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Reviewed by:
  • Transforming Henry James ed. by Anna De Biasio, Anna Despotopoulou, and Donatella Izzo
  • Laurence Raw
Transforming Henry James. Ed. Anna De Biasio, Anna Despotopoulou, and Donatella Izzo. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2013. 470 pp. $88.34 (hardcover).

The title of this book, Transforming Henry James, as the editors suggest in their introduction, carries two possible meanings: through repeated critical interventions (such as those collected in this volume), the notion of “Henry James” as an object of study is transformed, while “Henry James” as a subject redefines our understanding of certain concepts—for example, homosexuality. This highly generalized framework [End Page E-12] provides the justification for a variety of contributions based on papers given at the Fifth International Conference of the Henry James Society held at the John Cabot Centre, University of Rome, from 7–10 July 2011.

The sheer range of essays is breathtaking, penned by James scholars both familiar and unfamiliar. In the opening section, “Geographies of Memory and Belonging,” established names such as Leland S. Person and Martha Banta offer contrasting evaluations of James’s periods abroad. Banta surveys his encounters with Italians inside and outside the United States. In the Italian context he found them cultured and civilized, but when he returned to the United States he found the Italian immigrants along the Jersey shore to be more “at home”—i.e., conversant with American mores—than he was (38). Banta emphasizes a basic truism about James’s travel writings: they tell us more about the author’s shifting states of mind than the places he purports to describe. Person looks at Roderick Hudson in relation to the early letters, showing how the novel represents a highly competent distillation of James’s foreign experiences that helped him deal with “over-refinement” in his writing (69).

The second section, “Literary Tourism,” extends our understanding of how foreign travel inspired James’s technique. Anna De Biasio’s “The Author’s House as Tourist Space” looks at three different texts—the essay “The Birthplace” (1903), sightseeing in Lamb House as recounted by South African writer Michael Heyns (2002), and tourism as discussed in Colm Tóibín’s The Master (2004). De Biasio argues that all of these texts posit a rhetoric of “displaced forms”—a rupture of ideas between things and the people and cultures that shaped them (117). The best means of dealing with this rupture is to treat the “house”—both the physical house and the house of the imagination—as the equivalent of the act of creation. Tatiana Petrovich Njegosh returns to James’s Italian journals to discuss how he presents vignettes of a country experiencing profound transformation (140). Bearing De Biasio’s argument in mind, we might also argue that the journals reveal a mind undergoing similar transformation.

The third section shifts focus somewhat to analyze notions of hospitality—the product, perhaps, of minds who have already acclimatized themselves to the transformative processes described in the previous section. Julie Rivkin’s essay on Jamesian afterlives is a fascinating analysis of how “The Birthplace” can be used by readers to define themselves in relation to the author. She terms this process “living in James”—dwelling in gilded chambers of art accompanied by an acknowledgment of the modest conditions of existence we need to fulfill—an academic house, an academic name. We need to know what it means to make a living in order to participate in a community of recognition such as the Henry James Society (175). Collin Meissner’s essay takes a more thematic approach to friendship in James by using The American and The Portrait of a Lady, while Merle A. Williams shows how friendship and hospitality are transformed (even debased) in The Awkward Age into far less noble emotions driven by pride (208).

Inevitably the section on Jamesian sexuality incorporates some powerful pieces. Pierre A. Walker reads The Bostonians as a critique of compulsory heterosexuality wherein silences function as vehicles for transgressive ideas. James does not express overt criticism; what he doesn’t say assumes more significance (222). Alan M. Nadel views The Awkward Age as highly innovative, adumbrating a period in which novelists were very different (in terms...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. E-12-E-15
Launched on MUSE
2015-05-20
Open Access
No
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