conceivable, and […] treated with admirable delicacy” (1984b, 227). To him, it was

much more natural that a girl of the temper and breeding that M. Daudet has described should take a momentary fancy to a prepossessing young rustic, bronzed by the sun of Provence (even if it be conceded that his soul was vulgar), than that she should fasten her affections upon a ‘lyric artist,’ suspected of pomatum and paint, and illuminated by the footlights. (1984b, 227).

9James’s reply to Zola occupies a lengthy part of the essay and is telling of his interest in rehabilitating Hortense as a well-rounded character, in the face of the naturalist’s implicitly misogynist dismissal of the young woman as some sort of instinct-driven puppet, who should only be sensitive to money, fame and superficial status symbols. What Zola believed to be a flaw in Daudet’s novel, became instead for James a strong point and an evidence of Zola’s limited understanding of women’s psychology and, more generally, of human passions.

“A Certain Innocent Perversity of Mind”: the Naturalist as a Consumptive Young Woman in Daudet’s Numa Roumestan

10James’s defense of the plausibility of Hortense’s attraction for Valmajour does not seem to be motivated only by an intention to expose Zola’s prejudices, but also moves from a heartfelt admiration for Daudet’s skilled construction of a thinking woman character. In James’s words, Hortense retains nothing of the innocent-girl-gone-astray type described by Zola, and features instead a complex and rather unpredictable personality. James describes her as “young, charming, imaginative, romantic, marked out for a malady of the chest, and with a certain innocent perversity of mind” (my italics, James 1984b, 226). Endowed with a “reckless and impulsive” temperament, in the novel Hortense is humiliated by sordid blackmailing (Valmajour’s sister decides to take advantage of a picture incautiously signed and given by Hortense to her brother) which leads her into a “rapid consumption”. No one would fail to recognize the relevance of such a plot outline for James, who immortalized the figure of the deceived ailing young woman (inspired by the death of his beloved cousin Minnie Temple) in some of his best works, including the late novel The Wings of the Dove, where the protagonist Milly Theale, a wealthy American girl suffering from an unspecified deathly illness, falls victim of the greed of those she believed to be friends.

  • 7 There are no recent comprehensive assessments on Daudet’s influence on James’stion. For a general o (...)
  • 8 For the contrast between the ‘objective’ Zola and the ‘subjective’ Daudet see Roger Williams (1981, (...)

11While it is impossible to know whether Daudet’s Hortense had any sort of influence on James’s construction of Milly Theale,7 the comparative analysis of the characterization and function of the figure of the ‘doomed young woman’in the two novels (Numa Roumestan and The Wings of the Dove) seems to give interesting information about their authors’similar dissociation from the tenet of strict objectivity theorized and prescribed by Zola. My intention here is to underline how, in both novels, this figure allows for a poeticization of an originally naturalist plot, which re-opens the question of human subjectivity and morality in a grimy world dominated by necessity and interest. More specifically, the recording consciousness of the young woman fated to a premature death becomes a fictional space which enables and fosters the subjective reflection on the final questions posed by a materialist and deterministic vision of reality.8

  • 9 The reader does not know yet that Hortense is going to die within a year of the same phthisis which (...)

12What makes Hortense particularly interesting in Numa Roumestan is the growing perceptiveness she develops along with the advance of her malady. This can be traced in the lengthy section in the middle of the novel (Chapters XI-XII) dedicated to Hortense’s experience in the Alpine sanatorium of Arvillard. By employing the first-person mode of the epistolary diary (which the young woman addresses to her sister),9 Daudet gives the reader access to Hortense’s inner life and traces her transformation into an outstanding observer – capable of making extremely detailed and objective reports on the social microcosm at the watering place. See, for instance, the impressive classification of human types Hortense makes by comparing the various way patients make inhalations:

