Ágnes Zsófia Kovács is associate professor at the Department of American Studies, University of Szeged, Hungary. Her areas of academic interest and teaching include late 19th-c. early 20th-c. American fiction and contemporary American fiction, versions of literary Modernism and Postmodernism, popular fiction, multicultural American identity prose, and theories of American Studies. Her current research into travel writing involves re-reading texts by Edith Wharton and Henry James as travel accounts. She has published two books, The Function of the Imagination in the Writings of Henry James (Mellen, 2006) and Literature in Context (Jate Press, 2010). Email:
This issue of Americana hosts a collection of essays on how Henry James’ work is represented or appropriated by contemporary literary authors. James’s work has been in the focus of interest for creative authors both as part of the longstanding inquiries into (proto)Modernist sensibilities and as part of the more current post-Victorian project of politicizing the literary legacy of the Victorians.
There is a logical pressure to spell out a long list of names here, of authors who have contributed to the intertextual enterprise of thinking along with James or trying to rethink his literary legacy in various ways. Of course, this list should start from a very early point in time, with James’s own contemporaries; like his friend Edith Wharton who criticized him and wrote the US version of his innocent heroine of The Portrait in The House of Mirth (1905), or like Percy Lubbock who celebrated him as the first editor of his letters (1920) and as a critic forging a theory of his practice in The Craft of Fiction (1921), or like H. G. Wells who caricatured his “style” and notion of art ruthlessly (1915). As all Jamesian are well aware, relations stop nowhere. As they are also aware, quite a number of academic books have been penned on this subject ever since that early point in time.
The collection of essays in this special issue looks at a small segment of the creative literary output on James. It offers glimpses of how our contemporaries have appropriated Jamesian themes in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. In other words, the focus remains to be on 2004, “the year of Henry James,” and its aftermath. The contemporary interest in rewriting James remains intense, authors with as diverse backgrounds as Cynthia Ozick, Colm Tóibín, David Lodge, Michiel Heyns, Emma Tennant, Tessa Hadley, Alan Hollinghurst, Michelle de Kretser pour out material that remains connected to Jamesian topics. So a project on James our contemporary has been ‘in the air’ for long, and the five articles here provide an additional part to the series “Contemporary James,” even if they do not encompass a whole season of it — just to use a media analogy.
The first essay by Elsa Court charts the story of how Vladimir Nabokov related to James both in theory and in practice. An analysis of Nabokov’s autobiographical practice shows his narration had more to do with late Jamesian ways of storytelling than Nabokov himself, or critics for that matter, were prepared to admit. The second essay by Mirosława Buchholtz considers the theme of authorship as it is reflected in short stories by Henry James and Alice Munroe. A comparison of James’ “The Lesson of the Master” to Munro’s “The Office” and “To reach Japan” that all focus on literary authors, reveals how James and Munro problematize the private/public distinction in a similar manner, through the metaphor of the house, as a key issue of professionalization. The third essay by Linda Raphael analyzes the functions of memory in Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story “The Unaccustomed Earth” and compares it to the work of memory in James’ The Wings of the Dove to point out similarities on the level of narrative strategies. The fourth essay is my reading of Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn as a hybrid text at the intersection of transnational Irish themes and Jamesian moral issues. I claim that Tóibín makes use of James’s lifelong technique of handling secrets and betrayal, in order to represent a story of divided transnational Irish identity in his 2008 novel. The film adaptation fails to project the depth of the moral anguish the novel grasps so well. Last but not least, Bethany Layne exposes the mechanisms of gender oriented rewritings of James, while showcasing Michiel Heynes’ Invisible Furies. Bethany asserts that Heynes’ book reimagines Lamberth Strether’s life in contemporary Paris as the life of a full-fledged homosexual who does not shy away from forming relationships, but ends up unhappy and frustrated all the same. So the original Jamesian story of loss and renunciation remains part of the contemporary LGBT tale. To quote Bethany quoting James: “To criticize”, we remember, “is to appreciate, to appropriate, to take intellectual possession, to establish in fine a relation with the criticized thing and to make it one’s own” (James, “Preface to _Maisie_” 155 in Bethany 2016). I suppose this is what the five essays of this collection are all trying to accomplish, each in its own way.
