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The Grasping Imagination

The Grasping Imagination: The American Writings of Henry James

Peter Buitenhuis
Series: Heritage
Copyright Date: 1970
Pages: 290
  • Book Info
    The Grasping Imagination
    Book Description:

    This study places James's career in a new perspective by discussing its American aspect. It gives the critic an opportunity to come to grips with the evolution of James's technique from his second short story to his penultimate, unfinished novel,The Ivory Tower.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-3268-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-7)

    The use of the term ‘American’ in the subtitle of this study is of course an arbitrary one. In a sense all of James’s work is American, since, as has often been pointed out, he never lost that orientation even after many years of residence in England. On the other hand, the limited sense of ‘American’ as applied to a section of his work seems to have been sanctioned by James himself when he expressed the desire to write ‘a veryAmericanstory’ in outliningThe Bostomans. The term was taken up by F. O. Matthiessen when he collectedThe...

  5. 1 The Civil War and Harvard’s Tented Field
    (pp. 8-16)

    On New Year’s Day, 1863, a huge crowd filled the Boston Music Hall. It had gathered to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the text of which was expected by telegraph from Washington at any moment. Many of the great abolitionists and other Boston notables were there. Most of them made speeches. Between the drum-rolls of rhetoric an orchestra played Beethoven’sEgmontoverture and the ‘Hymn of Praise’ from the Ninth Symphony. During an interval, it was announced to roars of applause that the president's proclamation was in process of transmission.¹

    In the audience was nineteen-year-old Henry James who recalled the...

  6. 2 Literary Influences – All the Breezes of the West
    (pp. 17-37)

    After the prophetic venture onto the future ground of his fiction inA Tragedy of Error, the young Henry James returned to the United States for the settings and characters for his next twelve stories, written between 1865 and 1869. A discussion of the more significant of these stories should elucidate his main preoccupation during this period. His second tale.The Story of a Year, printed inThe Atlantic Monthlya few weeks before the end of the war, is among the best of his early work. It brings to a focus some of the strong emotions that the war...

  7. 3 The Hawthorne Aspect
    (pp. 38-44)

    When James spoke of letting all the breezes. of the west blow through him, he was presumably thinking of the influence of English and European writers. Fortunately, however, he did not shut out the airs from still further west; the voice of Hawthorne is heard increasingly in the stories that James wrote from the late i86os on. Cornelia Kelley has surmised that Howells in particular was influential in turning James away from the realistic mode of his earlier work towards a more romantic strain. This may very well have been the case, not only because Howells himself was still very...

  8. 4 Transatlantic Trials
    (pp. 45-56)

    The England that James encountered on this trip was precisely the one that he had expected. Or rather, the literary schemata that he had built up in his omnivorous readings in English literature and his scanning of English painting dominated his perception of the actual scene. Fifteen years later, inThe Author of ‘Beltraffio,’he was to reveal precisely this process of perception in the words of the Jamesian author-narrator: ‘That was the way many things struck me at that time, in England: as if they were reproductions of something that existed primarily in art or literature. It was not...

  9. 5 A Certain Form Watch and Ward
    (pp. 57-66)

    Watch and Wardwas serialized in theAtlanticin the latter part of 1871. Professor Leon Edel has rightly claimed for it an ‘undeniable quaintness and rather old-time charm ...’ (ww, 9). Surely these qualities were not, however, what the young realist had in mind for his book. James apparently believed he was writing an ‘American’ novel but, as Miss Cornelia Kelley has remarked, ‘everything about it was not observed but imagined.’ He brought little of his recent experience and travel in the United States to bear in the book, so that Miss Kelley is, on the whole, right in...

  10. 6 Experiment and Decision The Attempt to Be an American Artist
    (pp. 67-88)

    After nearly two years in America since his last visit to Europe, Henry James had neither properly settled down nor come to grips with his situation. On 4 February 1872, he summed up his discontent to Charles Eliot Norton, then in Europe, in a letter, which has often been quoted in part and thus somewhat distorted. ‘It is not that I have anything very new and strange to relate. In fact when one sits down to sum up Cambridge life,plume en main, the strange thing seems its aridity.’ After complaining about the lack of ‘society’ in Cambridge, he continued:...

  11. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  12. 7 Comic Pastoral The Europeans
    (pp. 89-102)

    When Henry James wroteThe Europeansin 1878, he avoided most of the mistakes in characterization and setting that he had made inRoderick Hudson. His main New England character, Gertrude Wentworth, is far more solidly presented than Mary Garland. The angularity and the ‘faintly acrid perfume’ that he had noted in Turgenev’s heroines comes out vividly in Gertrude, even though, in the end, she seems to be ready to turn into a good European. The main scene ofThe Europeansis not named. The Wentworths’ house is located a vague seven-and-a-half miles from Boston. James remained true to his...

  13. 8 American Episodes and The Portrait of a Lady
    (pp. 103-112)

    It is characteristic of James’s development as a novelist that he should reach a certain peak of achievement with a given theme or technique and then turn back from there to exploit other situations germane to the new method. AfterThe Europeans,he turned to more conventional versions of the international theme. One of these.An International Episode,is set largely in America and it enabled James to use some of his memories of Newport, which he had not resorted to since his sketch of the place for theNationin 1870. Although the story has a fine sparkle, it...

