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Henry James's Europe

Dennis Tredy
Annick Duperray
Adrian Harding


Dennis Tredy

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1As an American in Europe, Henry James may have often felt as ”bewildered” and ”beguiled” as some of his most memorable American protagonists abroad, such as Christopher Newman or Lambert Strether. However, in spite of statements that many assume to be critical of a certain lack of sophistication and lightness of cultural baggage among Americans abroad, James also spoke of this status with a good deal of praise. He considered that being an American was in fact ”an excellent preparation for culture,” in so far as Americans, he felt, could deal, more freely than Europeans, ”with forms of civilization not their own” and could ”pick and choose and assimilate and in short (aesthetically) claim their property wherever they found it.”

2This ability to appropriate both European culture and space is at the heart of James’s famed ”International Theme,” and that theme, though much expanded and reworked, was at the heart of discussions held and papers given at the first conference organized by the ”European Society of Jamesian Studies” in Paris in April of 2009. Of the nearly sixty papers given by speakers from twenty different countries, twenty-four have been selected for this collection—two dozen studies that, collectively, expand and redefine the ‘International Theme’ both in James’s life and in his fiction and that demonstrate the various manners in which James achieved this aesthetic (re)appropriation—that ”vast intellectual and fusion and synthesis” he had dreamt of as a young writer bound for the Old World.

3The papers in this collection thus aim to take into account the myriad aspects of this intellectual game of transfer, appropriation and heritage. How did this concept and dynamic of cultural differences between the Old and New World develop throughout James’s life and fiction? James would indeed move, in distinct stages, from early notions of American innocence abroad to the arcane poetics of redemption and reconciliation of his ‘major phase’. How were James’s trans-Atlantic connections affected by the political issues and ethical concerns of the turn of the century? How accurate are the parallels drawn between the author’s experiences as an American abroad and those of his protagonists? How did James perceive certain European countries and how did he appropriate their people and their culture within his fiction? Which European authors and thinkers had the greatest influence on James’s literary and cultural development, and how were they absorbed into James’s fiction? What picture did James draw, in both his fictional and non-fictional works, of the literary culture, the people, the politics or even the landscape of specific European countries? Perhaps most importantly, how did this ever-evolving dynamic of trans-Atlantic transfer and (re)appropriation affect the way James saw himself—or chose to represent himself—when, at the dawn of the twentieth century, he set out to take stock of his career and to look back on the choices he had made?

4The twenty-four papers in this collection, divided into six sections, develop all of these points and provide a detailed picture of James’s trans-Atlantic aesthetics, one that is steeped in profound notions of transtextuality and of cultural appropriation.

I. Ethics and Aesthetics

5In the first part of this collection, there are four papers that, collectively, demonstrate how Jamesian aesthetics, particularly at the turn of the century, were greatly influenced by matters of ethics, by sociological concerns, and by new notions of ‘capital’ (both financial and political) and of ‘capitalism’. The first two articles, by keynote speakers at the conference, go into great depth when exploring the interconnectedness both between ethics and aesthetics and between textual analysis of specific works by James and insight into the author’s views of dangers of the coming century. Jean Gooder, for example, focuses on James’s aesthetic and ethical concerns when writing his answer to the roman dialogué, The Awkward Age, a novel conceived when James’s experimentation with technical and formal innovations in his writing as well as his fears of a society on the verge of a ”great modern collapse” were both at their peak. Gooder shows, through analysis of both the novel itself and the author’s literary influences at the time, that intellectual freedom (that is, freedom of mind, of expression, of speech) may ”open the door to the Devil,” but it was nevertheless, in James’s eyes, a heavenly virtue as the twentieth century loomed on the horizon. Similarly, Roxana Oltean also uses insightful textual analysis to bring to light James’s ethical concerns—in this case those concerning globalization and cosmopolitanism—at the turn of the century. Oltean, however, focuses mainly on works written during James’s ”major phase,” at the very onset of the twentieth century. She demonstrates how James’s late novels and more autobiographical works focused on the theme of redemption and proposed a new model of ”cosmopolitan ethics” that was a far cry from the comparatively simple themes of romantic discovery and bewilderment that made up his earlier ‘International Theme’. Then, in Esther Sánchez-Pardo’s study of The Ambassadors, the ethical and aesthetic dimensions of James’s art at the turn of the century are again underscored. Sanchez-Pardo analyzes James’s sophisticated and nuanced understanding of ”capitalism” at the dawn of the twentieth century, a representation of a changing economic world that was still grounded in aesthetics, culture and matters of taste. By coordinating textual analysis of James’s late novel with theoretical work by sociologists such as Thorstein Veblen, Sanchez-Pardo points out how James’s notions of bourgeois possession, materialism and consumption illustrate a specifically Jamesian form of capitalism, one relying notably on ”the currency of appearances.” In the final paper in this section, Eric Savoy similarly seeks to show how James managed to re-appropriate and redefine certain concepts lifted, as it were, from the world of finance. Savoy demonstrates that there is a confluence and a congruity between James’s formalist concepts of narrative ”economy,” ”investment” and ”speculation,” and their lexical counterparts found in modern economic theory and the world of finance. Savoy’s comparative and deconstructive approach again stresses the intense interplay between ethics and aesthetics in late James, just as it illustrates another way in which James re-appropriated certain aspects of capitalism and materialism as the author stepped, ever so gingerly, into the twentieth century.

