Aesthetic Experience and Visual Art in Henry James’s Novels
CHAPTER TWO: The Influence of Architecture in The Bostonians 41
Chapter Two The Influence of Architecture in The Bostonians “Recent generations, gathered in from beneath emptier skies…must have found in the big building as it stands an admonition and an ideal.” The American Scene (48–49) The Emersonian optimism that Isabel Archer embodies continues to ap- pear in James’s fiction, though in The Bostonians (1885) it is expressed not through any one person, but rather through ideas about America’s cultural potential. In 1837 Emerson issued his challenge for a true American poet in The American Scholar. His call reflected a growing national concern that Ameri- cans “have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe” (62). The ready adoption of European artistic and cultural tastes concerned intellectuals in all creative arenas—literary, artistic, and architectural. Roger Stein notes that by 1840 the problem of cultural self-justification “had divided Americans who were concerned with art roughly into two camps: those who felt that art in America should be stimulated only by our native resources, and those who felt and feared that to cut ourselves off from the European traditions of art was a form of cultural suicide” (14). Emerson firmly entrenches himself in the first camp when he laments in Self-Reliance (1841) that American culture imitates rather than invents: “Our houses are built with foreign taste; our shelves are garnished with foreign ornaments; our opinions, our tastes, our faculties, lean, and follow the Past and the Distant” (149). Holding that the American atmos- phere offered artists a plethora of...
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