Published a few years before the great novels of James’s so-called late style, characterized by rhetorical complexity, “The Real Thing” is interesting as an example of its author’s successful use of the “popular” style to convey the more serious meanings already discussed.
The story moves quickly, gracefully, with an elegant, precise prose recalling the sparkle of James’s earlier works such as Daisy Miller (1879) and The Portrait of a Lady (1881). The first-person narration is successful in establishing a central point of view—James’s trademark—while maintaining the lively, spontaneous tone. Additionally, by allowing the artist to speak for himself, James brings his dilemma into sharper focus, making it a personal drama rather than a dry monologue or a mere critique of aesthetic theory disguised as a story. The artist’s personality is keenly felt—his wit, his compassion, even his delusion of someday capturing the real thing.
Finally, and characteristically, the story is marked by an intriguing use of names, an almost Dickensian exuberance and unabashed simplicity. The name “Monarch” is obviously suggestive. So, too, is the grossly discordant “Churm” and the shallow flashiness of “Oronte.” The name of the artist’s friend, Claude Rivet, suggests the iron-bound commercialism by which the Monarchs are judged. Even the title of the novel for which the artist is providing illustrations, Rutland Ramsey, suggests a mild parody of James’s own first novel of artists in Rome, Roderick Hudson (1876).