Henry James Essay

2504 WordsFeb 27, 201511 Pages
Henry James Henry James,In August of 1904, after more than two decades abroad, the sixty-year-old Henry James returned to the United States for a year. While William James had famously remarked that his brother was "a native of the James family" (W James 517), with little else in the way of national affiliation, Henry considered himself as American as ever after his twenty years in Europe. The book he wrote about his American journey was titled The American Scene only because James's first choice had been taken; he would have preferred to call it The Return of the Native.[1] But James's sense of himself as a native, as one at home in the United States, was shaken by his alienating experience of the American public, both as readers and as fellow citizens. Today I want to consider ways in which James struggled to preserve a secure sense of himself, the private identity he called "my me,"[2] in the midst of disorienting encounters with the American press and the American people -- encounters, I argue, that share a certain uncanny logic. The American press staged a lively debate over the meaning of Henry James, in reviews of The Golden Bowl and of the early chapters of The American Scene, accounts of James's lecture appearances, cartoons of the elusive "Master," and parodies of his ornate late style. The name "Henry James" came to serve as a kind of shorthand for a complex nexus of anxieties about ethics, art, and nationhood. James's writing and life gave rise to debates about morality (was he decadent or just sophisticated?), manliness (was he effeminate or just sensitive?), and modernity (was he an aristocratic anachronism or was he avant-garde?), all entangled with the question of James's supposed patriotism or lack of it. James himself experienced the press attention paid him as an assault, and felt a visceral sense of violation at the way that journalists

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