In The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Ambassadors an older man in a garden setting delivers a monologue to a younger man, telling him to cherish his youth and seize the day. James shifts the perspective and emphasis of the garden speech, focusing on the subjectivity of the older speaker instead of the younger listener. This shift signals a general strategy in The Ambassadors, whereby the sensuous intensity Wilde attributes to youth is picked up and transplanted into the more mediated and contextualized garden of middle age. Such a realignment of aesthetic experience and perception with an older, “mature” consciousness not only reverses many conventional tropes about aging, but also reimagines the historical position of aesthetic experience. James’s appropriation of Wildean aestheticism thereby marks a significant moment in the cultural history of aging, representing a shift between fin-de-siècle and modernist conceptions of the aesthetics of the human life course.


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pp. 283-302
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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