The Quaker City excursion of 1867, the world's first luxury cruise, which took about seventy passengers from New York City to Europe and the Holy Land, was one of the most famous journeys of the nineteenth century. The undertaking and the work that grew out of it, Mark Twain's travel book The Innocents Abroad; or, The New Pilgrims' Progress (1869), exemplify the interest of Americans in European travel in the years following the Civil War. The contrast set up by Mark Twain between the Vatican Museum, which stores up all that is curious and beautiful in art, and the American Patent Office, which hoards all that is curious or useful in mechanics, is emblematic of the backward-looking orientation of Europe and the forward-looking orientation of the United States. Interest in the museums of Europe and the idea of Europe itself as a vast museum were largely responsible for the surge in transatlantic travel after the hiatus occasioned by the Civil War, with the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1867 serving as a further incentive. The estimates were that Americans would spend $75 million in gold in Paris, and that by the end of the year America would have sent considerably over a hundred thousand persons to Europe.
The renewed interest in European travel strained the capacity of ships and promoted the building of larger and more powerful vessels in the ensuing years. The Quaker City, built in 1854, was an early ocean paddle-wheel steamer, a hybrid relying on steam locomotion as well as on fully rigged masts both fore and aft. The ship that figures in William Dean Howells's novel The Lady of the Aroostook (1879) is still a regular sailing vessel, which in 1874 takes six weeks to accomplish the journey from Boston to Trieste, "a sail in the offing [winning] the discoverer envy . . . ; a steamer, celebrity" (p. 94) Soon, however, English shipyards started building steamships with screw propellers and iron hulls, an improvement that greatly reduced the time of passage across the Atlantic. Passenger trade now was taken over almost entirely by the English Cunard and White Star Lines and the German Hapag-Lloyd. Competition among these lines for the Blue Ribbon, the prestigious award for the fastest ship, promoted the building of ever faster steamers. The ill-fated Titanic was a competitor for the trophy, the equally ill-fated Lusitania a holder of it for many years. Both liners took many American tourists to their graves.
Americans went to Europe for many reasons: as students and scholars, as artists, as art lovers, and as simple tourists; as writers, diplomats and businessmen. They favored England, Italy, France, Spain, and Greece but also visited southern Germany and Austria. There were American colonies in major cities such as London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Madrid, Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Dresden, and in such smaller university towns as Göttingen and Heidelberg. Available statistical data demonstrate the extent of American expatriation during the period. Christof Wegelin in his careful analysis of the correlation between social and literary developments presents the following figures for U.S. citizens returning to major east coast ports from overseas, which document a steep rise in transatlantic travel in the second half of the nineteenth century: 19,387 in 1860; 25,202 in 1870; 36,097 in 1880; 81,092 in 1890; 108,068 in 1900; 144,112 in 1901 (Wegelin, p. 307). The records kept by the American colony of students at Göttingen indicate that during the period from 1870 to 1888 there were an average of twenty students enrolled per semester, with a high of thirty-five in the Michaelmas term of 1878 (Buchloh and Rix, pp. 51f.). In 1872 Appleton's Journal reported a total of sixty thousand Americans living in Europe. In 1874 the American colony in Paris numbered between three thousand and four thousand people. Toward the end of the century Rome had a colony of about two thousand permanent residents and could claim a yearly average of thirty thousand American tourists (Neuweiler, p. 16). In Bern, in September 1873, watching the Cook's tourists come and go as in "the march-past of an army," Henry James felt he had been given "a lively impression of the numbers of people now living, and above all now moving, at extreme ease in the world" (Italian Hours, p. 94). The age of mass tourism had begun, and there was nothing to disturb its steady growth until the First World War and the sinking of the Lusitania. The war years saw many American volunteers for various Ambulance Services and Red Cross units—as well as large numbers of servicemen of the American Expeditionary Force—arrive in Europe.
