Henry James, Women and Realism by Victoria Coulson

By Victoria Coulson

Girls have been highly vital to Henry James, either in his vividly drawn woman characters and in his relationships with lady kinfolk and pals. Combining biography with literary feedback and theoretical inquiry, Victoria Coulson explores James's relationships with 3 of crucial ladies in his lifestyles: his pals, the novelists Constance Fenimore Woolson and Edith Wharton, and his sister Alice James, who composed an important diary within the final years of her existence. those writers shared not just their attitudes to gender and sexuality, but in addition their affinity for a undeniable type of literary illustration, which Coulson defines as 'ambivalent realism'. The booklet attracts on a various variety of assets from fiction, autobiography, theatre studies, trip writing, deepest journals, and correspondence. Coulson argues, compellingly, that the private lives and literary works of those 4 writers happen a frequent cultural ambivalence approximately gender id on the finish of the 19th century.

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We had just finished luncheon and were talking of something or other when H. ’ shrieked I. ’ Enter Wm. not a` la Romeo via the balcony; the prose of our century to say nothing of that of our consanguinity making it super[er]ogatory. The beforehand having been so cleverly suppressed by the devoted H. ‘it came out so much easier than could have been expected’ 28 Henry James, Women and Realism as they say to infants in the dentist chair . . Poor Harry, over whom the moment had impended for two m[on]ths, looked as white as a ghost before they went and well he may in his anxiety as to which ‘going off’ in my large repertory would ‘come on’ but with the assistance of 200 grains of Bromides I think I behaved with extreme propriety.

He seems to be speaking for the whole of Alice’s remembered childhood. The garden is not wholly barren, however; there are the ‘two or three scrubby apple-trees’ with their covert relation to the ‘flowering’ of Alice’s intellect. This is a fortunate Fall in a ‘dusty’, ‘desolate’ Eden, the decline from innocence to experience recast as a necessary passage from impotence to (limited) agency, from being the object of other people’s narratives to subject of one’s own. And the prime mover in the satirical recovery of agency is Henry.

The diary ends two years later, with a note by Katharine Loring briefly detailing the circumstances of Alice’s death – one day after Alice had dictated a correction to what would be her final entry. Alice James was a career invalid who spent her adult life exhibiting classic manifestations of hysteria: fainting, prostration, depression, back pain, stomach pain, paralysis. In the James family correspondence, Alice’s ‘illness’ stabilised as a recognised feature of the familial landscape while Alice was in her early twenties, but there is no extended account of her own experience until she began her diary in 1889.

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