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Henry James Goes to War


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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Introduction: Henry James in Times Past and Present


In the first paragraph of his book on Hawthorne, Henry James argues that “the flower of art blooms only where the soil is deep, […] it takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature, […] it needs a complex social machinery to set a writer in motion” (James 1966: 15). James’s argument may have applied to Hawthorne, who made much of the little he had access to by way of local history, but is it true of James himself? His output belongs to the most substantial in Anglo-American literary history, but was the soil on which his expatriate flower of art bloomed deep enough? It is only too tempting to declare him ahistorical and apolitical, or even draw the conclusion that he was unmanly and un-American, as Theodore Roosevelt or Maxwell D. Geismar did at different times and in different publications. Despite his lifelong fascination with the great Napoleon, James did not write historical fiction, and when he tried, the attempts were at best incomplete (The Sense of the Past), ineffective (“The Romance of Certain Old Clothes”), or else a downright fiasco (Guy Domville). With the exception of his two novels The Bostonians and Princess Casamassima, he hardly addressed large social conflicts affecting either America or Europe. He participated neither in the Civil War, which marked the beginning of his adult life and to which his two younger brothers so willingly marched off, nor in the Great War, whose end and outcome he did not live to...

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