Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Lesson of the Master” is told in the characteristic manner of James’s middle years, without the notorious complexity of his late style. The sentences are relatively short, and the plot, on the surface, is easy to follow. However, nothing is straightforward in James. Indeed, the tale is steeped in irony and ambiguity; one might apply a statement that Overt makes about St. George’s work to James and this tale: “For one who looks at it from the artistic point of view it contains a bottomless ambiguity.”

The point of view is that of a third-person, omniscient narrator who concentrates on Overt’s thoughts and actions. The use of the narrator allows James to explore the relationship between the artist and an active social life without passing judgment on any of the primary or secondary characters. This technique alone casts a shadow of ambiguity over every aspect of the tale.

The plot is ironic and ambiguous in that St. George tells Overt not to marry Marian because it is clear that his decline is attributed to his marriage; then St. George, on the death of his first wife, marries Marian himself. The twist is that although St. George seems to have betrayed Overt, he has, in effect, sealed Overt’s future. Point of view is all-important here; it is not the events themselves that are important but how they are perceived.

The Lesson of the Master Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Anesko, Michael. “Friction with the Market”: Henry James and the Profession of Authorship. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Henry James. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

Dewey, Joseph, and Brooke Horvath, eds.“The Finer Thread, the Tighter Weave”: Essays on the Short Fiction of Henry James. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 2001.

Edel, Leon. Henry James: A Life. Rev. ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.

Graham, Kenneth. Henry James, a Literary Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

Habegger, Alfred. Henry James and the “Woman Business.” New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Harden, Edgard F. A Henry James Chronology. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Hocks, Richard A. Henry James: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1990.

Kaplan, Fred. Henry James: The Imagination of Genius. New York: William Morrow, 1992.

Lustig, T. J. Henry James and the Ghostly. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Martin, W. R., and Warren U. Ober. Henry James’s Apprenticeship: The Tales, 1864-1882. Toronto: P. D. Meany, 1994.

Nettels, Elsa. Language and Gender in American Fiction: Howells, James, Wharton, and Cather. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997.

Novick, Sheldon M. Henry James: The Young Master. New York: Random House, 1996.

Pollak, Vivian R., ed. New Essays on “Daisy Miller” and “The Turn of the Screw.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Rawlings, Peter. Henry James and the Abuse of the Past. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Tambling, Jeremy. Henry James. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.