Collecting and Appreciating: Henry James and the Transformation of Aesthetics in the Age of Consumption (Cultural Interactions: Studies in the Relationship between the Arts)
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This book examines the role and the meaning of collecting in the fiction of Henry James. Emerging as a refined consumerist practice at the end of the nineteenth century, collecting not only set new rules for appreciating art, but also helped to shape the aesthetic tenets of major literary movements such as naturalism and aestheticism. Although he befriended some of the greatest collectors of the age, in his narrative works James maintained a sceptical, if not openly critical, position towards collecting and its effects on appreciation. Likewise, he became increasingly reluctant to follow the fashionable trend of classifying and displaying art objects in the literary text, resorting to more complex forms of representation.
Drawing from classic and contemporary aesthetics, as well as from sociology and material culture, this book fills a gap in Jamesian criticism, explaining how and why James's aversion towards collecting was central to the development of his fiction from the beginning of his career to the so-called major phase.
Contents: Introduction - I. Appreciation in the Age of Consumption - II. Henry James's Early Response To Collecting - III. Between Aestheticism and Naturalism - IV. The Princess Casamassima - V. Henry James's Aesthetics of Desire - VI. The Spoils of Poynton - VII. The Golden Bowl - Bibliography - Index
is in itself a form of production. His rival, on the contrary, believes that the task of the artist is to let reality speak its own true (even if idiosyncratic) language by turning himself into a detached medium for such expression. My aim is to show that the contrast which separates these two figures should not prevent us from tracing a common denominator that invalidates both their appreciation and production. The first of these figures – introduced by the internal narrator, a mysterious New
looking for Serafina at her humble residence near the Mercato Vecchio – is ironically described as a ‘gentleman – an individual at least, of the male sex’ (223). Introduced by Serafina as ‘another friend of hers – also an artist,’ (223) he strikes the narrator with his vigorous appetite (‘[he was] dealing justice upon a beefsteak and onions and a bottle of wine’) and his burgeoning virility (as he ‘brandish[es] his knife with ardour […] apparently descanting on [the] merits’ of his creations:
because she values and cares about her interaction with the young man, and is simply fascinated by who he actually is. This last aspect is particularly evident in their dif fering reactions to Hyacinth’s revelation of his origins. Although she seems to be linked to the Princess by her propensity for melodramatic reactions (‘unskillful exaggeration’), Millicent does not see or judge people according to a prejudice derived by a blind belief in determinism, but instead according to the concreteness
look out for her chance’ (388). The chance that Fleda has at this point is that of actually getting something for herself to possess. As she approaches the house by train, however, the young woman is seized by a certain uneasiness. She imagines herself as some sort of ‘thief ’19 carrying away a ‘trophy under her cloak’ (390), and is greatly embarrassed by the glance of the old ‘lame porter’ at the station, who seems to know that ‘she mustn’t be there’ (391). Victim of an unpleasant foreboding,
as a parasite pawn in the millionaire’s idealist scenario. Her interest, in fact, is all in securing his dream of undisturbed appropriation and expansion by getting any disappointment out his way. As she defiantly tells Fanny Assingham at one point, by marrying Verver she has achieved a ‘fixity’ (195) that she likes to maintain for herself and for everybody else in her family (‘the great thing is, as they say, to “know” one’s place’, 197), implicitly intending to find a workable position for her