tutorial commentary, study resources, plot, and web links
The Sweetheart of M. Briseux first appeared in The Galaxy magazine for June 1873. It was not reprinted until 1919 as part of Travelling Companions along with six other early Henry James stories, published by Boni and Liveright in New York.
Portrait of a Lady in a Yellow Shawl
The Sweetheart of M. Briseux – critical commentary
This is one of many stories James wrote about art and artists – particularly painters. The premise of the tale is simple enough, and represents a traditionally romantic view of art. Harold Staines is handsome and rich, but he lacks artistic talent. M. Briseux on the other hand is poor and unsuccessful – but he has both artistic insight and skill. Briseux is also a man of principle who turns down an offer of money in order to complete the portrait. The poor but talented artist is something of a cliché which has had a persistently vigorous life ever since it first came into being.
It is echoed here by the complementary cliché of the woman who chooses the poor hero over the rich wastrel. The woman in the portrait refuses Harold Staines when he challenges her, and throws her lot in with the poor Briseux instead. She thereby loses her comfortable position within the Staines family, and is forced to go back to her (poorer) home.
The Sweetheart of M. Briseux – study resources
The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon UK
The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon US
Complete Stories 1864—1874 – Library of America – Amazon UK
Complete Stories 1864—1874 – Library of America – Amazon US
The Cambridge Companion to Henry James – Amazon UK
Henry James at Wikipedia – biographical notes, links
Henry James at Mantex – tutorials, biography, study resources
The Sweetheart of M. Briseux – plot summary
An un-named narrator is looking at paintings in the museum of a French provincial town. The gallery has acquired The Lady with a Yellow Shawl, an impressive work by the best-known local artist, Briseux. The narrator sees a woman in the gallery looking at the picture very intently, and suspects her to be the original subject of the portrait. Later in the day he meets her in the town and she tells him her story, which forms the remainder of the narrative,
She has lived under the protection of Mrs Lucretia Staines, an old friend of her mother. Mrs Staines has a handsome but shiftless son Harold, who decides to become an artist. They all travel to Rome, where he makes copies of old masters. Then he proposes to her, which at first is a delight to her, but then becomes a burden. Mrs Staines however approves the match.
They move on to Paris, where Harold makes copies in the Louvre, The woman delays the marriage, but then challenges him to paint her portrait, after which she promises to settle a date. Harold struggles with the portrait, and one day whilst he is absent from his studio during a sitting, the young painter Briseux appears and denounces the painting as rubbish.
He is hungry and destitute, but very confident about his own talent. She offers to give him money, but instead he finishes off the portrait.
Harold returns and is angry at this interference with his ‘work’: He tells her to leave the studio, but she sees the shabby figure of Briseux as a positive saviour, and that of the handsome Harold as a negative life force. She refuses to move. Harold says she must chose between them: she chooses Briseux, who then finishes off the painting.
She parts from the Staines family and goes back home. Briseux exhibits the picture at the Paris salon and it is deemed a masterpiece which establishes his reputation.
The Sweetheart of M. Briseux – principal characters
|the un-named American outer narrator
|an un-named woman who is the subject of the painting
|a poor French painter
|Mrs Lucretia Staines
|a disappointed widow
|her handsome but untalented son
Henry James – portrait by John Singer Sargeant
Theodora Bosanquet, Henry James at Work, University of Michigan Press, 2007.
F.W. Dupee, Henry James: Autobiography, Princeton University Press, 1983.
Leon Edel, Henry James: A Life, HarperCollins, 1985.
Philip Horne (ed), Henry James: A Life in Letters, Viking/Allen Lane, 1999.
Henry James, The Letters of Henry James, Adamant Media Corporation, 2001.
Fred Kaplan, Henry James: The Imagination of Genius, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999
F.O. Matthieson (ed), The Notebooks of Henry James, Oxford University Press, 1988.
Elizabeth Allen, A Woman’s Place in the Novels of Henry James London: Macmillan Press, 1983.
Ian F.A. Bell, Henry James and the Past, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1993.
Millicent Bell, Meaning in Henry James, Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 1993.
Harold Bloom (ed), Modern Critical Views: Henry James, Chelsea House Publishers, 1991.
Kirstin Boudreau, Henry James’s Narrative Technique, Macmillan, 2010.
J. Donald Crowley and Richard A. Hocks (eds), The Wings of the Dove, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1978.
Victoria Coulson, Henry James, Women and Realism, Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Daniel Mark Fogel, A Companion to Henry James Studies, Greenwood Press, 1993.
