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The Continuum of Consciousness

Aesthetic Experience and Visual Art in Henry James’s Novels


Jennifer Eimers

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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Acknowledgments ix INTRODUCTION The Art in James’s Experience 1 James’s Introduction to Visual Art 5 John Ruskin and Walter Pater 9 The Art in James’s Fiction 13 CHAPTER ONE Aesthetic Experience in The Portrait of a Lady 17 Italian Initiations 22 St. Peter’s Basilica 25 Antique Marbles 29 Tableau Vivant 32 Return to Gardencourt 34 CHAPTER TWO The Influence of Architecture in The Bostonians 41 Memorial Hall 45 Central Park 53 Boston Music Hall 57 CHAPTER THREE (Re)presenting Miriam Rooth in The Tragic Muse 63 Nick, Nash, and Notre Dame 65 Miriam as the Tragic Muse 68 La Tragédie 73 Miriam as the Comic Muse 79 Miriam on Stage 81 The Continuum of Consciousness viii CHAPTER FOUR Pater and Ruskin in The Wings of the Dove 85 The Bronzino Portrait 90 The Image of the Dove 94 The National Gallery 95 Death in Venice 97 The Venetian Canvas 99 CONCLUSION Art, Consciousness, Life 105 Bibliography 109 Index 113

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