The Illustration of the Master: Henry James and the Magazine Revolution

By Amy Tucker | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1 Henry James and the Rise of
the Illustrated Magazines

HENRY JAMES remarked in later life that the “illustration of books, even more of magazines, may be said to have been born in our time, so far as variety and abundance are the signs of it,”1 for he and the modern illustrated press had come of age together. The Illustration of the Master reconsiders a significant portion of James’s oeuvre in light of the explosive growth of the periodicals industry in Europe and the United States during the final decades of the nineteenth century. This was a pivotal moment in the history of publishing, a period before “popular entertainment” and “high art” parted company, when literature figured in the public imagination as an overwhelmingly visual experience.

The technology-driven “magazine revolution” of the late nineteenth century offers striking parallels to the digital revolution in publishing during our own era, and its impact was just as dramatic, with far-reaching consequences for the future of print culture and the practice of authorship. James and his colleagues witnessed the beginning of mass-information services and the democratization of the literary circuit. They saw an earlier generation of “genteel” and attentive editors superseded by corporate managers who adapted texts for niche markets of consumers with shorter attention spans and lower expectations, who promoted genre franchises over high-literary experimentation, and who favored media hype over plain text. The present study examines the ways in which these elements of the contemporary publishing milieu exerted pressure on James’s production—on its composition and themes as well as its reception. By way

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