Virginia C. Fowler, Henry James’s American Girl: The Embroidery on the Canvas, Madison (Wis): University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.
Jonathan Freedman, The Cambridge Companion to Henry James, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Judith Fryer, The Faces of Eve: Women in the Nineteenth Century American Novel, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976
Roger Gard (ed), Henry James: The Critical Heritage, London: Routledge, 1968.
Tessa Hadley, Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure, Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Barbara Hardy, Henry James: The Later Writing (Writers & Their Work), Northcote House Publishers, 1996.
Richard A. Hocks, Henry James: A study of the short fiction, New York: Twayne Publishers, 1990.
Donatella Izzo, Portraying the Lady: Technologies of Gender in the Short Stories of Henry James, University of Nebraska Press, 2002.
Colin Meissner, Henry James and the Language of Experience, Cambridge University Press, 2009
John Pearson (ed), The Prefaces of Henry James, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.
Richard Poirer, The Comic Sense of Henry James, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967.
Hugh Stevens, Henry James and Sexuality, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Merle A. Williams, Henry James and the Philosophical Novel, Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Judith Woolf, Henry James: The Major Novels, Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Ruth Yeazell (ed), Henry James: A Collection of Critical Essays, Longmans, 1994.
Other works by Henry James
The Bostonians (1886) is a novel about the early feminist movement. The heroine Verena Tarrant is an ‘inspirational speaker’ who is taken under the wing of Olive Chancellor, a man-hating suffragette and radical feminist. Trying to pull her in the opposite direction is Basil Ransom, a vigorous young man from the South to whom Verena becomes more and more attracted. The dramatic contest to possess her is played out with some witty and often rather sardonic touches, and as usual James keeps the reader guessing about the outcome until the very last page.
What Masie Knew (1897) A young girl is caught between parents who are in the middle of personal conflict, adultery, and divorce. Can she survive without becoming corrupted? It’s touch and go – and not made easier for the reader by the attentions of an older man who decides to ‘look after’ her. This comes from the beginning of James’s ‘Late Phase’, so be prepared for longer and longer sentences. In fact it’s said that whilst composing this novel, James switched from writing longhand to using dictation – and it shows if you look carefully enough – part way through the book.
Buy the book at Amazon UK
Buy the book at Amazon US
The Ambassadors (1903) Lambert Strether is sent from America to Paris to recall Chadwick Newsome, a young man who is reported to be compromising himself by an entanglement with a wicked woman. However, Strether’s mission fails when he is seduced by the social pleasures of the European capital, and he takes Newsome’s side. So a second ambassador is dispatched in the form of the more determined Sarah Pocock. She delivers an ultimatum which is resisted by the two young men, but then an accident reveals unpleasant truths to Strether, who is faced by a test of loyalty between old Europe and the new USA. This edition presents the latest scholarship on James and includes an introduction, notes, selected criticism, a text summary and a chronology of James’s life and times.
Buy the book at Amazon UK
Buy the book at Amazon US
Henry James – web links
Henry James at Mantex
Biographical notes, study guides, tutorials on the Complete Tales, book reviews. bibliographies, and web links.
The Complete Works
Sixty books in one 13.5 MB Kindle eBook download for £1.92 at Amazon.co.uk. The complete novels, stories, travel writing, and prefaces. Also includes his autobiographies, plays, and literary criticism – with illustrations.
The Ladder – a Henry James website
A collection of eTexts of the tales, novels, plays, and prefaces – with links to available free eTexts at Project Gutenberg and elsewhere.
A Hyper-Concordance to the Works
Japanese-based online research tool that locates the use of any word or phrase in context. Find that illusive quotable phrase.
The Henry James Resource Center
A web site with biography, bibliographies, adaptations, archival resources, suggested reading, and recent scholarship.
Online Books Page
A collection of online texts, including novels, stories, travel writing, literary criticism, and letters.
Henry James at Project Gutenberg
A major collection of eTexts, available in a variety of eBook formats.
The Complete Letters
Archive of the complete correspondence (1855-1878) work in progress – published by the University of Nebraska Press.
The Scholar’s Guide to Web Sites
An old-fashioned but major jumpstation – a website of websites and resouces.
Henry James – The Complete Tales
Tutorials on the complete collection of over one hundred tales, novellas, and short stories.
Henry James on the Internet Movie Database
Adaptations of James’s novels and stories for the cinema and television – in various languages. Full details of directors and actors, production features, film reviews, box office, and even quizzes.
© Roy Johnson 2013
More tales by James
More on literature
More on the novella
More on literary studies
More on short stories