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Henry James Goes to War

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Edited By Miroslawa Buchholtz, Dorota Guttfeld and Grzegorz Koneczniak

Within the past decades, Henry James has been seen going to the movies and to Paris, both far more likely destinations for him than battlefields of the modern world. Sending him off to war seems to be a preposterous idea, but the exaggeration inscribed in the title of the present volume is meant to stress the historicity of wars and battles underlying James’s life and work, quite apart from conflict on which literature thrives at all times. The book consists of five parts devoted to various forms and aspects of conflict. It deals with both literal and metaphorical battles of which the author was aware or in which he was involved. Apart from addressing James’s attitude to two major conflicts, the Civil War and World War One, the articles range from critical discussions of James’s biography, criticism, and fiction, to studies of the intertextual connections between his œuvre and works of both past and present authors.
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Acquisitive Perception and Inner Conflict in Henry James’s Fiction

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Urszula Gołębiowska, University of Zielona Góra

Introduction

In “The Jamesian Lie,” Leo Bersani observes that “the critically minded Densher’s ‘reading’ of the ‘text’ of Milly […] makes her his own, destroying the real particularity of her presence” (1976: 145–6). The motif of reading the other in order to appropriate his or her truth recurs in James’s novels and tales alongside the characters’ inner tensions, invariably intensified by their epistemological projects. The intentional effort to disclose the truth about the other utterly fails, for it means the imposition of the characters’ concepts and definitions on the objects of their intellectual curiosity, thus making it ‘their own.’ By contrast, an awareness of another person’s inner reality is not grasped directly in perception, but gained in the form of a brief, fragmentary insight. As they are staged in James’s novels and tales, these rare glimpses allow an imaginative and, above all, ethical vision of the other, inaccessible to intentional, acquisitive acts of perception. I will argue that for James’s characters a brief access to the reality of the other and a freedom from anxiety and conflict lie in the abandonment of a desire for knowledge or, to use Bersani’s formulation, in the escape “from a crippling notion of truth.”

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