TRAVEL LITERATURE AND THE INTERNATIONAL NOVEL
The literature that grew out of the experience of Americans abroad in the period from 1870 to 1920—the so-called international novel as a distinct American genre and the so-called international theme as a distinct American subject matter—is linked to the experience of its authors as short-term tourists, medium-term holders of diplomatic assignments, and long-term expatriates. In addition to being influenced by their respective experiences in different places and different countries, their work is shaped and affected by a number of earlier works by American as well as British authors that had attained the status of classics and had begun to be read by even the average tourist—in addition to the ubiquitous Baedeker—as guide books: Washington Irving's The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1820); Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun (1860); the works of Byron as well as the travel sketches of Nathaniel Parker Willis and Bayard Taylor. More important than such influences were the mutual responses of the chief proponents of the international theme to the writings of each other; in its totality their work can be read as an implicit intertextual dialog about Americanness. Regardless of which of the chief constituent elements of the international novel the emphasis is made to fall on—the American traveler or expatriate, the foreign setting, the representative of a foreign culture—the conflict dramatized is one between different manners or mores and serves to demonstrate what it is to be an American.
Although The Innocents Abroad is a travel book rather than a novel, it is difficult to detach Mark Twain (1835–1910) from William Dean Howells (1837–1920) and Henry James (1843–1916), the two younger fellow-realists who devoted a large part of their fiction to discussing the European experience. While it may not have cut "the umbilical cord" with Europe, as the critic Van Wyck Brooks once suggested (p. 156), it did mark a departure from "the usual style of travel-writing" in that it set out "to suggest to the reader how he would be likely to see Europe and the East if he looked at them with his own eyes instead of the eyes of those who travelled in those countries before him," as Mark Twain put it in his preface (p. v). The author's deliberate rejection of the traditional attitude of veneration for European culture transformed the pervasive comparison between America and Europe into an implicit and explicit quest for the defining features of the American and his nation as a major theme of The Innocents Abroad, the very theme that was to dominate the international novel in the decades to come.
WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS AND HENRY JAMES
Howells's favorable response to the work (in an anonymous review in the Atlantic Monthly) came from a man who had spent the years 1861 to 1864 as U.S. Consul in Venice and who on his part had warned the reader of his early travel sketches, Venetian Life (1866), that "he will hardly see the curtain rise upon just the Venice of his dreams—the Venice of Byron, of Rogers, and Cooper" (p. 11). With such experience and such response to the printed account of the experience of others, Howells was well prepared to write the earliest of his three international novels, A Foregone Conclusion (1874). In the first year of the Civil War, its protagonist, Henry Ferris, the American consul at Venice ("one of my many predecessors in office," as Howells remarks in an authorial intrusion [p. 3]), receives a visit from Don Ippolito, an Italian priest. Though he refuses Don Ippolito a visa, Ferris takes pity on the priest and recommends him to the expatriate widow Mrs. Vervain as a tutor of Italian for her seventeen-year-old daughter Florida. Ferris is attracted to Florida, a beautiful blue-eyed blonde, but her "attitudes of shy hauteur," "a touch of defiant awkwardness," and the "effort of proud, helpless femininity" keep him from confessing his interest in her (p. 19), and his own cynicism helps to preserve the distance. Don Ippolito becomes infatuated with the girl. When eventually she rejects his advances, Ferris is a witness to the scene; Ferris misreads her gesture of compassion for an embrace, just as he had earlier misinterpreted her proud look, a "temporary expression," and turned it into the dominant feature of a sketch he made of her. The novel was to have ended with Florida's rejection of the priest, but Howells was prevailed upon by the editors of the Atlantic Monthly to add a happy ending. So the author has Ferris and Florida meet and marry in America, the Vervain fortune that had enabled mother and daughter to lead their extended expatriate life in Europe now serving as their income. But Howells was careful to undercut the sentimental novel's traditional happy ending: "People are never equal to the romance of their youth in after life, except by fits" (p. 259). Such undercutting is in line with his treatment of the opinions of Mrs. Vervain, a "gracious, silly woman" (p. 254), who in her very first speech is made to compare the "too light altogether" Italian hotel breakfasts to "our American breakfasts" and the supposed Venetian duplicity to "our American fairdealing and sincerity" (p. 21). From the very beginning she sees Venice through the eyes of those who have traveled there before her; she finds the gondolas "gloomy things" (p. 22) and tries to remember Byron's term for their protective tops. The answer—"a coffin clapped in a canoe" (p. 23)—is readily supplied by Ferris who, half in jest, will often take up the tourist's habit of praising his native country: "There is no land like America for true cheerfulness and light-heartedness. Think of our Fourth of Julys and our State Fairs" (p. 164).
