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«A Form Foredoomed to Looseness»

Henry James's Preoccupation with the Gender of Fiction


Cecile Mazzucco-Than

This book examines critical prose written by Henry James and a representative group of American and British novelists and critics of his era in order to reveal a subtextual debate about the gender of fiction. A close examination of the adjectives and metaphors used to describe fiction uncovers a persistent pattern linked to the socio-cultural valuation of women’s work versus men’s. James’s prose criticism reveals the strongest pattern, but a similar pattern is also discernable in criticism by well-known authors such as W. D. Howells and Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as the anonymous and now obscure critics writing in the periodicals of James’s day. Studying the gendered accounts of the art of fiction can help redesign our idea of the modern, especially the modern novel, as a creative misreading based on changes in the roles of men and women and ideas of gender that existed in society and culture and reverberated in literature.