Je te dirai, ma chérie, que tout le monde n’inhale pas de la même façon. Ainsi le vieux monsieur que j’ai en face de moi en ce moment suit à la lettre les prescriptions du médecin, je les reconnais toutes. Les pieds sur un tabouret, la poitrine en avant, effaçons les coudes, et la bouche toujours ouverte pour faciliter l’aspiration. Pauvre cher homme! Comme il aspire, avec quelle confiance, quels petits yeux ronds, dévots et crédules qui semblent dire à la source: “Ô source d’Arvillard, guéris-moi bien, vois comme je t’aspire, comme j’ai foi en toi…”. Puis nous avons le sceptique qui inhale sans inhaler, le dos tourné, en haussant les épaules et considérant le plafond. Puis les découragés, les vrais malades qui sentent l’inutilité et le néant de tout ça; une pauvre dame, ma voisine, que je vois après chaque quinte porter vivement son doigt à la bouche, regarder si le gant ne s’est pas piqué au bout d’un point rouge. (Daudet [1881] 1919, 186)

  • 10 Like Zola and the Goncourts, Daudet paid frequent visits to hospitals in order to collect informati (...)

13A sign of her determination to live, Hortense’s extraordinary talent for inhaling (“Personne ici n’inhale autant que moi, c’est-à-dire que je suis un vrai phénomène”, 186) also symbolizes her ability to take in and register an incredible amount of reality compared to what other people can do. The young woman is so methodical in observing and taking notes for her diary (which she refers to as “vrais journaux”) that she almost rivals with the most scrupulous naturalist intent in compiling his infamous dossiers.10 The metanarrative value of her apparently innocent note-taking becomes clear in a later entry of her diary, where she writes: “Ça, c’est mon banc, le coin où je m’isole pour rêver, faire mes romans car, chose étonnante, pour bien inventer, développer […], il ne me faut pas des larges horizons. Quand c’est trop grand, je me perds, je m’éparpille, va te promener” (Daudet [1881] 1919, 200-201). By significantly referring to her dossiers as “my novels” (“mes romans”), Hortense implicitly acts as spokesperson for Daudet’s particular aesthetics – an aesthetics which employs the young woman’s physical and psychological isolation as a privileged point of view on the world that surrounds her.

14The most impressive part of Hortense’s diary is the report of a walk to the spring of the healing waters of the little Alpine village. If Zola found the description of the Provençal landscape in the book too sweetened for the standards of the naturalist, one has also reason to believe that the description of the surroundings of the small Alpine town in the Savoy might have matched his tastes. In this section, we find Hortense descending into a sort of dark gorge unexpectedly encountered in the midst of an idyllic place (“les Alpes bleues”). There, “at the threshold of several wretched houses,” she sees “horrible male or female dwarfs with flat, stupid faces, with open mouths, muttering, and displaying a hideous goitre”. This is a place where “nature is too strong for men” (Daudet 1919, 84) and which elicits a comparison with Dante’s hell, clearly exemplifying, in a very naturalist fashion, a godless, materialistic universe where human beings desperately strive to survive.

15Instead of running away from this spectacle of human suffering, however, Hortense lingers to study one of the little victims of goitre and his family, almost mesmerized by the reflection of a silver coin received as alms on the boy’s forehead. The young woman is so impressed by the entanglement of physical suffering and material poverty that she almost starts questioning her own privileged position as a rich bather among the poor inhabitants of the Alpine village. In other words, she realizes that money is the great motor of human life, recognizing its power not only among the lowest of the lowest (the deformed inhabitants in the gorge), but also among all the other people around her in Arvillard.

