- Henry James Today ed. by John Carlos Rowe
In the photograph of a famous J. S. Sargent painting used as the book cover, deep, whitish scars cut across the mouth and temple of an aging Henry James: the outcome of the physical attack mounted on the painting by the suffragette Mary Wood, who in 1914 raided the Royal Academy of Arts brandishing a butcher’s cleaver under her cloak (the portrait was subsequently restored by Sargent himself). The image is a formidable emblem of one of the most recent scholarly interventions into the Master. While on the one hand vaguely evoking conceptual art within a regime of representational aesthetics (more or less the same position James occupies in the history of literary forms), on the other hand the photograph visually testifies to the traumatic intrusion of modernity into the apparently smooth, late-nineteenth-century surfaces. Isn’t the violent woman, after all, one of the most powerful symbols of the advent of the modern age? Not surprisingly, James seemed to know it well, having chosen as heroines such dangerous women as Kate Croy and Rose Armiger, not to mention the would-be terrorist Princess Casamassima.
The many facets of modernity are indeed at the core of Henry James Today, a somewhat familiar title (it has already been used for the Henry James Society conference [End Page E-26] in Paris, in 2002), the recurrence of which bespeaks the strong actualizing impulse of the current Jamesian studies. There could be no higher authority on the spirit of the enterprise than the editor John Carlos Rowe, whose The Theoretical Dimensions of Henry James (1984) and especially The Other Henry James (1998) were landmarks in the symbolic coup d’état that has transformed the genius of form into the recipient and producer of manifold discourses, ranging from critical theory to historically sensitive minority and popular culture studies. As Rowe maintains in the Introduction, James’s complex engagement with the momentous changes that were impacting his age—consumerism, new media, women’s emancipation, multiculturalism—makes his oeuvre “in its own right a commentary on the emergence of modern society” (4). More specifically, James’s very contradictions and conflicted attitudes to change can be regarded as the vital source of the lasting resonance of his work not only in the twentieth but also in the twenty-first century.
Consistent with this premise, the essays gathered in the volume deal first with James’s negotiations with modernity then with his impact on the postmodern—or hypermodern—scene. The first three are the most extensive and arguably the most original contributions, if only because they best convey the impression of a lavish, virtually inexhaustible proliferation of fresh historical-cultural contexts in which James’s work can be summoned. In “Relating in Henry James (the Artwork of Networks),” Brad Evans combines Sharon Cameron’s notion of Jamesian consciousness as intersubjective and Bruno Latour’s theory of social networks as “flows of translations” in order to explore James’s all-encompassing investment in (broken) relations. The argument about James’s fiction as inaugurating a new “relational era” in modernist aesthetics is strengthened by an ingeniously intersemiotic parallel with the visual representations appearing in the symbolist little magazines—such as the Chap-Book—published in the U.S. during the 1890s. Also Ashley C. Barnes’s “Fanny and Bob Forever: The Collage Aesthetic and the Love Story in The Golden Bowl” is built upon an intersemiotic pattern, the term of comparison in this case being the more popular—although equally neglected—archive of the paper doll houses. The intimate flatness of the latter’s collage aesthetics finds a surprising, prestigious counterpart in the stagey externalization of self typical of James’s late fiction, in which character appears as a juxtaposition of scenes (often through metaphors of stuffed interiors). In The Golden Bowl, in particular, the Assinghams are seen by Barnes as a positive model of depthless intimacy, engaged as they are in affectionately juxtaposing mental representations of other people’s relationships. A more extreme form of mass communication...