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The Real Thing

Henry James

Book Overview: 

The Real Thing is, on one level, a somewhat ironic tale of an artist and two rather particular models. Yet it also raises questions about the relationship between the notion of reality in our humdrum world, and the means that an artist must use in trying to achieve, or reflect, that reality. Though the protagonist is an artist and illustrator of books, not a writer, it's not hard to imagine that James has himself, and other writers, in mind.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . . order of ideas, conspicuously and irreproachably "good." For a woman of her age her waist was surprisingly small; her elbow moreover had the orthodox crook. She held her head at the conventional angle; but why did she come to ME? She ought to have tried on jackets at a big shop. I feared my visitors were not only destitute, but "artistic"— which would be a great complication. When she sat down again I thanked her, observing that what a draughtsman most valued in his model was the faculty of keeping quiet.

"Oh, SHE can keep quiet," said Major Monarch. Then he added, jocosely: "I've always kept her quiet."

"I'm not a nasty fidget, am I?" Mrs. Monarch appealed to her husband.

He addressed his answer to me. "Perhaps it isn't out of place to mention—because we ought to be quite business-like, oughtn't we?— that when I married her she was known as the Beautiful Statue."

"Oh dear!" s. . . Read More

Community Reviews

A down-and-out middle-aged couple, still proud of their youthful accomplishments as models, carrying themselves with an accustomed regal bearing, comes to the studio of a portrait-maker looking for a job.

I've never seen characters like them so brilliantly sketched in a short story of only twenty...more

An odd story about rich people fallen on desperate times, but unable to adapt by losing their innate air of wealth. I'm going to be brave/o'erhasty and pronounce that this isn't very good — there's a turn at the end which wants to evoke our sympathy but it isn't enough, because who are we suppose...more

The Real Thing is a brilliantly written short story about an aspiring artist and his relationship with his models. Our artist, like many of his kind, works as an illustrator for books, but hopes to become a renowned portrait painter. When an impeccably dressed couple arrives at his door, based on...more

I liked it, but I think it would have been better in a shorter version, sometimes it became too repetitive in my opinion.

This story has a first person narrator, an artist – an illustrator, really, who aspires to be an acclaimed artist. James uses his typically delicious and complex syntax. Exquisite physical descriptions illuminate the personalities of the characters. The artist’s visitors, a gentleman and his wife...more

"She was always a lady certainly, and into the bargain was always the same lady. She was the real thing, but always the same thing. There were moments when I rather waited under the serenity of her confidence that she was the real thing. All her dealing with me and all her husband's were an impli...more

Henry James's "The Real Thing" seems to see through social artifice, or at least, to see that appearances may not suit one's idea of what appearances should be. The story concerns people's perceptions, in a shallow way, but deeply, given the context. A well written piece.

The depressing tale of a husband and wife, former artist models, past their prime but still believing they are the "real thing" as models go, and an artist who tries to use them as sitters, but realizes it's a lost cause. James excellent writing and character development saves the day for this ot...more

not sure how useful of a rating this is considering henry james could literally write about trash blowing in the wind and i would give it three stars. i liked the story a lot but found it difficult to pull together what it was trying to communicate when i was finished. but i got there eventually...more

I have mixed feelings about this story. I can't decide if I liked it or not. The story didn't feel like it had a solid path which was frustrating. However, I really enjoyed the idea of reality versus appearance.

Henry James spends a substantial amount of the text discussing the appearance of the p...more

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