II. French and Italian Hours

6The six articles to be found in this section focus on a different kind of re-appropriation and seem to cast James himself in a role commonly associated with the protagonists of his early and even later fiction—that is, that of the observant American in Europe. Here, through James’s letters, travel writings and certain works of fiction, the author’s impressions of France and Italy are explored in great depth, taking us beyond the simple ’travel sketch’ to reveal a more detailed and more subjective portrait of two places dear to James and central to widespread notions of what ’European culture’ actually entailed during his lifetime.

7The first three papers deal with James’s impression of France, focusing in turn on what the country, the people and the language represented to James as both a traveller and a writer. Hazel Hutchison, for example, studies James’s late letters and his wartime essay ”France,” which were written as an elderly James, driven to despair by the pending ”crash of civilization” that World War I represented, tried to work out exactly what France meant to him. In those late writings, James tries to put his finger on that ”unnameable something” that had always made France stand out in his mind, on that indefinable yet undeniable ”otherness” that had the power to modify British and American values, and on his own seemingly ambivalent assessment of French ”civilization” that seems to teeter between bona fide praise and thinly veiled criticism.

8Then, Claire Garcia looks more specifically at the way James represented Parisian women, most notable in The Ambassadors, and at what this reveals about James’s changing notions of gender at the turn of the century. James’s portrayal of Parisian women, Garcia shows, seems to embody challenges and new possibilities for the ”modern metropolitan consciousness” and move away from more conventional views of women that are often associated with James and his fiction. To complete the portrait of France, Agnès Derail-Imbert takes on the French idiom itself and the symbolic value it seemed to have for James, notably in his experimental novel What Maisie Knew, the final third of which is set in France. Much like the overall image of France sketched out in Hutchison’s paper, the French language, within James’s novel, is associated with an indefinable otherness, with elusive circumlocution, and with a truth or desired sum of knowledge that remains unattainable to the outsider. What better backdrop for the story of a young girl who knows ”far too much” for her age and yet whose actual degree of knowledge is curiously denied to both readers and her fellow characters?

9The two papers that follow then offer a similar approach to James’s impressions of Italy, and to the symbolic value James attributed to cities such as Venice, Rome or Florence—impressions that go far beyond the romanticized or cliché visions of the time. Jacek Gutorow analyzes how different James’s representations of Italy were from those of France and England, noting how James’s Italy was one of peregrination and of crossing of thresholds, a place of floating, suspended aesthetic images. Gutorow leads us through James’s vision of Venice, Rome and even Naples, and this circuitous journey into James’s aesthetic re-appropriation of Italy is concluded by Rosella Mamoli Zorzi’s paper on the representation of Florence and Venice in James’s ”The Aspern Papers.” Why did James choose to switch the setting from Florence to Venice? What was it about Venice’s cultural, artistic and literary heritage that made it, in James’s eye, an ideal backdrop for his story of intrigue and allusive aesthetic bliss?

10Finally, Enrico Botta re-evaluates James’s age-old ‘International Theme’ by analyzing the way James represents the ruins of the Old World that his American characters discover on their journeys through Europe. Through the prism of Italian scholar Francesco Orlando’s theory on non-fictional objects in literature, Botta studies how the ruins of the Old World, when seen through the eyes of characters such as Christopher Newman, allow James to redefine the relationship between the Old and the New World and to overcome the apparent opposition between the two cultures by combining and overlapping them. In this new dialectic, James assigns much more than aesthetic value to these places, as they become landmarks to both an older order pitted against American values and to the decadence of both the past and the present.

