The Continuum of Consciousness: Aesthetic Experience and Visual Art in Henry James's Novels (American University Studies)

The Continuum of Consciousness: Aesthetic Experience and Visual Art in Henry James's Novels (American University Studies)

Jennifer Eimers

Language: English

Pages: 117

ISBN: 1433122898

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

The Continuum of Consciousness: Aesthetic Experience and Visual Art in Henry James’s Novels examines the transformative experience of art in James’s fiction. In a 1915 letter to H. G. Wells, James declares, «It is art that makes life.» This book traces the rich implications of this claim. For James, viewing art transformed the self. Many of his contemporaries, including his famous older brother, William, were deeply interested in the study of perception and individual consciousness. James’s fictional use of art reflects these philosophical discussions. Although much valuable scholarship has been devoted to visual art in James’s fiction, the guiding role it often plays in his characters’ experiences receives fuller exploration in this book. A prolonged look at visual art and consciousness through the lens of nineteenth-century British aestheticism reveals intriguing connections and character responses. By highlighting and analyzing his representations of aesthetic consciousness in four novels at specific moments (such as Basil Ransom’s and Verena Tarrant’s contrasting responses to Harvard’s Memorial Hall in The Bostonians and Milly Theale’s identification with a Bronzino painting in The Wings of the Dove), this book ultimately explores the idea that for James art represents «every conscious human activity», as Wells replied to James.











her first arrival at Gardencourt, her expanded state of awareness allows her to see Ralph’s ghost. As with the Roman statues’ thoughts and her recent painful moving image of Madame Merle, this ghost is a figment of her imagination, yet if we trust Ralph that “the privilege isn’t given to every one” (52), her vision indicates that she has arrived at a new level of consciousness, one in which she understands that suffering is necessary to truly appreciate the art of life. The Continuum of

national characteristics of intelligence and vigour, will produce by building on the work of “civilizations not our own.” As Leon Edel phrases it, this letter “was the view of a cultivated American, translated into cosmopolitan terms. Henry was determined from the first to be an American artist, and equally determined to discover what his native land could offer his art” (265). James began publicly searching for native artistic inspiration in his 1879 critical biography of Hawthorne, which he

makes irrefutable conclusions impossible. Twenty-seven years later, James decided against including this novel in the literary legacy he was shaping, the New York Edition (1907–09), further curtailing what we can know about his intentions. He did personally hope for a new era in American letters, but he also believed that Americans could not reach this era without the model of European art, as evidenced by his decision to live there. By standing outside the intense cultural debate, he felt he

be, and if the Lefèvre was like it then the Florence couldn’t: a lapse from old convenience— as from the moment we couldn’t name the Lefèvre [as Tuscany] where were we? All of which it might have been open to me to feel I had uncannily promoted” (Autobiography 154). Again, the young James’s attention to color is uppermost in his artistic criticism, but the underlying, and more important, lesson that James gains by the “lapse from old convenience” seems to be that aesthetic value can be

that it had all gone beautifully” (174). Acting like a dove allows her to deceive Mrs. Lowder in return. Milly “felt in a rush all the reasons that would make it [her answer] the most dovelike; and she gave it, while she was about it, as earnest, as candid. ‘I don’t think, dear lady, he’s here.’ It gave her straightway the measure of the success she could have as a dove” (174). Again, Milly’s deception seems harmless because she appears to be protecting Densher and Kate. Yet, she has her own ends

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