By Gordon Taylor
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Additional resources for Chapters of Experience: Studies in Modern American Autobiography
James's 'artful evasion of the actual' in this scene through nostalgic reverie results inevitably in renewed confrontation with the actual, and the problem of personal relation to it. The quest for the house in which he was born leads only to the spot in Washington Place it no longer occupies. The inevitability of this outcome, as in various repetitions of essentially the same pattern throughout the New York chapters, has acquired an aesthetic, a compositional 'value,' diametrically opposed to that underlying the pictorial stasis and imaginative security of james's Arcadian images.
Concord and its environs gave Emerson, in james's view, 'his nearest vision oflife, and he drew half his images, we recognize, from the revolution of its seasons. . It is admirably, to-day,' as James finally reawakens to the present moment in which he began by gazing into the Concord River, 'as if we were still seeing these things in those images' of Revolutionary and Transcendental communion. A direct reference to the Concord sequence in a later chapter, 'Washington,' invites comparison between the processes of James's response here and at Mount Vernon.
I had been present, by the oddest hazard, at the very last moment of the victim in whom I was most interested; the act of obliteration had been breathlessly swift, and if I had often seen how fast history could be made I had doubtless never so felt that it could be unmade still faster. It was as if the bottom had fallen out of one's own biography, and one plunged backward into space without meeting anything. That, however, seemed just to give me. the whole figure of my connection with everything .