Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion

Pref.3 Hudson

James observes that the "eternal time-question . . . is . . . for the novelist . . . always formidable." He expounds on the “the effect of the great lapse and passage, of the ‘dark backward and abysm'" and explains that, instead, he chose to deal "essentially with an Action, and that no action, further, was ever made historically vivid without a certain factitious compactness.” Overall, James identifies the novel’s timeline dilemma as necessary in revealing the “historically vivid” process of Roderick’s deteriorative interactions. This emphasis on propelling action underscores the kinesthetic nature of Roderick's character and the bodily repercussions of incessant action. It also highlights how Roderick's situation is reflective a historical moment, portraying a "historically vivid" experience of the late-nineteenth century environment. 
Ironically, for a novel that lends so much value to action and process, James ascribes to his titular character the profession of sculptor—an artistic practice that results in the depiction of a body forever in stasis. In this way, the text’s thematic action infers an inevitable stoppage that every body must encounter. Just as the intense physical action of sculpting inevitably results in the creation of a sculpture’s permanent stillness, the novel’s rapid motion serves to highlight a “historically vivid” moment in which Americans sought to push the human body to inevitable collapse. Whether in the form of exhausted sleep or untimely death, Roderick Hudson captures a cultural moment in which social ambition—in form of racial superiority, wealth accumulation, or class privilege—compelled individuals in constant pursuit of capitalist success (the American dream). 

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