À se demander vraiment ce que les habitants deviennent pendant la saison. Campent-ils en troupeaux sur les montagnes environnantes, ou bien vont-ils vivre à l’hôtel à cinquante francs par jour? Cela m’étonnerait, car il me semble terriblement rapace cet aimant qu’ils ont dans l’oeil quand ils regardent le baigneur – quelque chose qui luit et qui accroche. Et ce luisant-là, l’éclair brusque sur le front de mon petit goitreux, le reflet de sa pièce blanche, je le retrouve partout. Dans les lunettes du petit médecin frétillant qui m’ausculte tous les matins, dans l’oeil des bonnes dames doucereuses vous invitant à visiter leurs maisons, leurs petits jardins bien commodes, remplis de trous pleins d’eau et de cuisines au rez-de-chaussée pour des appartements au troisième étage, dans l’oeil des voituriers en blouses courtes, chapeaux cirés à grands rubans, qui vous font signe du haut de leurs corricolos de louage, dans le regard du petit ânier debout devant l’écurie large ouverte où remuent de longues oreilles, même dans celui des ânes, oui, dans ce grand regard d’entêtement et de douceur, cette dureté de métal que donne l’amour de l’argent, je l’ai vue, elle existe. (Daudet 1919, 200-201)

16Unaware that she will never recover from consumption, Hortense has some sort of momentary glimpse of the deadly blow that the sordid blackmail carried out by Valmajour’s sister will inflict to her, as she writes to her sister: “I have seen the metallic harshness that the love of money gives: it is real” (Daudet 1890, 85).

17What is particularly striking is that, in spite of her extreme dislike for those (naturalist?) novels that crudely depict life as it is – she writes to Rosalie: “Quant à moi, tu sais que les romans ne sont pas mon affaire, surtout ces romans de maintenant où tout se passe comme dans la vie” (Daudet 1919, 186) – Hortense ironically ends up producing some very accomplished work of the same sort. Her detailed observations, however, are only apparently detached and methodical like the naturalists’, as the young woman is continuously sidetracked by her juvenile vitality and openness to wonderment. Full of romantic enthusiasm, Hortense almost flirts with the horrible reality she is observing, showing at the same time the detachment of the scientist and the involvement of the participant observer. This complex entanglement of contrasting reactions anticipates the development of a plot, which sees the young woman herself becoming indeed part of the picture, doomed as she is to suffer and die of both physical illness (consumption) and human cruelty (the humiliation caused by Valmajour’s sister’s blackmailing).

18My argument is that in Numa Roumestan, the merciless report on disease, poverty, and social injustice provided by Hortense’s dossier resists the spectacularization often associated with naturalists’objective representation of reality, as this report is primarily used as a device to enhance the characterization of the young woman as a thinking subjectivity and to convey the feeling of her individual tragedy. Instead of dissecting the patient, in other words, Daudet has the patient dissect reality, playing with the boundaries between objectivity (the mere emphasis on biology, heredity and environment) and subjectivity (their elaborate reflection in a recording consciousness).

“Her Only Companion Must Be Human Race… This Was the Real Thing:” Milly Theale and the Plight of Determinism in the Wings of the Dove

  • 11 As James himself observed in the Preface to the New York Edition, this chapter represents the pivot (...)

19I will now compare Daudet’s narration of Hortense’s walk in Arvillard with James’s narration of Milly Theale’s walk in London in Book Five of The Wings of the Dove.11

20After a strange conversation on the status of her illness with her enigmatic doctor Luke Strett, which leaves her baffled and confused, Milly feels a sudden “impulse” to dive both physically and psychologically into a world entirely unfamiliar to her, and embarks on a first-hand exploration of what she describes as the “human race at large,” which she has never had the chance to know before. The young woman enthusiastically throws herself in what she now perceives to be her new element, the “grey immensity” of the British capital, exploring quarters made of long rows of houses where the light never arrives and taking “by-ways” and “side-streets,” where she could meet some real members of the lower classes (those more involved in the struggle for life) who stimulate her curiosity: “grimy children and costermongers’ carts, which she hoped were slums” (James 1997, 153-55).

  • 12 For an analysis of naturalist characters as both observer and actors of determinism, see June Howar (...)

