chapter  1
Emerson's Blind Spot: Romantic Effects in The Portrait of a Lady
Pages 40

The Old World of experience, Joel Porte points out, provided the matrix out of which these new creatures called Americans had evolved and to which, as to an abandoned and perhaps unrecognised parent, they needed to return for . . . a sense of their own identity. For to be an American is precisely to be defined by an 'other,' by something that has been left behind in the excitement of making oneself over. The return to origins represents the recapturing of a repressed past, the relearning of a language that one did not know one understood. (New Essays 2)

This language is of course the Old World's cultural tradition. The point, however, is not simply to reclaim that which had been left behind. In Atlantic Double-Cross, a study of nineteenth-century American literature and British influence, Robert Weisbuch provides an even more helpful analysis: Upon the "recognition of an American cultural earliness relative to Britian," he proposes that the aspiring American writer could "interpret and rally its strengths while attempting to cure its ills by creating a distinctly American maturity" (275). James illustrates this process in The Portrait of a Lady by having his innocent American heroine achieve maturity through her experience of the Old World. In doing so, James mastered yet another of the major paradoxes that came to distinguish his fiction-his deconstruction of romance and realism.