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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


Acknowledgments A portion of chapter two was first printed in “The Influence of Architec- ture in Henry James’s The Bostonians.” Searching for America: Essays on American Art and Architecture. Ed. Robert Sheardy, Jr. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2007. Re-published with the permission of Cambridge Scholars Publishing. The cover photograph is by QT Luong/ The journey to completing this project has been long, and I owe thanks to many people for their guidance and support. When I was a beginning gradu- ate student, Greg Zacharias introduced me to Henry James’s letters and fiction at The Center for Henry James Studies, and he has been a generous and thoughtful mentor since that time. Kristin Boudreau, Adam Parkes, and Hubert McAlexander at the University of Georgia provided encouragement and insightful comments on the dissertation version of this work. In the summer of 2006 Nicholas Shrimpton at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, gra- ciously tutored me on the Pre-Raphaelites, John Ruskin, and British aestheti- cism. More recently, the librarians at Missouri Valley College, directed by Pam Reeder, patiently fielded my interlibrary loan requests. At Peter Lang, Heidi Burns and Jackie Pavlovic have been helpful and kind in guiding me through the publishing process. For their friendship and support as this book evolved, I would like to thank Jason Arthur, Sara Fernández-Cendón, Leigh Dillard, Monica Gillen, Jeremiah Johnson, the Juleps, Tara Knapp, Cally Larson, James McClung, Heath and Janie Morgan, Valerie Morrison, Solveig Nelson, Leslie Petty, and Carmen T. Skaggs. I am...

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