21Detouring from the respectable paths she has previously travelled with her overtly scrupulous friends, Susie Stringham or Kate Croy, who try for different reasons to preserve her from being in contact with the crudest aspects of reality and with the very fact of human suffering, Milly feels like facing some sort of military “initiation,” preparing herself to see “wonderments in truth”. Although short and quite uneventful, this detour stands out in the novel as the main episode where the protagonist ponders on the romantic delusion of a universe determined by free will (“the question of living […] by volition”).12 By penetrating into Regent’s Park, which she only saw from the outside riding safely in a coach with Kate, Milly has the impression of finally seeing “the real thing”: she suddenly realizes that hundreds of people live as if caged in a “box, their great common anxiety” and begins to feel part of this vast social body hampered by forces that go beyond human possibilities. She also realizes that, like many other people, she has “digest [ed] information” which nourishes the cruel illusion that to live one only needs the power of will. For a small precious instant Milly has an intense and piercing perception of human misery (“the blessed old truth”) and feels tied to the whole of humanity, but in an “inspiringly impersonal” manner, behind which we can recognize the common subjection to mortality – the only thing that binds all human beings together in spite of their differences. (James 1997, 153-155)

22The absence of filtering agents (Susie, Kate) to sweeten reality for her in this scene leaves the heroine with a very “practical question” about the contradiction intrinsic to a deterministic vision of the world (“the grimbreathing space”): how is one to live when actually deprived of the very possibility to (exercise one’s will to) live? While this existential question receives no answer, the novel comes up with an allusive, cynical anticipation about Milly’s future: in order to get a place among all those other people marked by necessity – in order to find the “company” she really longs for – she would have to pay a “fee,” perhaps a metaphoric allusion to the opportunist scheme conceived by Kate and Merton to get money from her after her death (James 1997, 153-55).

  • 13 Chris Brown has shown the futility of Milly’s walk, analysing it in both spatial and epistemologica (...)
  • 14 According to Bell, Milly would represent an “anti-naturalist heroine” (1991, 302). For a masterful (...)

23Now, similarly to Daudet in Numa Roumestan (and yet relying on a ‘more distancing’ third person narrative), in this novel James explores the consciousness of a doomed young woman who is desperately determined to live, while she is delving into human and material landscape fashioned in naturalist and deterministic terms. There are both analogies and differences which deserve to be discussed. While Hortense’s exploration of how the other half lives is characterized by an overtly visual emphasis on physical suffering (deformity), Milly’s remains decidedly confined to the dimension of a solipsistic adventure, where proper vision is replaced by a feeling of awkwardness and clumsiness which highlight the limits of her investigation.13 Although the proverbial Jamesian reticence might have played a role here, the suspension of Milly on the very brink of an actual immersion (even only visual) into a naturalist-fashioned landscape seems to be principally used to enhance the sense of incorporeal solitude in which she is condemned to live.14

24These two passages feature an important common denominator, however. They both undermine the very concept of objectivity by staging an experiment in observation, whose only purpose is that of investigating the observer’s recording consciousness (and of the individual tragedy it reflects) rather than the observed object. The emphasis is never on what these young women actually see, but on the elaborate representation they make. This aesthetics – whose melodramatic implications are skillfully kept at bay by both novelists, as they focus on these women’s extraordinary mental activity rather than on their sympathizing reactions towards the poverty and sorrow around them – seems to be specifically designed to dismantle the implicit hierarchical boundaries between the observer and the observed in naturalist ‘scientific’ approach. Even the subtle anticipation of their ‘fall’ seems to be used to further enhance this sort of dismantling.

25‘The innocent perversity of mind’ James ascribed to Hortense and perhaps reworked for his Milly Theale, thus, would be nothing but the perfect definition of an eccentric sort of naturalism which holds the subjective experience of the clash between hard facts and human desire as the ultimate object of interest for the modern novelist who aims at giving the most accurate picture of reality. In Daudet’s Numa Roumestan James probably found a perfect exemplification of a novel skilfully balanced between deterministic underpinnings and humanist concerns.

