The Other Henry James (New Americanists)

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9780822321477: The Other Henry James (New Americanists)

In The Other Henry James, John Carlos Rowe offers a new vision of Henry James as a social critic whose later works can now be read as rich with homoerotic suggestiveness. Drawing from recent work in queer and feminist theory, Rowe argues that the most fruitful approach to James today is one that ignores the elitist portrait of the formalist master in favor of the writer as a vulnerable critic of his own confused and repressive historical moment.
Rowe traces a particular development in James’s work, showing how in his early writings James criticized women’s rights, same-sex relations, and other social and political trends now identified with modern culture; how he ambivalently explored these aspects of modernity in his writings of the 1880s; and, later, how he increasingly identified with such modernity in his heretofore largely ignored or marginally treated fiction of the 1890s. Building on recent scholarship that has shown James to be more anxious about gender roles, more conflicted, and more marginal a figure than previously thought, Rowe argues that James—through his treatment of women, children, and gays—indicts the values and conventions of the bourgeoisie. He shows how James confronts social changes in gender roles, sexual preferences, national affiliations, and racial and ethnic identifications in such important novels as The American, The Tragic Muse, What Maisie Knew, and In the Cage, and in such neglected short fiction as “The Last of the Valerii,” “The Death of the Lion,” and “The Middle Years.”
Positioning James’s work within an interpretive context that pits the social and political anxieties of his day against the imperatives of an aesthetic ideology, The Other Henry James will engage scholars, students, and teachers of American literature and culture, gay literature, and queer theory.


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Review:

In his monumental biography of Henry James, Leon Edel plumbed the inner life of the writer. Decades later, scholars are finding more and more to explore in the novelist's life and work. In his 1996 biography, Henry James: The Young Master, Sheldon Novick suggested that James had actually consummated homosexual relationships (a topic that Edel had gently avoided). This was startling information for Jamesian scholars, many of whom preferred their idol to be as chaste and repressed as some of his characters. In The Other Henry James, James Carlos Rowe uses the discussion of the writer's sexuality as a starting point to explore the mysteries and the dark side of his later works (including What Maisie Knew and The Tragic Muse). But while Rowe uses James's homosexuality as a very insightful and provocative lens through which to view this work, he never allows it to become overly defining or intrusive. While the early James was critical of feminism, "foreigners," and nontraditional gender performance (think of the scheming lesbian Olive Chancellor in The Bostonians), Rowe argues that in his later career he used these subjects to critique mainstream conventions and beliefs. He writes that this change came about, in part, because of James's changing feelings about his own sexuality--and makes a terrific case for a rereading of the writer's work along these lines. --Michael Bronski

From the Back Cover:

"Daring and dazzling in scope, John Carlos Rowe's brilliant readings create the makings of an alternative canon for James's career, one more suitable to our time."--Daniel T. O'Hara, Temple University

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