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Thread: Was James better understood by his intended audience?

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    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    Was James better understood by his intended audience?

    Reading the Ambassadors now, this is just something I began to contemplate over.

    Do you suppose that James' intended audieence, that is the people who were reading his work at the time he was writing it would have acutally understood his work better than future readers who are reading his work today?

    Or do you think his work would have been equally difficult and confussing to understand for those reading at the time, as it is for many people reading it now?

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    I think that it would have been equally confusing. I studied (extensively) Turn of the Screw last year, examining essays written about it, both from his time and ours and the common thread is that no one can agree what he actually meant in the story. Was it just a ghost story? Did it have some deep sexual or political meaning? My opinion is that he is a brilliant writer who enjoyed plaguing his readers with well constructed levels that leave a reader probing for years.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

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    is my namesian. Jamesian's Avatar
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    My understanding is that even many of his close relatives gave up on reading anything past The Portrait of a Lady; and after two or three more novels, I recall a letter he wrote to the editor William Dean Howells remarking on how these works had reduced demand for his work 'almost to zero'. If works like The Tragic Muse and The Bostonians (all comparatively readable) went unread, one can well imagine the public indifference to his later, more complex works. During the latter part of HJ's lifetime, the 'reading public' apparently became much, much larger; but James was unable to benefit from this, as what they wanted was positively not what he was in the business of producing.
    I'll go dig up some bright, shiny quotes later so you don't have to take my word for it.
    The book itself is a curious artifact, not showy in its technology but complex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn't have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one of a kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable.
    --Ursula K. Le Guin

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    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    Thank you both for the insight upon this issue, I do find it all very interesting

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

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    There is one theory that James' audience pretty much became his own head. I am simplifying, but The Princess Casamassima and The Bostonians were failures with the reading public James had available. One can see why even if one leans toward Lionel Trilling's sympathetic defense of these mid-career works.

    Now just imagine *springing* The Wings of The Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl on the tail end of a reading public just coming out of the Victorian Era. Critics in James own time had little sympathy for The Golden Bowl. Condemning it as *unnatural* was a way of shutting oneself off from its almost dangerous upending of caste and wealth and sexual attraction, love.

    His late style was written off then, and today it is not easy even for well trained scholars who find homosexuality a convenient orientation to hang their hat on.
    Last edited by Jozanny; 08-27-2008 at 12:54 AM. Reason: typo

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    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jozanny View Post
    His late style was written off then, and today it is not easy even for well trained scholars who find homosexuality a convenient orientation to hang their hat on.
    I hate to get off topic here, but it seems to me critics have a way of wanting to make nearly every peice of art and lietature, of truly being about repressed homosexuality.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dark Muse View Post
    I hate to get off topic here, but it seems to me critics have a way of wanting to make nearly every peice of art and lietature, of truly being about repressed homosexuality.
    I know Dark. I raised my voice about this and got shouted down, politely, for over-simplifying, but OTOH, what Dr. P told me has some truth to it, that seeing James' repressed sexuality in the interplay of his characters is a way of subverting Victorian bonds--it is even applicable to Strether's *dilemma* although I will leave it for you to pose that question if you discover it for yourself.

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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dark Muse View Post
    I hate to get off topic here, but it seems to me critics have a way of wanting to make nearly every peice of art and lietature, of truly being about repressed homosexuality.
    So very true. When studying James I came across a very absurd article that really had to stretch Turn of the Screw in order to "prove" that it was about latent homosexuality.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

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    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    Haha perhaps it is the Critics who are repressed homoxexuals and that is why they see it in everything they read.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

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    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dark Muse View Post
    Haha perhaps it is the Critics who are repressed homoxexuals and that is why they see it in everything they read.
    That was really good D-M.
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    is my namesian. Jamesian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    So very true. When studying James I came across a very absurd article that really had to stretch Turn of the Screw in order to "prove" that it was about latent homosexuality.
    There is a sense in which some of HJ's works invite readings concerned with sexual themes, and, however one looks at it, there is no denying the weirdness of some of the relationships in his works - I'm thinking of Adam Verver and his daughter Maggie being described momentarily as 'husband and wife' at one moment (the context escapes me, but I was rather struck with this), and Miles and the governess of 'Screw' as a couple of blushing newlyweds. However, yes, the critical attachment to homosexual interpretation of James does get quite annoying, especially when they drag his biography into it.
    The book itself is a curious artifact, not showy in its technology but complex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn't have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one of a kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable.
    --Ursula K. Le Guin

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