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.

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holds James “responsible for the early twentieth-century view that Emerson had little to contribute on the subject of art,” a view that she contests (121). Whatever Emerson thought of the Louvre, Ellen’s and James’s conflicting reports of his experience suggest James’s preoccupation with distinguishing himself from literary nationalists and with the effects of provincialism on aesthetic perception. They also indicate that others can discern “experience” as an objective phenomenon (both men

absence of paintings and other “museum pieces” in The Bostonians, the novel does incorporate famous pieces of American art. More crucially, it also takes up the question of European influence through the narrative representations of carefully designed architectural achievements: Harvard’s Memorial Hall, New York’s Central Park, and the Boston Music Hall. Though the status of American art was still under debate in the nineteenth century, these buildings and Central Park have long been recognized

which Miriam has been cast requires re-tinting, one that reveals her not only as the subject of art, but also as subject to aesthetic experience, like Isabel Archer and Verena Tarrant. As an object— portrait subject and actress—Miriam offers Dormer and Sherringham inspiration and consciousness-expanding moments that cause them to take action. As a woman subject to aesthetic experience, Miriam chooses her artistic ambition over marriage to Peter Sherringham. In key moments that incorporate Paris’s

influence of Ruskin’s moral aesthetic of art. Scholars have addressed separately Pater’s or James’s efforts to revise Ruskin’s impact on art criticism, but James’s attempt in The Wings of the Dove becomes clearer when we consider that it was written in light of Pater’s work.3 Pater and Ruskin in The Wings of the Dove 87 Though Pater’s influence is more transparent, Ruskin’s ideas also appear in this novel. In addition to its allusion to Pater’s epigraph, James’s title also ties to the chapter

reiterated after meeting him. The aspiring author wrote to his mother that despite Ruskin’s mental illness, “the fitful flashes of his beautiful genius” were still evident (Complete Letters 1.1: 256). Ruskin’s aesthetic theories were based on his childhood Bible instruction, which taught him to look for biblical typology in his daily observations of the patterns around him. As an adult, this typology turned into “his sustained concern for art as a visible sign of an abstract quality, particularly

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