A Woman’s Place in the Novels of Henry James by Elizabeth Allen

By Elizabeth Allen

A whole size research of James' use of the "American lady" heroine in his novels, from Daisy Miller via Isabel Archer to Milly Theale and Maggie Verver.

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The way they respond to his Americanness is relevant only up to this point, and not beyond it. I am suggesting that Newman's function as the great Western Barbarian is modified by his function as an active, predatory individual with American qualities who is engaged in a hostile struggle with alien people with alien ideas. The comparison of European and American ideas is engendered through this struggle, The Early Work 49 yet not centred in an interpretation of Newman by an observing consciousness.

Maintaining the social structures they inhabit, they encourage marriage and objectification of the hesitant young girl. Much of the time, particularly in the stories,] ames uses women in a conventional way. U In Washington Square ( 188o), in which the lack of European contrast takes the edge off the 'American-ness' of the characters, the conventional expectations of the feminine are exposed as repressive in their inaptness and banality. Catherine Sloper is not an inadequate American girl, but an inadequate romantic maiden, fairytale princess or heiress.

58 Of course English fiction also contains its virtuous 'too good for this world' heroines-one has only to look at Dickens. But if the solution in fulfilling marriage is less common in American fiction, it may have to do, as Fiedler and others suggest, with the orientation of the male American psyche towards flight, escape from social responsibility, and childhood, in which woman signifies all that is being escaped from. It may also link up to the moral idealism and individualism which I touched on earlier.

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