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Studies in American Fiction125 Hadley, Tessa. Henry James and the Imagination ofPleasure. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002. 205 pp. Cloth: $55.00. A rare combination of clarity and complexity, Tessa Hadley's Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure offers fresh readings of some ofJames's most frequently analyzed texts. As Hadley points out, recent criticism of Henry James's fiction has offered a much-needed corrective to the view that James was a monk of literature whose fiction conspicuously avoids the subject of sex. Thanks in large part to critics who have explored the homoerotic elements of James's work, few contemporary scholars would agree with E. M. Forster's remark, in his essay on "Pattern in The Ambassadors," that the problem with the characters of James's late novels is that "Their clothes will not take off." Focusing exclusively on heterosexual love affairs in James's fiction, Hadley demonstrates that it is precisely in the late novels that James casts off the conventional pruderies of the English novelistic tradition, revealing an increasing regard for the pleasures of the flesh. In the story of Lambert Strether, a man who "make[s] the journey . . . from a nervous conventional propriety to a grown-up reconcilation with, and honouring of, the sensual side oflife" (4), Hadley finds a metaphor for James's own development as a novelist. The most enlightening aspect of Hadley's book is the way in which she thoroughly contextualizes James's fiction in both the Anglo-American and the continental novelistic traditions. According to Hadley, James's increasingly complex representation of sensual pleasure was the result of his ambivalent relationship with the continental novel. In the French tradition, Hadley writes, James discovered that "representation . . . came dragging after it none of the clumsy apparatus of moralization"(9). If James could not approve '"of . . . their handling of unclean things,'" he nevertheless found the French naturalists provocatively '"serious and honest"' (9). Hadley's book begins with a chapter devoted to The Portrait of a Lady, a novel she posits as representative ofJames's early adherence to a typically English moralizing frame. The novel ends ambiguously , she writes, because James had as yet "no language—no argument, no aesthetic" with which to imagine "a woman who might say yes instead of no, without having to become the instant she said it a Mme Merle" (15). In subsequent chapters on What Maisie Knew and The Awkward Age Hadley contends that James later developed "women whose . . . knowledge from outside innocence liberates them, but endangers them, too," (85). James's imagination of sensual pleasure was thus no longer "predicated upon dyads of innocence and guilt," although he understood that women were still 126Reviews "at the mercy of a cultural machinery" which was (85). According to Hadley, James's later more complicated representation of women and of pleasure reaches its fullest expression in the three late novels, The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl, to which she devotes a chapter each. Hadley does not, however, simply argue that the later novels adopt French traditions in place of English ones. One still finds in them, she claims, a typically English emphasis on the consciousnesses of women and a wariness of the "élan of male adventure" (11). If James's late novels do not warn against the evils of worldly pleasures , they still reveal how the enjoyment of them leaves one vulnerable to pain: "When Strether finally opens the door on the grown-up reality of the pleasures of passion, he also discovers that ... to really take the risk he enjoins upon little Bilham with his 'live all you can!', is to step into the free fall of suffering" (111). Likewise Hadley argues that in The Golden Bowl Maggie "proceeds in the course of the novel to get exactly what she wants" while learning that "getting exactly what you want involves painful discoveries about exactly what it costs" (176). Hadley insists, however , that in these late novels the pleasures are as real as the costs, that James never minimizes their value or their reality. Thus, in The Wings of the Dove, Milly is truly fortunate to be rich just as Kate is truly fortunate...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 125-126
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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