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Henry James
The Real Thing 3
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It was for the elucidation of a mystery in one of these works that I
first tried Mrs. Monarch. Her husband came with her, to be useful if
necessary-- it was sufficiently clear that as a general thing he would
prefer to come with her. At first I wondered if this were for
"propriety's" sake-- if he were going to be jealous and meddling. The
idea was too tiresome, and if it had been confirmed it would speedily
have brought our acquaintance to a close. But I soon saw there was
nothing in it and that if he accompanied Mrs. Monarch it was (in
addition to the chance of being wanted), simply because he had
nothing else to do. When she was away from him his occupation was
gone-- she never HAD been away from him. I judged, rightly, that in
their awkward situation their close union was their main comfort and
that this union had no weak spot. It was a real marriage, an
encouragement to the hesitating, a nut for pessimists to crack.
Their address was humble (I remember afterwards thinking it had been
the only thing about them that was really professional), and I could
fancy the lamentable lodgings in which the Major would have been left
alone. He could bear them with his wife-- he couldn't bear them
without her.

He had too much tact to try and make himself agreeable when he
couldn't be useful; so he simply sat and waited, when I was too
absorbed in my work to talk. But I liked to make him talk-- it made
my work, when it didn't interrupt it, less sordid, less special. To
listen to him was to combine the excitement of going out with the
economy of staying at home. There was only one hindrance: that I
seemed not to know any of the people he and his wife had known. I
think he wondered extremely, during the term of our intercourse, whom
the deuce I DID know. He hadn't a stray sixpence of an idea to
fumble for; so we didn't spin it very fine-- we confined ourselves to
questions of leather and even of liquor (saddlers and breeches-makers
and how to get good claret cheap), and matters like "good trains" and
the habits of small game. His lore on these last subjects was
astonishing, he managed to interweave the station-master with the
ornithologist. When he couldn't talk about greater things he could
talk cheerfully about smaller, and since I couldn't accompany him
into reminiscences of the fashionable world he could lower the
conversation without a visible effort to my level.

So earnest a desire to please was touching in a man who could so
easily have knocked one down. He looked after the fire and had an
opinion on the draught of the stove, without my asking him, and I
could see that he thought many of my arrangements not half clever
enough. I remember telling him that if I were only rich I would
offer him a salary to come and teach me how to live. Sometimes he
gave a random sigh, of which the essence was: "Give me even such a
bare old barrack as THIS, and I'd do something with it!" When I
wanted to use him he came alone; which was an illustration of the
superior courage of women. His wife could bear her solitary second
floor, and she was in general more discreet; showing by various small
reserves that she was alive to the propriety of keeping our relations
markedly professional-- not letting them slide into sociability. She
wished it to remain clear that she and the Major were employed, not
cultivated, and if she approved of me as a superior, who could be
kept in his place, she never thought me quite good enough for an

She sat with great intensity, giving the whole of her mind to it, and
was capable of remaining for an hour almost as motionless as if she
were before a photographer's lens. I could see she had been
photographed often, but somehow the very habit that made her good for
that purpose unfitted her for mine. At first I was extremely pleased
with her lady-like air, and it was a satisfaction, on coming to
follow her lines, to see how good they were and how far they could
lead the pencil. But after a few times I began to find her too
insurmountably stiff; do what I would with it my drawing looked like
a photograph or a copy of a photograph. Her figure had no variety of
expression-- she herself had no sense of variety. You may say that
this was my business, was only a question of placing her. I placed
her in every conceivable position, but she managed to obliterate
their differences. 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. There were moments when I was oppressed by the
serenity of her confidence that she WAS the real thing. All her
dealings with me and all her husband's were an implication that this
was lucky for ME. Meanwhile I found myself trying to invent types
that approached her own, instead of making her own transform itself--
in the clever way that was not impossible, for instance, to poor Miss
Churm. Arrange as I would and take the precautions I would, she
always, in my pictures, came out too tall-- landing me in the dilemma
of having represented a fascinating woman as seven feet high, which,
out of respect perhaps to my own very much scantier inches, was far
from my idea of such a personage.

The case was worse with the Major-- nothing I could do would keep HIM
down, so that he became useful only for the representation of brawny
giants. I adored variety and range, I cherished human accidents, the
illustrative note; I wanted to characterise closely, and the thing in
the world I most hated was the danger of being ridden by a type. I
had quarrelled with some of my friends about it-- I had parted company
with them for maintaining that one HAD to be, and that if the type
was beautiful (witness Raphael and Leonardo), the servitude was only
a gain. I was neither Leonardo nor Raphael; I might only be a
presumptuous young modern searcher, but I held that everything was to
be sacrificed sooner than character. When they averred that the
haunting type in question could easily BE character, I retorted,
perhaps superficially: "Whose?" It couldn't be everybody's-- it
might end in being nobody's.

After I had drawn Mrs. Monarch a dozen times I perceived more clearly
than before that the value of such a model as Miss Churm resided
precisely in the fact that she had no positive stamp, combined of
course with the other fact that what she did have was a curious and
inexplicable talent for imitation. Her usual appearance was like a
curtain which she could draw up at request for a capital performance.
This performance was simply suggestive; but it was a word to the
wise-- it was vivid and pretty. Sometimes, even, I thought it, though
she was plain herself, too insipidly pretty; I made it a reproach to
her that the figures drawn from her were monotonously (betement, as
we used to say) graceful. Nothing made her more angry: it was so
much her pride to feel that she could sit for characters that had
nothing in common with each other. She would accuse me at such
moments of taking away her "reputytion."