The reputation of A Foregone Conclusion as an international novel, as well as that of A Fearful Responsibility (1881)—which grew out of the same autobiographical material—is generally overshadowed by other works. Henry James's unqualified praise for the genial book argues for a prominent place in the history of the genre, but traditionally his own novels—The American (1877), The Europeans (1878), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), and The Ambassadors (1903), as well as his novella, Daisy Miller (1878)—take precedence in the canon.
The most famous of expatriate authors, James had begun to spend time in Europe even as a boy and visited Europe again in 1869 and 1872–1874. In late 1875 he settled in Paris; in 1876 he moved to London, becoming a British subject in 1915, a few months before his death in February 1916. The American, written in France and published in the Atlantic Monthly between June 1876 and May 1877, was long referred to as the first international novel and continues to be the best-known example of the genre. Although the author himself was to declare in hindsight that he had written a romance rather than the realistic novel he would have preferred to write, his use of the same kind of technique that Hawthorne had employed in The Marble Faun—aiming at what is typical rather than merely possible—is what accounts for its success with American readers. The novel dramatizes, in the author's own words, "the situation, in another country and an aristocratic society, of some robust and insidiously beguiled and betrayed, some cruelly wronged, compatriot: the point being in especial that he should suffer at the hands of persons pretending to represent the highest possible civilisation and to be of an order in every way superior to his own" (Art of the Novel, pp. 21f.) Writing The American thus was part of what James proclaimed to be one of the responsibilities of being an American: "fighting against a superstitious valuation of Europe" (Letters 1:274). Christopher Newman, the protagonist whose name points to his representative American identity, whose "sole aim in life had been to make money" (p. 533), has come to see Europe and to get the best out of it, including "a first-class wife . . . the best article in the market" (pp. 585, 549). A marriage is planned between him and Claire de Cintré, Newman's immense fortune gaining him acceptance by her aristocratic family. But finally the Bellegardes find that, however much they want his money, they cannot reconcile themselves to "a commercial person" (p. 758). Claire is put beyond his reach in a Carmelite convent, while Newman for a time savors the prospect of vengeance. Finally he vindicates himself by showing the "remarkable good nature" (p. 872) even his antagonists can discern in him: he burns the paper that contains the secret that he could have used to damn them. His magnanimity becomes "one of the large and easy impulses generally characteristic of his type" (Art of the Novel, p. 32)—James's own evaluation of the novel once more specifying Newman's archetypal Americanness, "the almost ideal completeness with which he filled out the national mould" (p. 516).
As with A Foregone Conclusion, the Atlantic Monthly (through Howells himself, now an editor) asked for a happy ending to The American. But James refused on the grounds of realism. Indeed, the romance contains sufficient realistic detail to temper its archetypes. On part of his traditional Grand Tour of Europe, for instance, Newman moves in the company of Benjamin Babcock, a Unitarian minister traveling on funds supplied by his New England congregation. Babcock's "high sense of responsibility" (p. 581) is used to offset Newman's easygoing, spontaneous enjoyment, while at the same time the attitude of this "saint" (Mark Twain's term for the reverent traveler) also throws into relief the basic naïveté of Newman's responses to the art and the mores of the Old World.
