By Peter Collister

A monograph that re-evaluates the ultimate decade of Henry James' artistic lifestyles. It examines the narrative of "The American Scene", the autobiographical writing, a couple of brief tales and incomplete novels: works which provide contrasting notations of the self.

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Extra info for Writing the Self: Henry James and America

Sample text

The American Scene continuously exploits in its discursive method the bracing distance between the ephemeral impressions of the individual and the incalculable mystery, the ‘too-defiant scale of numerosity and quantity’ which the nation presents. Overburdened as the ‘spectator’ may be by scale and distance (used to ‘shorter journeys and more muffled concussions’), in a mood which touches upon ‘joy’ (that great creative agent of the Romantic period), he may feel ‘justified of the inward, the philosophic, escape into the immensity’.

America is in transition and this involves a dismantling of those elements which had sustained James’s convictions about himself and his American past. The scenes of New York are the most aggressive in exposing the extreme measures of the nation and its likely destiny, as well as, in their ties with his childhood, emphasizing the fragility of those earlier selves which James had accumulated. One of the late tales, ‘Crapy Cornelia’, touches upon similar ethnic tensions and interrogates without resolving the anxieties he reveals in The American Scene.

59), an emptiness of scene, a twilight period, a condition reflecting the mood of the solitary returner who sees continuously and almost exclusively ghosts about him. He has driven the short distance from Boston to Cambridge ‘through the warm September night’, recalling ‘the odorous hour’, ‘the old distinctively American earth-smell, which in the darkness fairly poetized the suburbs’ (AS, p. 56). This is the ‘brief idyll’ when students are on vacation, and ‘so long as the spell of autumn lasted’, ‘one would walk in the idyll, if only from hour to hour, while one could’ (AS, p.

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