It suffered a certain shrinkage, this queer quantity, from the
repeated visits of my new friends. Miss Churm was greatly in demand,
never in want of employment, so I had no scruple in putting her off
occasionally, to try them more at my ease. It was certainly amusing
at first to do the real thing-- it was amusing to do Major Monarch's
trousers. They WERE the real thing, even if he did come out
colossal. It was amusing to do his wife's back hair (it was so
mathematically neat,) and the particular "smart" tension of her tight
stays. She lent herself especially to positions in which the face
was somewhat averted or blurred; she abounded in lady-like back views
and profils perdus. When she stood erect she took naturally one of
the attitudes in which court-painters represent queens and
princesses; so that I found myself wondering whether, to draw out
this accomplishment, I couldn't get the editor of the Cheapside to
publish a really royal romance, "A Tale of Buckingham Palace."
Sometimes, however, the real thing and the make-believe came into
contact; by which I mean that Miss Churm, keeping an appointment or
coming to make one on days when I had much work in hand, encountered
her invidious rivals. The encounter was not on their part, for they
noticed her no more than if she had been the housemaid; not from
intentional loftiness, but simply because, as yet, professionally,
they didn't know how to fraternise, as I could guess that they would
have liked-- or at least that the Major would. They couldn't talk
about the omnibus-- they always walked; and they didn't know what else
to try-- she wasn't interested in good trains or cheap claret.
Besides, they must have felt-- in the air-- that she was amused at
them, secretly derisive of their ever knowing how. She was not a
person to conceal her scepticism if she had had a chance to show it.
On the other hand Mrs. Monarch didn't think her tidy; for why else
did she take pains to say to me (it was going out of the way, for
Mrs. Monarch), that she didn't like dirty women?

One day when my young lady happened to be present with my other
sitters (she even dropped in, when it was convenient, for a chat), I
asked her to be so good as to lend a hand in getting tea-- a service
with which she was familiar and which was one of a class that, living
as I did in a small way, with slender domestic resources, I often
appealed to my models to render. They liked to lay hands on my
property, to break the sitting, and sometimes the china-- I made them
feel Bohemian. The next time I saw Miss Churm after this incident
she surprised me greatly by making a scene about it-- she accused me
of having wished to humiliate her. She had not resented the outrage
at the time, but had seemed obliging and amused, enjoying the comedy
of asking Mrs. Monarch, who sat vague and silent, whether she would
have cream and sugar, and putting an exaggerated simper into the
question. She had tried intonations-- as if she too wished to pass
for the real thing; till I was afraid my other visitors would take

Oh, THEY were determined not to do this; and their touching patience
was the measure of their great need. They would sit by the hour,
uncomplaining, till I was ready to use them; they would come back on
the chance of being wanted and would walk away cheerfully if they
were not. I used to go to the door with them to see in what
magnificent order they retreated. I tried to find other employment
for them-- I introduced them to several artists. But they didn't
"take," for reasons I could appreciate, and I became conscious,
rather anxiously, that after such disappointments they fell back upon
me with a heavier weight. They did me the honour to think that it
was I who was most THEIR form. They were not picturesque enough for
the painters, and in those days there were not so many serious
workers in black and white. Besides, they had an eye to the great
job I had mentioned to them-- they had secretly set their hearts on
supplying the right essence for my pictorial vindication of our fine
novelist. They knew that for this undertaking I should want no
costume-effects, none of the frippery of past ages-- that it was a
case in which everything would be contemporary and satirical and,
presumably, genteel. If I could work them into it their future would
be assured, for the labour would of course be long and the occupation

One day Mrs. Monarch came without her husband-- she explained his
absence by his having had to go to the City. While she sat there in
her usual anxious stiffness there came, at the door, a knock which I
immediately recognised as the subdued appeal of a model out of work.
It was followed by the entrance of a young man whom I easily
perceived to be a foreigner and who proved in fact an Italian
acquainted with no English word but my name, which he uttered in a
way that made it seem to include all others. I had not then visited
his country, nor was I proficient in his tongue; but as he was not so
meanly constituted-- what Italian is?-- as to depend only on that
member for expression he conveyed to me, in familiar but graceful
mimicry, that he was in search of exactly the employment in which the
lady before me was engaged. I was not struck with him at first, and
while I continued to draw I emitted rough sounds of discouragement
and dismissal. 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. There was another picture in
the way he obeyed me, and I observed as I worked that there were
others still in the way he looked wonderingly, with his head thrown
back, about the high studio. He might have been crossing himself in
St. Peter's. Before I finished I said to myself: "The fellow's a
bankrupt orange-monger, but he's a treasure."

When Mrs. Monarch withdrew he passed across the room like a flash to
open the door for her, standing there with the rapt, pure gaze of the
young Dante spellbound by the young Beatrice. As I never insisted,
in such situations, on the blankness of the British domestic, I
reflected that he had the making of a servant (and I needed one, but
couldn't pay him to be only that), as well as of a model; in short I
made up my mind to adopt my bright adventurer if he would agree to
officiate in the double capacity. He jumped at my offer, and in the
event my rashness (for I had known nothing about him), was not
brought home to me. He proved a sympathetic though a desultory
ministrant, and had in a wonderful degree the sentiment de la pose.
It was uncultivated, instinctive; a part of the happy instinct which
had guided him to my door and helped him to spell out my name on the
card nailed to it. He had had no other introduction to me than a
guess, from the shape of my high north window, seen outside, that my
place was a studio and that as a studio it would contain an artist.
He had wandered to England in search of fortune, like other
itinerants, and had embarked, with a partner and a small green
handcart, on the sale of penny ices. The ices had melted away and
the partner had dissolved in their train. My young man wore tight
yellow trousers with reddish stripes and his name was Oronte. He was
sallow but fair, and when I put him into some old clothes of my own
he looked like an Englishman. He was as good as Miss Churm, who
could look, when required, like an Italian.

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