Long known as the "first international novel," Henry James's The American (1877), even in its first chapter, leaves no doubt that, though the novel is about the protagonist's experience of Europe, it is primarily about his identity as an American. The particular setting chosen for the opening scene, the Salon Carré in the Louvre in Paris, throws into relief salient points of his personality as he is sitting on the great circular divan staring at Murillo's beautiful moon-borne Madonna.
On a brilliant day in May, in the year 1868, a gentleman was reclining at his ease on the great circular divan which at the period occupied the centre of the Salon Carré, in the Museum of the Louvre. This commodious ottoman has since been removed, to the extreme regret of all weak-kneed lovers of the fine arts; but the gentleman in question had taken serene possession of its softest spot, and, with his head thrown back and his legs outstretched, was staring at Murillo's beautiful moon-borne Madonna in profound enjoyment of his posture. He had removed his hat, and flung down beside him a little red guide-book and an opera-glass. The day was warm; he was heated with walking, and he repeatedly passed his handkerchief over his forehead, with a somewhat wearied gesture. And yet he was evidently not a man to whom fatigue was familiar; long, lean, and muscular, he suggested the sort of vigor that is commonly known as "toughness." But his exertions on this particular day had been of an unwonted sort, and he had often performed great physical feats which left him less jaded than his tranquil stroll through the Louvre. He had looked out all the pictures to which an asterisk was affixed in those formidable pages of fine print in his Bädeker; his attention had been strained and his eyes dazzled, and he had sat down with an aesthetic headache. He had looked, moreover, not only at all the pictures, but at all the copies that were going forward around them, in the hands of those innumerable young women in irreproachable toilets who devote themselves, in France, to the propagation of masterpieces; and if the truth must be told, he had often admired the copy much more than the original. His physiognomy would have sufficiently indicated that he was a shrewd and capable fellow, and in truth he had often sat up all night over a bristling bundle of accounts, and heard the cock crow without a yawn. But Raphael and Titian and Rubens were a new kind of arithmetic, and they inspired our friend, for the first time in his life, with a vague self-mistrust.
An observer with anything of an eye for national types would have had no difficulty in determining the local origin of this undeveloped connoisseur, and indeed such an observer might have felt a certain humorous relish of the almost ideal completeness with which he filled out the national mould. The gentleman on the divan was a powerful specimen of an American.
James, The American, pp. 5f.
The same combination of innocence and naïveté—as it is perceived by the deracinated American expatriate Frederick Winterbourne—was to occupy James in Daisy Miller. The novella brought both its author and the "international theme" the highest possible degree of attention. Having been refused by Lippincott's Magazine in Philadelphia (a friend's speculation was that the editor might have found it "an outrage on American girlhood" [James, Art of the Novel, p. 268]), it appeared in England in the Cornhill Magazine for June and July 1878, was promptly pirated in Boston, and caused an extended debate. Howells remarked that James "waked up all the women with his Daisy Miller, the intention of which they misconceived. . . . The thing went so far that society almost divided itself in Daisy Millerites and anti-Daisy Millerites" (James, Selected Letters 2:230f.) James himself came to see the story as the fountainhead in a general assessment of the impact of the expatriate experience on his writing: "the international was easy to do, because, as one's wayside bloomed with it, one had but to put forth one's hand and pluck the frequent flower. Add to this that the flower was, so often, quite positively a flower—that of the young American innocence transplanted to European air" (Art of the Novel, p. 133).