III. Appropriating European Thematics

11James’s fascination with Europe was, of course, not limited to its people, languages, landmarks and observed cultural differences—it was also deeply rooted in its literary heritage, which James would also reinterpret, re-evaluate and make his own. This section will then focus on a few European literary masters from the ‘Old World’ who would have a lasting effect on James and his art. For example, much has been written, even by James himself, on the great ‘lessons’ he learned from Balzac. The first two papers in this section take a closer look at those supposed teachings and provide a more thorough exploration of the influence of two specific works by Balzac: Louis Lambert (1832) and Cousin Pons (1847). Kathy Lawrence starts things off with an intertextual reading of Henry James’s novel The Ambassadors and of Balzac’s earlier novel, Louis Lambert, whose protagonist was the namesake for James’s character Lambert Strether. Lawrence’s study reveals convincing but subtle ties between the two works and even manages to draw parallels between the fictional worlds and the actual lives of both authors. Then, Simone Francescato uncovers a connection between Balzac’s late novel Cousin Pons and a very early story by James entitled ”Adina.” As Francescato demonstrates, the parallels can be drawn on many levels, from characterization to plot to shared but disenchanted views of art collecting and of the rise of a seemingly misguided materialism in Europe. Then, Max Duperray explores the connection between Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and James’s ”The Turn of the Screw,” showing how the texts overlapped and in particular how James borrowed from the well-known tale so as to better subvert it and play with its romantic pretext. As Duperray shows, the reader’s moment of déjà vu is actually recognition defamiliarized. It also seems to be situated somewhere in between parody and tribute, as James used many literary devices and dramatic situations borrowed from Brontë’s novel in order to mislead readers’ expectations and forge, as Duperray suggests, ”a transcript of romantic sinister overtones as archetypal.”

IV. Allusion

12If, in the previous section, the focus was on comparative studies of certain French and English works that James used as key subtexts, the discussion now focuses on James general methodology when it came to incorporating myriad literary and cultural allusions into his works. Although all three papers here focus primarily on James’s references and allusions to Shakespeare, all three also show how such references were intertwined with allusions to other European writers and thinkers. Angus Wrenn, for example, explores such allusions in James’s early stories, including ”A Passionate Pilgrim” (1871), ”The Madonna of the Future” (1873) and ”The Siege of London” (1883). From Shakespeare to Balzac and Cherbuliez, from contemporary European history to nineteenth-century cultural trends and debates—Wrenn covers a wide range of allusions made in James’s early fiction, paying a good deal of attention to the often subtle ways these allusions were made and to the different narrative voices that provided them. Following Wrenn’s lead, Rebekah Scott also deals with subtle allusions in early James, though her main focus concerns those ”buried” in James’s little-known 1879 novel Confidence. She unearths a great deal of ”buried” or glancing allusions in the work—from Shakespeare and Milton, to Balzac and Feuillet, to Augier and Sardou, among others. She also draws a key parallel between James’s notorious elusiveness and his allusions, and she explores the question of whether these allusions were ever intended to be ”unburied” by the reader, as well as whether they were conscious or unconscious subtexts for the author. Finally, Oliver Herford approaches the question from a different angle and traces a single allusion to a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (”My father, in his habit, as he lived!”—III, 4, 130) through the last two decades of James’s writing. He discovers that allusions to this key line abound—in James’s fiction as well as in his autobiographies and other retrospective works of his late career. Herford thus focuses on James’s method of allusion and stresses the importance of ”continuity” and ”recurrence” within that method, which often allows a single allusion to prompt a series of others.

