The American Henry James

The American Henry James

The American Henry James

The American Henry James

Excerpt

The thesis of this book will come as a shock to many of Henry James's devoted readers. He was, after all, a thinker, and he had a secret relation to a body of thought: his father's combination of philosophy and psychology.

In spirit Henry James's father was an envoy from the age of cosmic analogy--the unreconstructed pre-Cartesian world in which symbols of human nature and destiny did duty as instruments of investigation. Unlike Swedenborg (from whom he got much of his impetus and most of his ideas), he had no scientific interests or capabilities. Nor had he any sense of the historical antecedents of his position. This left him free to think in the mode of the Cambridge Platonists and their predecessors. In his hands, universal analogy was used to criticize the post-Cartesian world view, and to proclaim a religion of consciousness. His anthropocentrism is thorough: Historical Christianity, nature, God himself are all swallowed up in human consciousness. The result is a characteristic mid-nineteenth century American system, at once inclusive and parochial, quirky and cosmic.

What this meant to the novelist was that he did not have to cobble up for himself a set of inclusive values and beliefs about man and his destiny, as did Hawthorne and Melville. He did not so much borrow as continue to employ a mode . . .

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