- Portraying the Lady: Technologies of Gender in the Short Stories of Henry James, and: Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure, and: Henry James and the Father Question (review)
- American Literature
- Duke University Press
- Volume 75, Number 4, December 2003
- pp. 871-873
- View Citation
- Additional Information
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American Literature 75.4 (2003) 871-873
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Anyone wishing to map the expanding terrain of Henry James studies might begin with the introduction to Donatella Izzo's Portraying the Lady: Technologies of Gender in the Short Stories of Henry James. Izzo carefully and quickly reviews several of the major texts in the current "James revival," grouping them according to method, subject, and theoretical focus. She is careful, too, in describing her own critical aim: a reading of James's short stories, many of which are still neglected, that analyzes their role in exposing, critiquing, and perpetuating gender ideologies in bourgeois, turn-of-the-century Anglo-American society. Influenced by Louis Althusser, Michel Foucault, and especially by Teresa de Lauretis's representational theory of gender, Izzo argues that James's stories "are both producers and critics of gender representations" that self-consciously question "the role that artistic and literary productions play in construing and circulating gender images" (25). Through readings of less well-known stories like "The Madonna of the Future," "The Sweetheart of M. Briseux," "The Last of the Valerii," "Adina," and "Julia Bride," Izzo presents James as a theorist of the relationships among gender, culture, and narrative whose thinking brings him closer to contemporary theorists like Judith Butler than to his turn-of-the-century peers.
The readings offered in the second half of the book slightly outshine those of the first, in part because of Izzo's compelling theorization of silence and female subjectivity in relation to sexuality and desire: "What interests me here is silence as cultural prescription and permission—in other words, what can be said and who can say what, who restricts or does not restrict the power to speak in a given culture" (155). In a reading of "The Beast in the Jungle," which builds on and argues with Eve Sedgwick's "The Beast in the Closet," Izzo locates the trials of May Bartram, not those of John Marcher, at the story's narrative center. She sees female subjectivity, and James's writing itself, as a process of "evading, while inevitably reproducing, the dialectics of secret and confession" (242). Here and in other readings, Izzo fully delivers on her welcome promise to put aside "mimetic and humanistic" readings of "female character" in James's fiction, in order to "isolate, instead, the suprapersonal traits . . . that are at play in the characterization and in the dynamics of relationships instituted by the plot" (18).
Tessa Hadley's Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure also examines the complexities of James's relationship to gender and sexuality in turn-of-the-century, [End Page 871] middle-class fiction. Izzo and Hadley see James working both within and outside the normative beliefs of his time, using fiction (in particular, the intricacies of his late style) to both question and reproduce the often restrictive codes that governed the cultural and narrative production of female subjects. In readings of several of the major novels and a few of the best-known stories, Hadley presents James as a writer who worked to overcome his ties to "a moralised English-language novel tradition" (3), insisting on the "ripe worldliness"(3) of his late style and asking "whether it is possible to offer a reading of the work which yields a writer at once responsible toward the large ethical implications of his class, his privilege and his age, and at the same time deeply responsive to the possibilities of pleasure that age and leisure class afford" (3–4).
A novelist and short-story writer in her own...