26To conclude, let us go back to James’s critical essays. James praised Daudet’s typically Provençal (and provincial) ability to ‘light up’ the representation of reality through poetry. His poetic touch consisted largely in a continuous attention to subjective impressions – something which set his work apart from that of the average metropolitan naturalist. In Daudet’s eccentric production James found inspiration to create a new narrative aesthetics, which privileged the subjective experience of determinism over its objective description.

27For James, in fact, the task of the novelist was not to describe life, but to convey its feeling or impression. In the renowned essay “The Art of Fiction”, published at the beginning of his middle-phase period (1884), he wrote: “A novel is in its broadest definition a personal, a direct impression of life: that, to begin with, constitutes its value, which is greater or less according to the intensity of the impression” and “as people feel life, so they will feel the art that is most closely related to it” (James 1984a, 50 and 58).

28In the concluding lines of his 1897 essay, the American writer returned on the same subject, praising again Daudet’s impressionism as a higher instrument to explore reality, and wrote: “[Daudet] was as warm as the south wall of a garden or as the flushed fruit that grows there. Of all the consummate artists he was the most natural. Every impression he gave out passed through the imagination, but only to take from it more of common truth” (1984b, 257).


Bell, Millicent. 1991. Meaning in Henry James. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Brown, Chris. 1993. “Milly Theale’s London”. The Henry James Review 14(2): 215-22.

Daudet, Alphonse. [1881] 1890. Behind a Mask Or, Numa Roumestan, transl. Virginia Champlin. Chicago: Rand McNally.

—. [1881] 1919. Numa Roumestan: Moeurs Parisiennes. Paris: Fasquelle Éditeurs,.

Daugherty, Sarah B. 1981. The Literary Criticism of Henry James. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Horne, Philip, ed., 1999. Henry James. A Life in Letters. New York: Viking.

Howard, June. 2009. Form and History in American Literary Naturalism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

James, Henry. 1984a. Literary Criticism: Essays on Literature, American Writers, English Writers. Ed. Leon Edel. New York: Library of America.

—. 1984b. Literary Criticism: French writers, Other European Writers, The Prefaces. Ed. Leon Edel. New York: Library of America.

—. 1993. Collected Travel Writings. Ed. Richard Howard. New York: Library of America.

—. [1902] 1997. The Wings of The Dove. Eds. John D. Crowley and Richard A. Hocks. New York: Norton,

Jones, Vivien. 1985. James the Critic. London: MacMillan.

Moore, Olin H. 1916. “The Naturalism of Alphonse Daudet”. Modern Philology 14(3): 157-72.

Powers, Lyall H. 1979. “James’s Debt to Alphonse Daudet”. Comparative Literature 24(2): 150-62.

Williams, Roger. 1981. The Horror of Life. Chicago: Chicago University Press.


1 In his travel book A Little Tour of France, James often mentioned Daudet while commenting on his visit to various Provençal towns like Tarascon, Arles, or Nîmes. James wrote four essays on Daudet, which appeared in The Galaxy (1875), The Atlantic Monthly (1882), The Century Magazine (1883, repr. in Partial Portraits, 1888) and Literature (1897). He also wrote the Preface to Harper’s English edition of Port Tarascon: The Last Adventures of the Illustrious Tartarin (1890), as well as a variety of letters where he discussed his appreciation of the French novelist. For an analysis of James’s criticism on Daudet see Daugherty (1981, 66-70) and Jones (1984, 82-88).

2 In his 1882 essay James quotes a lengthy passage of Zola’s essay Une Campagne, where the latter explained his reserve against Daudet’s description of Provence in Numa Roumestan, a novel that he otherwise very much admired (James 1984b, 218-219).

3 Vivien Jones pointed out that: “James frequently used his articles on Daudet to score unfair points against Zola” (1985, 85).

