Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Some significant quotes from "The Real Thing" surround the Monarchs. Here is one about Mrs. Monarch:
A glance at the lady helped to remind me of this paradoxical law: she also looked too distinguished to be a "personality."
She was always a lady certainly, and into the
bargain was always the same lady. She was the real thing, but always the same thing.
These quotes highlight the theme of artifice versus authenticity. The "lady" here is Mrs. Monarch. She is what the artist would describe as "the real thing," a woman whose very demeanor alludes to her station in life. However, Mrs. Monarch's ingrained habits of poise and personality make it difficult for her to produce the spontaneity needed to excel as an artist's model. Her lack of this particular skill is the main reason the artist releases her from his employ.
But, somehow, with all their perfections I didn't easily believe in them. After all they were amateurs, and the ruling passion of my life was the detestation of the amateur. Combined with this was another perversity—an innate preference for the represented subject over the real one: the defect of the real one was so apt to be a lack of representation.
Here, the artist reveals his own bias. He is awed by Major and Mrs. Monarch's obviously distinguished heritage. However, he believes this to be a disadvantage when it comes to art. The artist prefers to hire models who can titillate and exhibit romanticized poses with effortless grace. The Major and his wife, although naturally elegant, poised, and sophisticated, fail at artistic subterfuge. They are simply too practiced in their habits to act any other way. By contrasting the couple and the artist's favorite models, James raises an important question: can art be absolutely authentic?
He stood his ground, however, not importunately, but with a dumb, dog-like fidelity in his eyes which amounted to innocent impudence—the manner of a devoted servant (he might have been in the house for years), unjustly suspected. Suddenly I saw that this very attitude and expression made a picture, whereupon I told him to sit down and wait till I should be free . . . Before I finished I said to myself: "The fellow's a bankrupt orange-monger, but he's a treasure."
In this quote, the artist is referencing Oronte, the Italian vagabond-turned-model. Oronte's value is his ability to strike varied poses, each conveying spontaneity and a persuasive authenticity. Of course, Oronte is not really a devoted servant to an ungrateful master. However, he is able to portray the demeanor of a chagrined (faithful) servant to perfection. Oronte may not be the "real thing," but he can act like he is. Perhaps, James is suggesting that a better part of art is carefully engendered subterfuge portrayed as authenticity.