Henry Adams and Henry James: The Emergence of a Modern Consciousness

Henry Adams and Henry James: The Emergence of a Modern Consciousness

Henry Adams and Henry James: The Emergence of a Modern Consciousness

Henry Adams and Henry James: The Emergence of a Modern Consciousness

Excerpt

Henry Adams and Henry James invite obvious comparisons. Exact contemporaries on the American literary scene, both were beguiled by European culture, both were distressed by American ills. Philosophically and aesthetically they also had much in common. But these two writers arrived at logically opposite extremes in struggling with the historical, political, economic, and social problems of their age. Adams came to view the basic impulse toward unity as the force that could give coherence to the multiplicity of experience; he viewed philosophies of history as aesthetic systems that made it possible to organize the incoherence of historical and natural events. James, on the other hand, felt that art and history were inextricably related, and that history could be viewed in terms of the differing interpretations man designs to relate himself to the social or natural world.

Yet both these writers reflect and embody a fundamental shift in American literature, from an earlier transcendental and logocentric vision to an increasingly speculative and experimental emphasis on methodology. Re-evaluated together in a study of the literary imagination, they illuminate the unfolding, self- conscious position that has characterized modern literature since the turn of the century. And James is a most appropriate counterpart for Adams in a study concerned with changing concepts of meaning, for in his criticism and fiction James described a creative imagination fundamental to both artistic expression and historical order.

This book began as an attempt to clarify the intellectual and aesthetic problems that confronted American imaginative writers . . .

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