In the popular imagination, James is still an ivory-tower aesthete, writing for and about the elite. Long-lived as this legacy of modernism, New Criticism, and premature student exposure to “The Beast in the Jungle” remains, most readers and critics of James nonetheless know how deeply he desired popularity and how immersed he was in popular culture. Reading widely, attending popular theater, gossiping avidly, he borrowed eclectically in his writing. Influential in his own time, James continues to trouble literary imaginations as diverse as those of Carlos Fuentes and Cynthia Ozick.
This issue examines James’s vexed relations with popularity from a number of perspectives. Some contributions advance the critical work of locating popular influences on James or James’s influence on the popular. Many also address the larger question of the Master’s part in the historical construction of “the popular” as a category. Discussing “Popular James” also means taking up questions of genre, the problems of translations across media, and the narratological reasons James works (or doesn’t work) on the big screen or the opera stage.
Richard Salmon suggests that James studies are exemplary of the history of popular culture studies. Salmon uses James’s own complex relation to the popular to question what he sees as postmodernism’s ahistorical attempt to obscure the differences between high and mass cultures. Marc Bousquet, Melanie Dawson, and Michael Reid all explore James’s engagements with specific aspects of the popular culture of his time. Bousquet uncovers the ways in which James’s autobiographical, critical, and travel writings resonate with popular participatory and ritual arts of the turn of the century. Dawson stresses the part that James’s fiction played in Collier’s Weekly’s attempt to position itself at the “highbrow” end of the literary marketplace of the 1890s. Reid interprets The Wings of the Dove as James’s allegory of the dynamic antagonism between journalism and the novel at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Beth Boehm, Adeline Tintner, and William Veeder uncover a range of postmodern re-renderings of James’s fictions. Boehm suggests that James’s 1898 The Turn of the Screw is more “postmodern” than its 1997 counterpart, Hilary Bailey’s Miles and Flora—that James is not just the muse but perhaps also the Master of postmodern fiction. Tintner finds “whiffs” of James in recent works by [End Page 209] Louis Auchincloss, Anita Brookner, and Thomas Caplan and suggests that James himself may have been influenced by Ménie Murial Dowie, an English fin-de-siècle writer. Veeder reads The Aspern Papers through Carlos Fuentes’s Aura (1962) and contemporary slasher movies to return us to the gothic James. His discussion of 1990s gothic films provides a segue to three contributions that deal with the way James is currently most present in our contemporary culture: the cinematic “James boom.” Arguing that “cinema is Jamesian and James is cinematic,” Alan Nadel explores the ways in which the conventions of mainstream film illuminate—and at times glaringly simplify—the concerns and structures of James’s fiction. Dianne Sadoff traces the relative successes and failures of recent James films to their (largely ineffectual) attempts to negotiate today’s segmented cinema marketplace. I am pleased to include Sarah Koch’s surprising (to me, at least) list of the myriad film and screen adaptations of James’s work. Michael Halliwell contributes a discussion of some of the many adaptations of James’s fiction into opera, exploring especially their uses of melodrama. The issue closes with our printing of the transcript of a CBC radio broadcast of a discussion between Cynthia Ozick, Sheldon Novick, and myself. Although I am happy to share with HJR readers some measure of the great pleasure of this conversation, I regret that the printed page conveys so little of what Cynthia Ozick described as our “inflections” and “reflective hesitations” as we puzzled through the intricacies of popular James.—SMG