4 This latter essay was reprinted in Partial Portraits (1888). After the publication of Roumestan, James’s opinion of Daudet began to change. James did not like Daudet’s later work, finding it ‘base’. In a 1888 letter to Frederic William Henry Myers, he complained about having failed to give a more complete (that is, more negative) view of Daudet in his book Partial Portraits (Horne 1999, 210).

5 James repeatedly mentions this as a distinctive trait of Daudet’s personality in his He wrote: “[Daudet] has the advantage of being a Provençal converted, as it were – of having a Southern temperament and a Northern reason” (James 1984b, 232-333). Another passage: “With the light, warm, frank Provençal element of him, [Daudet] is, in his completeness, a product of the great French city” (1984b, 222).

6 In The Golden Bowl, for instance, Maggie Verver is called to face a double disenchantment, involving both her fascinating husband and her beloved father – very much like Rosalie does in Numa Roumestan.

7 There are no recent comprehensive assessments on Daudet’s influence on James’stion. For a general overview, see Lyall H. Powers’s ‘James’s Debt to Alphonse Daudet’ (1972), an article that focuses mostly on the comparative study of L’évangéliste and The Bostonians.

8 For the contrast between the ‘objective’ Zola and the ‘subjective’ Daudet see Roger Williams (1981, 275). Olin H. Moore pointed out that “Not only was Daudet influenced, like the Romanticists, by the glamour of the dead past, but he felt a certain antipathy toward the scientific determinism that is the very root of naturalism” (1916, 43).

9 The reader does not know yet that Hortense is going to die within a year of the same phthisis which had previously killed her brother. The gravity of her illness is revealed only in Ch. xii by Dr. Bouchereau, a character who also appears in Le Rois en exil and L’évangéliste and was probably inspired by J.M. Charcot, one of the founding fathers of psychology and modern neurology (Moore 1916, 33).

10 Like Zola and the Goncourts, Daudet paid frequent visits to hospitals in order to collect information to rework for his writing (Moore 1916, 33).

11 As James himself observed in the Preface to the New York Edition, this chapter represents the pivot of the novel, as it is the only one to provide full-fledged access to Milly’s consciousness (1997,15-16).

12 For an analysis of naturalist characters as both observer and actors of determinism, see June Howard’s recent book on American literary naturalism. Rejecting Lukács’s distinction between the active observer (Scott, Balzac, Tolstoy) and the passive spectator (Flaubert, Zola), Howard argues that in many naturalist texts the active observer who attempts to intervene is doomed to lose his/her privileged position and to fall victim of deterministic impotence; such theory, however, does not include James (Howard 2009, 20 and 125-26).

13 Chris Brown has shown the futility of Milly’s walk, analysing it in both spatial and epistemological terms: “Her rough, unknowing circle is suggestive. It implies that her attempt to live by the volition that the walk represents is futile, will get her nowhere. [...] Her tour of the “unknown streets” of London’s poor […] has flaunted her ephemeral strength; she now communes with the unemployed loiterers in the park, seeing her physical weakness as akin to their financial plight. […]. It is one of the moving occasions of the novel as, for a brief period, Milly confronts rather than eschews the social facts of London” (1993, 219).

14 According to Bell, Milly would represent an “anti-naturalist heroine” (1991, 302). For a masterful reading of the naturalist plot in The Wings of the Dove see her book Meaning in Henry James (289-323). In both James and Daudet the female heroines doomed to die are more or less directly involved in the resolution of the love-plots around them: Hortense’s death drives Rosalie back to Numa, while Milly’s death helps Densher and Kate in questioning the foundations of their relationship.


He holds a PhD from Università Ca’Foscari Venezia, where is currently Lecturer of Anglo-American Literature and American Studies. His main area of research is late 19th century American literature and culture. He is the author of the book Collecting and Appreciating: Henry James and the Transformation of Aesthetics in the Age of Consumption, (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2010).