James, Henry. "The Real Thing".
A remarkable couple appears in the studio of the nameless first person narrator. Mr and Mrs Monarch are respectable, smart, and very shy. After Major Monarch's retirement from army, they have lost their former wealth and now they are applying for a job. They are childless and have nobody to support them. They intend to serve as models for the narrator's black and white illustrations. The narrator observes that they would be great as a prototypical man and a prototypical woman to be pictured in advertisements and to make somebody money, but they apparently cannot make money for themselves.
When asked for any practise, they say they have been immensely photographed. Their photos and biographies used to be in the shops but they are not there any more. The narrator is quickly sure of everything that concerns the pair and vividly imagines their former life, including a country-house, servants, etc. Despite their present destitution they have gentlemanly air, there is "credit" in their appearance. It is very odd to see such people apply for such a poor pay.
They claim to be the real thing: models which need not to be made because they are made already and perfect in themselves. However, this aspect of reality is exactly what the narrator dislikes about them. The narrator's favourite model is a simple freckled Cockney girl, Miss Churm, who can be perfectly made to represent anything. On narrator's hesitation to employ the couple, Mrs Monarch bursts in cry. She calms herself quickly but says that they have already tried to apply for any job, no matter how irreverent.
The Monarchs as models are the real thing, but they are always the same thing. The result looks stiff, as if a copy of a photograph. They have an earnest desire to please the painter, their touching patience is the measure of their great need. Still the narrator draws the both always too big, too tall. Unlike Miss Churm, who is never recognizable at the pictures, the Monarchs always are, and the illustrator thinks this is their great defect.
The narrator is offered an important job of illustrating a whole novel. The Monarchs hope to be employed for this long-time job. The narrator consults the Monarchs with his friend, Jack Hawley, who has just returned home after a year of travelling with a fresh eye. Jack is convinced that the new models will not do. Jack warns his friend to keep straight, if not for himself, then at least for Jack. The illustrator is at loss: the Monarchs count on him strongly.
A new model, a poor Italian called Oronte, appears and proves to be as perfectly flexible as Miss Churm. One day when the illustrator is in the middle of the painting of his model, the Italian, he asks Mrs Monarch to make some tea. Despite her hurt pride, she does so and serves Oronte a cup. A warning concerning the Monarchs comes from the illustrator's artistic adviser. The Monarchs cannot see that they are a danger to the illustrator's work. The illustrator offends Mr Monarch and thinks he would never see the couple again, but they are so desperate that they return. They have nothing else to do in their lives.
The Monarchs recognize that they are not useful as models. They accept their failure, but they cannot accept their fate. Mrs Monarch fixes Miss Churm's hair so that it looks twice as charming as before when Miss Churm sits as a model. Both Mr and Mrs Monarch start to clean the illustrator's premises. They do not want to starve and are determined to do anything. The illustrator must refuse them. He gives the couple some money and dismisses them.
Jack keeps repeating that the Monarchs have done a permanent harm to the illustrator's work. Even if this should be true, the illustrator says that he is content to accept the price for the sake of the memory.
- the name of the Monarchs is symbolic of the impression they make
- concerned with an artistic problem: simple copying of real things is not the subject of art
- social circumstances: once wealthy people who fall in destitution are even more pitiable than those whose have always been poor
- charity: the narrator desperately attempts to help the impoverished couple even though his helping them jeopardizes his own work
- incompetent aristocracy: on losing their wealth, the couple is incapable to earn their living as they have no skills and no other recommendations than what they used to be
AuthorJames, Henry. (1843 - 1916).
Full Title"The Real Thing".
First PublishedIn: Black and White. London: 1892.
James, Henry. "The Real Thing". (1892). Collected Stories. London: Campbell, 1999.