Henry James and the Father Question

Henry James and the Father Question

Henry James and the Father Question

Henry James and the Father Question

Synopsis

The intellectual relationship between Henry James and his father proved to be an influential resource for the novelist. Andrew Taylor examines the nature of both men's engagement with autobiographical strategies, issues of gender reform, and the language of religion. He argues for a reading of Henry James that is informed by an awareness of paternal inheritance. Through the study of a wide range of novels and texts, he demonstrates how James Senior's dialogue with his contemporaries, such as Emerson and Whitman, anticipates James's own theories of fiction and selfhood.

Excerpt

Society, the Redeemed Form of Man (1879) was the last of James Senior's volumes to appear in print during his lifetime. Like many of his preceding efforts, the book is a series of letters addressed to an unnamed correspondent who, the author feels, is in need of spiritual guidance. the work is extensive yet unfocused, ranging across the whole spectrum of James Senior's intellectual and religious concerns, and includes the autobiographical mythologising of his vastation experience back in 1844. in the same year that Society was published, Henry James was preoccupied with the composition of his first major work, The Portrait of a Lady. the germ of the novel came to him as early as 1876: writing to William Dean Howells in October of that year he had mentioned that his new book 'was to be an Americana – the adventures in Europe of a female Newman', a reference to the hero of an earlier novel, The American, which Howells had started publishing in instalments in the Atlantic magazine four months previously (Letters, ii, 72). the gestation period for this new book was a lengthy one: two years later James was writing to his brother William that 'the “great novel” you ask about is only begun' (Letters, ii, 179); during 1879 he seems to have hit a creative impasse, confessing to Howells that the novel that he was 'waiting to write, and which, begun sometime since' was still only 'an aching fragment' (Letters, ii, 244); and writing to his father from Florence in 1880 he admits to 'taking a holiday pure and simple – before settling down to the daily evolution of my “big” novel' (Letters, ii, 277). James Senior's own newly published volume had already been sent to his son in London the previous year, and James's reaction to it in a letter to his mother is characteristically ambiguous: 'really to read it I must lay it aside till the summer. I have dipped into it and found a great fascination' (Letters, ii, 230). Filial loyalty and admiration is combined with an unwillingness to plough through the intricacies of his father's

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