James's further experimentation with the theme was to produce such mature novels as The Portrait of a Lady and The Ambassadors, but he also attempted the reverse transplantation, though he remained skeptical as to its general success. In The Europeans, for instance, whose title places it in direct opposition to The American, he has two European-born and -educated protagonists visit their American relatives. With their traditional views and their formal manner the Wentworths, a New England Puritan family, provide the kind of codified behavior generally associated with European society, their very old big wooden house—a venerable mansion once slept in by General Washington—functioning as the counterpart of the ancestral home of European aristocracy, but striking the visitors merely "as if it had been built last night" (p. 902). The Wentworth kinsfolk, Eugenia, the Baroness of Münster, morganatically married to a German prince, and her brother Felix Young, an artist, bring to New England the very features that have always figured prominently in the American discourse on Europe. The reversal of roles and settings in themselves entail an aspect of parody, and James's care in making the necessary adjustments to the usual components of the international theme place an additional emphasis on the element of incongruity, the basis of a pervasive comedy. While the happy union of Felix and Gertrude Wentworth seems in keeping with the comic pastoral (in Buitenhuis's term), Eugenia's withdrawal from "this provincial continent" and her return to "the elder world" as her "natural field" reflect more closely James's lifelong conviction as to the incompatibility of the two worlds (p. 1037). As a reversal of the usual plot of the international novel, The Europeans examines the relative values and shortcomings of Europe as much as those of America. It fully belongs with the group of international novels, and along with these it exerted its influence, for instance on Edith Wharton. The Countess (Ellen) Olenska in The Age of Innocence (1920) performs the same function as Eugenia in The Europeans; The Age of Innocence also testifies to the heritage of the international theme in the field of the novel of manners at large, Wharton's The Custom of the Country (1913) serving as another example.
Howells's The Lady of the Aroostook, first published serially in the Atlantic Monthly in 1878–1879, has often been compared to Daisy Miller in its presentation of its protagonist as an archetype of American innocence. Lydia Blood, a nineteen-year-old schoolteacher from South Bradfield in Northern Massachusetts, spends six weeks aboard the Aroostook going from Boston to Trieste and on to Venice to join her aunt, the American expatriate Mrs. Erwin, and to receive training as a singer. The only woman aboard, she is the center of attention for passengers and crew. A love story develops; James Staniford, a wealthy and cultivated but cynical Bostonian, is slowly won over by Lydia's natural innocence and her unerring moral judgment. Her lack of social sophistication and his punctiliousness, along with minor plot complications, delay the happy ending for long enough to have the novel cover various aspects of transatlantic travel, the American expatriate experience, and the theme of American innocence. Most importantly, it is a companion piece to Daisy Miller, the novel and the novella agreeing in a surprising number of details. Both Daisy Miller and Lydia Blood are "cases of supernatural innocence," which (as Staniford puts it) "wouldn't occur among any other people in the world but ours" (p. 57). Both are provincial rather than city-bred, both are of the type of "the pretty girl of our nation" (p. 59), both demonstrate an unerring moral instinct in dangerously compromising situations. In each work there is a male counterpart whose approbation or love must be won, while the men must be brought to face up to their feelings. Staniford's admission, "my fault has been that I haven't made love to her openly, but have gone on fancying that I was studying her character" (p. 226), is a commentary on his attitude as well as on that of James's Winterbourne. In each work the heroine's disregard of social conventions is epitomized by her walking about unchaperoned, and in each work it is the American expatriate rather than the Italian who judges and censures the supposed transgressions of the heroine. Occasional humorous exaggeration notwithstanding, both works can also be read as cautionary tales regarding expatriation as a mode of life. Europe, in Staniford's words, "is the place for American irresolution" (p. 64); Mrs. Erwin, in the words of her English husband, is "cringing to the effete despotisms of the Old World, as your Fourth of July orators have it" (p. 292), and in the eyes of Staniford she has enslaved herself to her burdensome little world. Only when she joins the young couple in California does she regain her balance: "Cut loose from her European ties, Mrs. Erwin experienced an incomparable repose and comfort in the life of San Francisco" (p. 319).