  14. 9 Points of View
    (pp. 113-132)

    Between the completion ofThe Portrait of a Ladyand the commencement ofThe Bostonians, James made a series of experiments within the limits of the international theme. He was to write a number of mediocre and tentative stories before he could at length break the bonds of his old perceptions and write a novel as strikingly different from his previous work asThe Bostonians. Some of the reasons for this marked change are to be found in the experience of two visits that James made to his native land in 1881 and 1882-3.

    He himself did not think that...

  15. 10 Evasive Boston and Threadbare Internationalism
    (pp. 133-140)

    From the artistic nadir ofThe Impressions of a Cousin,Henry James found a way of climbing up., as he did often in his career, by means of his technique.A New England Winter,published almost a year afterThe Impressions of a Cousinin August and September 1884, cannot be numbered among the most successful of James’s stories., but it is one of the most interesting, since it clearly indicates a major change in his technique.

    The plot of the story is slight and is merely a peg on which James hangs what he calls his ‘perhaps too descriptive...

  16. 11 A Very American Tale The Bostonians
    (pp. 141-159)

    The recent spate of criticism on that long-neglected novel,The Bostonians,as good as some of it has been, has consistently missed the most important difference between it and James’s previous novels: that it derives directly from French naturalism and signifies a radical, if temporary, shift in his fictional method and style.*

    I do not mean to deny the importance of Hawthorne’s influence on the novel, which has been rightly stressed. James was obviously recalling the reformers ofThe Blithedale Romanceand some of the characters in Hawthorne’s other novels and short stories, but the romance elements that dominate Hawthorne’s...

  17. 12 English Years and American Letters
    (pp. 160-181)

    It is well known that James’s next novel,The Princess Casamassima,was no better received by the public thanThe Bostonians.As he complained to Howells, the two novels, between them, reduced the demand for his work to zero.¹ LikeThe Bostonians, The Princess Casamassimahas come in for its share of revaluation lately. It now appears to have a central place in James's development as a novelist and thus must be given some treatment here.

    As inThe Bostonians, he was making an experiment in realism. Once again he uses the techniques of literary impressionism to present vivid pictures...

  18. 13 The Restless Analyst of the American Scene
    (pp. 182-199)

    The American Scene,published in book form in 1907, has undergone a long ostracism from the critics until recent years. Ezra Pound’s powerful plea for it inThe Little Reviewin 1920 had no appreciable effect, and it did not get any extensive critical discussion until 1948. In that year, W. H. Auden wrote a discriminating short introduction for a new edition. Since then it has gradually grown in reputation. James was, perhaps, a little too sanguine about this book but, with the exception of Tocqueville’sDemocracy in America,it is hard to think of a more subtle and penetrating...

  19. 14 Undiscovered America
    (pp. 200-208)

    It was ‘the pressed spring’ of the past, as James was fond of calling it, that always yielded the richest treasures to his imagination and provided the schemata against which he could project his renewed vision. The last third ofThe American Scene,which consists of chapters on areas that James had never seen before, is not as memorable as the first. For the most part, he concentrates on the meaning to be read into theabsenceof signs and forms. The general blankness of cities like Baltimore, Richmond, and Jacksonville, Florida, became portentous to the restless analyst, the more...

  20. 15 In the Finer Grain
    (pp. 209-238)

    One of the prime reasons for Henry James’s return to America in 1904 was, as he explained to William, to gather material for new fiction. His ‘too monotonised grab-bag’ of English experience was yielding, he thought, fewer and fewer good situations and themes to his imagination.¹ In this respect, at least, the American journey was an unqualified success. He came back brimming over with ideas and images for which he needed only time and good health to pour into fiction. Dorothea Krook suggests that it took some time for all the painful and unpleasant implications of his American visit to...

  21. 16 The Fresh Start and the Broken Link The Ivory Tower
    (pp. 239-260)

    InThe American Scene,James advanced the theory that most Americans wanted to make large sums of money so that they would not have to ‘mind’ the inconvenience, the desperate pace, and the bad manners of the national life.¹ This theory helped explain for him the intensity of the money-passion and also the abortive attempts that Americans made to create retreats from the world of business. The ‘white elephants’ of Newport struck him most forcibly as the symbols of what the money-passion did to aesthetic taste and social discretion, just as they reminded him, by contrast, of the shy little...

  22. 17 The Obstinate Finality
    (pp. 261-268)

    Henry James’s wholeœuvrecan be regarded as a massive attempt to make a humane order out of the disorder of experience, and to give form to the multifarious impressions and ideas of conscious life. Given the rawness and disorder of American life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it is not surprising that he became an increasingly sharp critic of the United States. We see in his work, as in that of so many American writers, the growing realization of the gulf between the ideal and the real, between the promise of American life and its achievement....

  23. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 269-270)
  24. Abbreviations and Short Titles
    (pp. 271-273)
  25. Notes
    (pp. 274-280)
  26. Index
    (pp. 281-288)
  27. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-290)