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The Henry James Review 24.3 (2003) 201-204

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Global James


It is hard to say exactly what is the profit of comparing one race with another, and weighing in opposed groups the manners and customs of neighbouring countries; but it is certain that as we move about the world we constantly indulge in this exercise. This is especially the case if we happen to be infected with the baleful spirit of the cosmopolite—that uncomfortable consequence of seeing many lands and feeling at home in none. To be a cosmopolite is not, I think, an ideal; the ideal should be to be a concentrated patriot. Being a cosmopolite is an accident, but one must make the best of it. If you have lived about, as the phrase is, you have lost that sense of the absoluteness and the sanctity of the habits of your fellow-patriots which once made you so happy in the midst of them. You have seen that there are a great many patriae in the world, and that each of these is filled with excellent people for whom the local idiosyncrasies are the only thing that is not rather barbarous. There comes a time when one set of customs, wherever it may be found, grows to seem to you about as provincial as another; and then I suppose it may be said of you that you have become a cosmopolite. You have formed the habit of comparing, of looking for points of difference and resemblance, for present and absent advantages, for the virtues that go with certain defects, and the defects that go with certain virtues. If this is poor work compared with the active practice, in the sphere to which a discriminating Providence has assigned you, of the duties of a tax-payer, an elector, a juryman or a diner-out, there is nevertheless something to be said for it. It is good to think well of mankind, and this, on the whole, a cosmopolite does.
—"Occasional Paris," 1877

"Global James" is, in many ways, an old topic. Readers and critics of James noticed from the first his "international theme"; critics of British and, especially, American literatures have alternately claimed and disowned him; scholars have studied the importance of Italy and France in his work. His travel writings make [End Page 201] up two Library of America volumes. American-born, James was educated internationally, lived in France and Italy, and settled in England.

His own musings on cosmopolitanism in "Occasional Paris" suggest that there is still much to say about how Henry James has traversed the globe. His complaints about the "uncomfortableness" of being "infected with the baleful spirit of the cosmopolite" are couched in the light, easy tone of one who "moves about the world" as about a room. The tension between patriotism and cosmopolitanism, between the habits of the native and the eye of the visitor, between the comforts of homeland and the awkwardness of transience situate James as, to borrow a term from Homi Bhabha, a "rooted cosmopolitan." The self-conscious young American writer of Hawthorne for the British Men of Letters series, the author of stories on the "international theme" (which he later himself dismissed as an "international fallacy"), the U.S. citizen who felt so strongly about America's failure to enter World War I, that he became a British subject (or was it because he had to register as an "alien" in his adopted land?), the "restored absentee" who, at the start of the twentieth century, revisits a homeland that he no longer recognizes, inhabits a complex globalism.

"Henry James" is also global as a cultural resource, artifact, and commodity. His work is now widely translated, read, viewed, and studied. The U.S.-based Henry James Society has representatives in South Korea, Greece, the United Kingdom, Italy, and the People's Republic of China; members in Belgium, Canada, Columbia, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. Contributors to this issue write about James from Estonia, Japan, and Korea, from...


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