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Collecting and Appreciating

Henry James and the Transformation of Aesthetics in the Age of Consumption

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Simone Francescato

This book examines the role and the meaning of collecting in the fiction of Henry James. Emerging as a refined consumerist practice at the end of the nineteenth century, collecting not only set new rules for appreciating art, but also helped to shape the aesthetic tenets of major literary movements such as naturalism and aestheticism. Although he befriended some of the greatest collectors of the age, in his narrative works James maintained a sceptical, if not openly critical, position towards collecting and its effects on appreciation. Likewise, he became increasingly reluctant to follow the fashionable trend of classifying and displaying art objects in the literary text, resorting to more complex forms of representation.
Drawing from classic and contemporary aesthetics, as well as from sociology and material culture, this book fills a gap in Jamesian criticism, explaining how and why James’s aversion towards collecting was central to the development of his fiction from the beginning of his career to the so-called major phase.