James praised The Lady of the Aroostook but called it a romance and urged Howells to turn to American settings. When in the summer of 1882 Howells once more visited Europe to recover from the strain of finishing A Modern Instance, his plans as an author involved another return to the international theme, a novel intended to "contrast the nascent nationality of America and the dying nationality of Venice" (Selected Letters 3:20). But the original plan is barely perceptible in what was published as Indian Summer in 1885–1886. The novel tells the story of forty-one-year-old Theodore Colville, a newspaper editor from Des Vaches, Indiana, who returns to Florence—where twenty years earlier he had been jilted by a young American girl—in order to recapture his youth. He falls in love with Imogene Graham, a girl young enough to be his daughter. When both realize the mistake they are about to make by getting married, the engagement is dissolved, and Colville marries Evalina Bowen, a thirty-eight-year-old widow who had been a witness to the disappointed love of his youthful years. "It is largely a study of the feelings of middle-life in contrast with those of earlier years," the author remarked (Selected Letters 3:86). Accordingly, the emphasis is on the analysis of Colville's adjustment to middle age and the recognition that it is "the problems of the vast, tumultuous American life, which he had turned his back on, that really concerned him" (Indian Summer, p. 90). The setting is functional, and the novel thus incorporates analyses of the social structure of the American colony as well as its conventions and its everyday life. At one point it presents, as Colville's reflection, what amounts to Howells's own evaluation of the tendency of Americans to live abroad: "They seemed to see very little of Italian society, and to be shut out from practical knowledge of the local life by the terms upon which they had themselves insisted. Our race finds its simplified and cheapened London or New York in all its Continental resorts now" (p. 116). As a consequence, clashes of national mores such as had characterized The American and other early international novels are less frequent. In presenting this conclusion, Indian Summer all but questions the continued existence of an important premise of the international novel. At the same time, however, it deliberately invokes the history of the genre by explicit intertextual reference. One person remarks that he does not find his countrymen so aggressive and so loud "as our international novelists would make out," and Colville regrets not having met "any of their peculiar heroines as yet" (p. 37), before he is introduced to Imogene Graham from Buffalo, the novel's functional counterpart of Daisy Miller from Schenectady and Lydia Blood from South Bradfield. More specifically, there is a reference to Hawthorne's The Marble Faun, reduced to guidebook status by the addition of photographs, and finally there is an attempt on the part of Colville to interpret himself in relation to Imogene explicitly in terms of a novel by James or by Howells. This comparison involves an astute assessment of the differences in the way each author handles the international theme and its constituents: James favoring the great world, more dramatic incident, and the tragic rather than the happy ending.
Such intertextual referentiality indicates that the genre has been firmly established, and perhaps also that the international theme is beginning to cease to be a challenge to its foremost authors—or a matter of interest to the reading public. In 1885 Howells wrote that he had enjoyed writing the story, but concluded that "our people now don't want one on foreign ground, and I shall hardly venture abroad again in fiction" (Selected Letters 3:136). And even James, though in the course of his continued expatriate experience he returned to the international theme in The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl (1904), had overcome what he called the "emphasized internationalism" (Art of the Novel, p. 199).
A different group of works grew out of the experiences of Americans on the European battlefields of the First World War. As war novels or antiwar novels they did not begin to get published until the 1920s, as part of the writings of the so-called Lost Generation. Their authors were a new generation of American expatriates who were discovering Europe as well as the international theme on their own terms and adapting it in their works to changing conditions in an increasingly internationalized world. Topical variations of the international theme throughout the twentieth century notwithstanding, however, its classic nineteenth-century examples have continued to be in high favor as defining documents of the American self, both as printed texts and as successful motion picture adaptations.
Howells, William Dean. A Foregone Conclusion. Boston: J. R. Osgood, 1875.
Howells, William Dean. Indian Summer. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1885.
Howells, William Dean. The Lady of the Aroostook. Boston: Houghton, Osgood, 1879.
Howells, William Dean. Selected Letters of W. D. Howells: Volume 2 (1873–1881). Edited by George Arms and Christoph K. Lohmann. Boston: Twayne, 1979.
Howells, William Dean. Selected Letters of W. D. Howells: Volume 3 (1882–1891). Edited by Robert C. Leitz III. Boston: Twayne, 1980.
Howells, William Dean. Venetian Life. New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1867.
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