The Real Thing is a short story by Henry James, first published in 1892 and the following year as the title story in the collection, The Real Thing and Other Stories.
This story, often read as a parable, plays with the reality-illusion dichotomy that fascinated James, especially in the later stages of his career. For the illustrator who narrates the story, the genuine article proves all too useless for his commercial purposes. The story portrays the unfortunate victims of a society in which reality and representation are closely intertwined in ways that make art a difficult project to untangle the two.
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.
Henry James, OM (Order of Merit) (1843-1916) was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism.
He is best known for a number of novels showing Americans encountering Europe and Europeans. His method of writing from a character's point of view allowed him to explore issues related to consciousness and perception, and his style in later works has been compared to impressionist painting. His imaginative use of point of view, interior monologue and unreliable narrators brought a new depth to narrative fiction.
Henry James was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911, 1912, and 1916.