Preface ....",
In June 1993, I participated in the Henry James Sesquicentennial Conferences
in New York.! Along with many others, I was impressed with the vitality and
diversity of new scholarly approaches to James's life and works. Although
some people in New York spoke of the "revival" of interest in Henry James, I
think this exciting new work marks yet another of the several transformations
Henry James has undergone in this century.
As
a novelist, he has been held up
as the master of realism, modernism, and postmodernism in quick succes-
sion.
As
a theorist, he has been claimed by New Critics, phenomenological
and reader-response critics, structuralists, and deconstructive critics. Cultural
critics have identified his limitations, but often in ways that have testified to
his generally progressive ideals and the subtlety of his understanding of how
social power works.
We have not needed, then, to "revive" Henry James for the 1990S, because
we continue to construct him in ways that reflect our changing intellectual
methods and literary concerns. Such an argument is likely to lend support
to
those who have argued recently for a return to so-called classic works and
authors, and I do not object to paying respect to important works and
authors as long as such regard includes our contemporary scene. If James is
valued because his hopes and worries still speak to us, then let us celebrate his
masterful adaptability, even changeable qualities, rather than his testament to
some dubious universal truth. By beginning with his own anxieties concern-
ing sexuality, conventional gender roles, authorship, and nationalism at the
turn of the last century and interpreting them in relation to our own concerns
with these same issues at the end of this century, the most exciting new work
on James has done just this. The case is decidedly not that nothing has
changed, but that the changes we have passed through are readable histor-
ically from James and his contemporaries to us.
Positive change begins with our recognition of certain impasses-repeti-
tions and thus repressions-in our previously settled ways of thinking; this
has certainly been the case in our transformation of the pompous figure of
James as master of the novel-captured perfectly in John Singer Sargent's
famous 1912 portrait of James at age seventy-into the vulnerable, sexually
anxious, and lonely writer struggling with the new modern art and new age
ix
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