English 100

The Seminar on Criticism: Henry James and His Admirers

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2022 Hale, Dorothy J.
TTh 11-12:30 Wheeler 122


For over a century, Henry James (1843-1916) has been regarded as a writer’s writer.  Hailed as the “Master” within his lifetime by the many who prized his narrative art as well as his professionalism, James found new fans in each subsequent generation of British and American writers.  In our own century, James’s importance for other artists shows no sign of diminishment.  2004 saw not one, not two, but three different novels that made the master of fiction the subject of fictional treatment.

This course examines James’s legacy through the wide range of imitations, adaptations, and revisions that his writing has directly inspired.  We will pay particular attention to James’s importance for novelists who identify as social outsiders.  We will also investigate why James is simultaneously regarded as the consummate artist (an ethical paragon who puts before all else his commitment to his creative work) and a dangerous connoisseur of dark knowledge, whose fiction lures the reader into an ethical abyss. 

The fiction and films that we will be studying ask us to consider a host of other cultural and philosophical questions.  What does it mean to be a stranger in a strange land? Is there such a thing (or was there such a thing) as a particularly American social type? What does it mean to live the good life?  What are the possibilities for shared consciousness between two people? What are the social circuits of sexual desire?  How does the open secret function as a condition of epistemology as well as sexuality?  And a question that all the readings engage: what might be the value of beauty for life as well as art?

Writing requirements for the course include a five-page close reading essay and a ten-page final essay.  For the final essay, students will learn how to formulate their own thesis claims in relation to published scholarship.  Because his work has received wide critical attention, James criticism provides an excellent introduction to theoretical methods.

Course reading will include

H. James, The Turn of the Screw (1898); The Ambassadors (1903); selected short stories. P. Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955); J. Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room (1956); P. Roth, The Ghost Writer (1979); C. Tóibin, The Master (2004); C. Ozick, Foreign Bodies (2010); S. Rooney, Beautiful World, Where Are You (2021).

Films will be drawn from:

R. Clement, Purple Noon (1960); J. Clayton, The Innocents (1961); I. Softley, The Wings of the Dove (1997); S. McGhee and D. Siegel, What Maisie Knew (2012); A. Minghella, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999).

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