Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion

XIII.1 Hudson

It may seem that Rowland’s wealth and Roderick’s desire to sculpt fine art, as well as their relocation to Europe, situates their patronage scheme outside the realm of Industrial American culture, but I argue against this presumption. Throughout the novel, Roderick is increasingly compelled to work around the clock to create artwork for Rowland, which in turn enhances Rowland’s visibility as a member of the leisure class. In his 1899 study The Theory of the Leisure Class,Thorstein Veblen defines masculine displays of “conspicuous consumption” as a turn-of-the century trend in which men of wealth and social privilege assert their upper-class status through a “spectacle of honorific leisure which in the ideal scheme makes up his life.” By appropriating Roderick’s productivity as a means for his own social contribution, Rowland establishes himself as a man of the leisure class. Veblen explains that, when not “in the sight of spectators,” “evidence [of] leisure . . . can be done only indirectly, through the exhibition of some tangible, lasting results of the leisure so spent—in a manner analogous to the familiar exhibition of tangible, lasting products of the labour performed for the gentleman of leisure by handicraftsmen and servants in his employ.” During their time abroad, Rowland reigns over Roderick’s time, expecting him to be as productive as a working-class artist while Rowland himself plays the role of leisurely gentleman. Unlike Roderick’s apprenticeship with Striker, Rowland’s patronage requires Roderick to take on all the productive labor, while Rowland does no real work. Moreover, Rowland expects Roderick to suppress his own personal ambition so that his labor can bring to life Rowland’s artistic vision. Ultimately, Roderick must keep time according to Rowland’s directive, diminishing his agency to that of what James depicts as a reengineered machine.

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