V. Performance

13The papers in this section focus on two very different aspects of stage performance in James, as the first two deal with James’s use of the nuanced metaphors of the playwright and of the actor in James’s fiction, particularly in his 1890 novel The Tragic Muse, while the third paper focuses on a specific operatic adaptation of James by Benjamin Britten. Thus Nelly Valtat-Comet begins with the notion of the absent author or playwright in James and demonstrates how James staged, in a way, his own absence from the stage of his work of fiction, using a multitude of indirect methods borrowed from drama (e.g., the use of props, of characters as mouthpieces, of key dialogue scenes) in order to stage the absence of the key male writer-figure. In Richard Anker’s work, it is the paradoxical figure of the actor in James’s novel that is the main focus. Anker also studies James’s The Tragic Muse, working off Diderot’s notion of the ”paradox of the comedian,” a paradox that somehow marries both a ”native lack of identity” and a ”strictly mimetic identity.” Thus a key dynamic in The Tragic Muse is a sort of role play of the tension between the rhetorical and the phenomenological, a dynamic that, as Anker shows, spreads to other key works by James, including the earlier The Bostonians and the later ”The Turn of the Screw.”

14The third paper is from Hubert Teyssandier, who gives a very thorough and insightful analysis of Benjamin Britten’s 1970 adaptation of James’s 1892 ghostly tale, ”Owen Wingrave.” Though far more attention has been paid by scholars to Britten’s earlier adaptation of James’s ”The Turn of the Screw,” Teyssandier here provides a detailed study of the dramatic, literary and musical devices used by Britten to bring ”Owen Wingrave” to life, as if were. We discover that many of James’s own literary devices for representing the ‘ghostly’, some of which were used by James himself when adapting his own stories for the stage, are also used by Britten. Teyssandier also draws informed parallels between the visual devices and the musical devices used in the production, thereby providing a most masterful analysis.

VI. Authorship and Self-Representation

15The five final papers in this collection all deal with ways that James chose to represent himself—in fiction and autobiography, in his private correspondences and in editing choices—throughout his career, focussing specifically on his very early and, especially, his very late career—as the latter often dealt quite heavily with re-telling and re-evaluating the former.

16Eleftheria Arapoglou starts things off by focusing on The American Scene, in which James revisits America, observes how it had changed since he moved to Europe and hints at his motives for leaving in the first place. Arapoglou demonstrates how James seemed to cast himself in the role of one of his own ”centres of consciousness,” giving himself a position on the threshold between two cultures, both inside and outside the world he was observing, and providing a multi-voiced presentation that is nevertheless harmonious. Similarly, Jacob Stougaard-Nielsen deals with the way James represented himself at the end of his career, though the focus this time is on James’s relation to his own visual representation—that is, his choice of portraits and frontispiece for the New York Edition. James had to decide how to establish himself as the central consciousness and main character, as it were, of his collected works. He also had to establish a certain visual ‘exchange’ with those who read his collected works (as the portrait does indeed ”stare back” at readers). Thus, both Arapoglou and Stougaard-Nielsen demonstrate how James’s questioning of his own identity and sense of self led him to cast himself, in many ways, in the role of some of his main characters.

17Then, Paula Marantz-Cohen takes a comparative view of the early and late stages of James’s career and traces certain surface patterns for each of the two periods that correspond to two key writing processes—that of copying and of revision. Both in his writing and in his personal life, James seemed to gradually move from one stage to the other, and it is also through detailed textual analysis of an early work (The American) and a later one (The Ambassadors) that Marantz-Cohen defends this distinction. As if to illustrate this point, the last two papers deal, in turn, with each of the two stages Marantz-Cohen defines. Pierre A. Walker thus focuses on the so-called ‘copying’ phase, as he describes in great detail how a very young James tried to act the role of the powerful, established author in order to manipulate his publishers. By bringing to light key passages from both professional and personal correspondences, Walker shows how James managed to play Scribner’s, The Galaxy and The Atlantic Monthly off of each other with insolent skill. Finally, John Holland takes one last look at the ‘revision’ stage that is late James, paying particular attention to James’s autobiographies. He provides us with a detailed analysis of the thought processes involved in James’s endeavour to translate his former self and his own experiences into text, which includes a discussion of how the reader is made a part of the process.

18In addition to the studies found here in the print edition, the online version of this publication will include eight other papers by Jamesian scholars that together broaden the scope of this study and further explore the ways in which James sought to redefine himself as an American in Europe, to rework his famed International Theme and his representation of Europeans, and to reappropriate European authors, artifacts and landmarks.

19Thus, the papers in this collection seek to re-evaluate the ethical quality of the whole process of transfer and appropriation, situated as it was at the meeting point between historical and inner culture. For James, transtextual and cross-cultural relations ”stop nowhere,” as the scholars who contributed to this collection aim to demonstrate.

20February 2011


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