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ID 29455
file
title alternative
James's Acceptance of Reality : The Narrator's Ideality and Its Collapse in The Aspern Papers
creator
Ushirokawa, Tomomi
NDC
English and American literature
abstract
According to Henry James's Notebooks, the germ of The Aspern Papers (1888) comes from an anecdote about a Boston art-critic, a Shelley-worshipper's curious adventure. He strives to obtain Shelley's letters which are believed to have been in the hands of his former mistress. His harsh experience is somehow repeated in the desperate effort and failure of the narrator in The Aspern Papers.

The narrator idealizes the age in which Jeffery Aspern and his mistress Juliana Bordereau flourished, regarding them as sacred. In this paper, the meaning of the narrator's idealization of the past is examined in relation to James's concern for Venice and his view of journalism.

In his travel narrative, Italian Hours, James gives impressions of how Italy is moving into the twentieth century after the success of the Risorgimento. As an acute observer, James expresses his celebration of old Venice and disgust at its transformation. In The Aspern Papers, Venice plays the role of a place which emphasizes the narrator's nostalgia and idealization of the romantic past that has long been lost. He has a desire to call back the past and believes it is possible to do so, though his ideal often conflicts with the actual difference between contemporary life and the romantic past.

The narrator suffers shock when he realizes the fact that Juliana is no longer the beautiful lady who was once an object of the poet's love, but an old woman who shamelessly pesters him for his money. For the narrator, the ideal past means the era of the early-nineteenth century in which some brave American artists such as Aspern had visited Europe to study art. He believes that the past can be reproduced if he succeeds in obtaining Aspern's love letters from Juliana's hand. One can say that his belief is just based on obsession and an excess of imagination because he only romanticizes the past by his self-serving idealization.

In describing the fantastic ambition of such a narrator, James also tries to convey a vulgar aspect of journalism. He seems to insist that no journalist has the right to invade the privacy of a famous man of letters. James himself suffered from disgusting attacks by intrusive journalists who wanted to get scoops about his private life. Even with a strong sense of mission as a journalist, the narrator is described as resembling "the reporter of a newspaper who forces his way into a house of mourning" (154). Furthermore, the narrator is interested in Aspern's scandalous relationships with women, showing the commercially driven, shallow, journalistic aspect of his research.

Living in a technologically advanced age of the late-nineteenth century, the narrator feels nostalgia for what it used to be in the early nineteenth-century. The narrator's lack of morality produces a critical feeling in James who cared about excessive journalistic power, as the modernization advanced in the United States in the 1880s. At that time, James struggled with the poor sales of his works and took out his frustration on the critics, regarding them as stupid. James was also depressed by the experience of losing his parents and the failure of his playwriting in the 1880s.

Around that time, the price of books began to fall rapidly with the technological development of the publishing industry. The concept of mass media came into the world and became established by the end of the nineteenth-century. The world the narrator lives in is not the romantic past but "the age of newspapers and telegrams and photographs and interviewers" (115).

James seems to consider the rapidly changing late nineteenth-century America as a lonely place in which the good old days are gradually forgotten. His disconsolate impression of the social phenomena suggests that the nostalgic past envisaged by the narrator can no longer be restored.

The narrator finally accepts the reality after taking pains to confront it. James may be attempting to say that Aspern is present only in his papers and the narrator's ideal. James also tries to discover how to deal with the reality and accept it through his depiction of the narrator's discouraging experience. The failure of his quest for the papers indicates a minimum degree of moral sense that James requires him to show.
journal title
Hiroshima studies in English language and literature
volume
Volume 53
start page
23
end page
32
date of issued
2009-03-30
publisher
広島大学英文学会
issn
0288-2876
ncid
SelfDOI
language
jpn
nii type
Departmental Bulletin Paper
HU type
Departmental Bulletin Papers
DCMI type
text
format
application/pdf
text version
publisher
department
Graduate School of Letters
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