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The Henry James Review 21.3 (2000) 195-196

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Material James


Henry James's presence looms large: his imposing head and body, the sheer heft of his fictions, the accumulated mass of his complete works, the proliferation of pages written about him. James paid careful attention to the physical making and the commercial marketing of his books. And the material figures centrally in James's work: in the representation of the physical environment that is his realist legacy, in what Collin Meissner calls "the interanimation of the aesthetic and the material in his fiction," in characters' and author's acute awareness of money and its values, in his analysis of contemporary market economy.

The essays in this issue interpret the matter of Henry James in various--and often unexpected--ways. Mark Seltzer locates in letters the novel's "postal unconscious." He revisits James's places in the body-machine complex, focusing on his turn-of-the-century use of the typewriter. Tracing in The Turn of the Screw and "The Aspern Papers," as well as William Dean Howells's The Rise of Silas Lapham, the evolving "media logics of intimacy and subjectivity," Seltzer explores shifting technologies of writing love contemporaneous with changes in cultural constructions of privacy, publicness, and publicity. Richard Adams locates the bank as a rich site for Jamesian correspondence and exchange. The familiar Jamesian analogizing of language and capital is here literalized as Adams charts Henry James's attempts to balance his literary and financial ledgers through letters. James's "reciprocal economy" animates Isabel Archer as well, in her aesthetic of credit and exchange, Adams argues. Jamesian correspondence is also the subject of the essay by Greg Zacharias. As general editor of the forthcoming complete edition of Henry James's letters, Zacharias approaches the materiality of the letters more concretely. Analyzing the problems involved in representing correspondence, and the inevitable losses such reproduction entails, Zacharias makes a strong case for attention to the material details of James's letters.

Heather O'Donnell also grapples with physical aspects of James, handling James's letters at the Houghton Library, stumbling across James's grave in the Cambridge Cemetery. Her essay explores the interplay between the material and the immaterial in James partly through analysis of his performances of publicity and mystery during his North American tour in 1904 and 1905. Collin Meissner [End Page 195] treats The American Scene years as well, finding in James's "shock" at what America had become, not a naive imagination of some pure immaterial aesthetic value, but an informed critique of money-culture. Meissner sees in James's latest style a reflective critique of this insubstantial material culture.

Timothy Dow Adams analyzes James's collaboration with Alvin Langdon Coburn in the illustrating of the New York Edition. James's desire that the frontispieces be "images always confessing themselves mere optical symbols or echoes, expressions of no particular thing in the text, but only of the type or idea of this or that thing," is negotiated, Adams shows, in part through contemporary photographic theories and practices. James comes to understand the making of photographs as a creative, transformative act that moves between the specific and the general, the material and the mystical.

James C. Davis and Sheri Weinstein both address the ways in which James imagines and represents the immaterial as material in his work. Davis argues that "the meaning of race, for James, is a question of its state of matter." Building on previous treatments of race in The American Scene, Davis traces how James's changing characterizations of race as a solid, liquid, and gas comport with and challenge racial thinking at the turn of the century. Weinstein turns to an early James story, "The Ghostly Rental" (1876), reading it as a meditation on "the possession of matter and the matter of possession," possessions both physical and spiritual. The publicizing of the domestic described in James's tale, its situating within a market economy, has implications, as Weinstein contends, for understandings of female selfhood in particular.

The next two essays treat the archival materials of James scholarship. Peter Walker examines...


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