Finally, let me thank a number of people who have, either consciously or not, moved this publication along. First of all, the five papers of the issue were all presented as essays for the “Henry James and Memory” conference in London, in 2016. Aladár Sarbu sent me the call for papers for the conference first, so by the time it arrived through the official channels I was well prepared – I am ever grateful for that letter. It has to be acknowledged with a signal of thanks to the organizers, Philip Horne, Gert Buelens, and Oliver Herford, that the wonderful event at The British Library made it possible for us to meet and to come up with the idea of a joint project in the first place. Secondly, let me thank the contributors themselves: Elsa Court, Mira Buchholtz, Linda Raphael, and Bethany Layne, who have devoted their time to this enterprise and bore with me and with my painstaking comments during the winter recess of 2016/17. Also, it was a wonder for me how one or two letters of inquiry have brought in five book reviews on current critical pieces of interest for Jamesians. Jamesians like not only to go to conferences but also to read about James and to write about him, as the number of reviews offered indicate. Maria Pirgerou and Anna Despotopoulou have been kind to share their valuable readings I can only thank them for. Let me add that one more review comes along in the Spring 2017 issue of AMERICANA Oliver Herford’s Henry James’s Style of Retrospect: Late Personal Writing (Oxford, 2016) as a contribution by Tom Ue, for which he is to be thanked in advance. As an important element, let me thank editors-in-chief Réka Cristian and Zoltán Dragon for providing the space for the material, and also for their patience with the editorial process. Last but not least, let me also express my gratitude to Emma Bálint and Daniel Nyikos for their help with the reviews and with the copy-editing.
- Heyns, Michiel. Invisible Furies. Johannesburg and Cape Town: Jonathan Ball, 2012. Print.
- ——. The Typewriter’s Tale. Johannesburg and Cape Town: Jonathan Ball, 2005. Print.
- Headley, Tessa. Accidents in the Home. London: Jonathan Cape, 2002. Print.
- Hollinghurst, Alan. The Line of Beauty. New York: Bloomsbury, 2005 (2004). Print.
- Kretser de, Michelle. The Lost Dog. London: Chatto and Windus, 2008.
- Layne, Bethany. 2016. “’Queering The Ambassadors’: Michiel Heyns’s Invisible Furies (2012) and Jamesian Appropriation “ Americana 12 (2016):2. Web. Jan. 30, 2017. http://americanaejournal.hu/vol12no2/layne
- Lee, Hermione. Edith Wharton. London: Vintage, 2007. Print.
- Lodge, David. Author, Author. London: Secker and Warburg, 2004. Print.
- ——. The Year of Henry James: The Story of a Novel. London: Penguin, 2006. Print.
- Lubbock, Percy. The Craft of Fiction. London: Jonathan Cape, 1960 (1921). Print.
- ——, ed. The Letters of Henry James. 2 vols. New York: Scribner, 1920. The Internet Archive. Web. Jan. 22, 2017. https://archive.org/stream/lettersofhenryja01jamerich/lettersofhenryja01jamerich_djvu.txt
- Ozick, Cynthia. Dictation: A Quartet. New York: Mariner, 2008. Print.
- ——. Foreign Bodies. London: Atlantic, 2012. Print.
- Tennant, Emma. Felony: The Private History of The Aspern Papers. London: Jonathan Cape, 2002. Print.
- Tóibín, Colm. The Master. London: Picador, 2004. Print.
- ——. Brooklyn. New York: Viking, 2009. Print.
- Wells, H G. Boon. London: T. Fisher Unvin, 1915. Web. Jan. 22, 2017. http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks13/1303191h.html
- Wharton, Edith. The House of Mirth. New York: Scribner, 1905. Print.