SoSe 15: Jameses: Rewriting Themes of International Modernity
Mary Ann Snyder-Körber
Henry James is considered THE writer of the international theme. In its narrower definition, the international theme designates fictions focused on a cultivated US-American citizen's encounter with ... read more
Henry James is considered THE writer of the international theme. In its narrower definition, the international theme designates fictions focused on a cultivated US-American citizen's encounter with European culture. In the broader view, however, the international theme concerns the evolving landscape of an every more interconnected modernity. Travel and, even more specifically, tourism are part of this new complexity. Other aspects include consumer capitalism, new visual cultures of advertising, and the broader shifts in economic and political power generally described as "Americanization."
This seminar uses James's writing of the international theme (and their progressive rewriting) as an entry point into these wider developments. We will begin by looking at James's early melodramatic spin on the premise of the representative American traveler in The American (1877) and continue with his late-phase, modernist revision of that earlier novel in The Ambassadors (1903). The second half of the course will examine further rewritings of James from the mid-twentieth century on. We will be particularly concerned with how the "international theme" is translated from nineteenth-century drawing rooms to twentieth and twenty-first century cultural situations. James Baldwin uses a Jamesian blueprint for Giovanni's Room (1956): a cold war-tinged novel premised on homosexual white American flight and whose composition pushes us towards an encounter with the messiness of human entanglements. Michael Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty (2004) continues in that tradition by drawing on James for his portrayal of closeted gay energy in Thatcher-era Britain. We will conclude with Cynthia Ozick's reimagining of The Ambassadors as a reckoning with Holocaust knowledge in Foreign Bodies (2010).
Required Reading: Please purchase and/or secure access to all five novels that we will be discussing. Giovanni's Room, The Line of Beauty and Foreign Bodies can be purchased in any reasonably priced edition. When ordering The American and The Ambassadors make sure that you are NOT purchasing the final revised versions included in the New York Edition, but the earlier 1877 and 1903 drafts of the novels. The Penguin editions of the novels are good reasonably priced options. If you want to spend more, The Library of America editions are good investments. Cornell's "Making of America" project also offers access to The American in its original serial printing in The Atlantic Monthly (http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/m/moa/).