Analysing the Female Characters in Henry James' Fiction Essay

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Analysing the Female Characters in Henry James' Fiction ‘A woman it seems to me has no natural place anywhere; wherever she finds herself, she has to remain on the surface and more or less to control’

Discuss James’ representations of ‘places’ for women in his novels.

There is an impressive range of female characters in Henry James’ fiction. Drawn to the world of wealth and leisure as a subject, a world which was at the same time, ironically the context for his own hermetic labours as a writer, James perhaps inevitably came to concentrate on the feminine. Correspondingly, most of his male characters seem to be
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The theme so early recognised as particularly James’ own was the international one, and the expression of this theme pivoted around the figure of the American girl. The critic W.D. Howells (1958 P.63) credited James with being the inventor of the ‘International American girl’. The American girl, as she appears in James’ early stories and novels is independent, moral, free, innocent, and her attractiveness is either ‘delicate’ or of a pale and rather asexual kind. In her less refined or serious form, she may be ignorant, brash or simply naïve. She is, of course, as always unmarried. In using the American girl as central to his exploration of the interaction of American and European society, it was not at first in the girl herself that James placed the distinguished American moral consciousness, and when she was endowed

Imran Hussain Henry James

with moral seriousness the conscious response to its clash with social convention was again, in the early work, usually located in a male onlooker. Her self-consciousness according to Habegger (1960, P.67) developed out of a line of American girls who were absorbed by Europe, withdrew from it, or were destroyed by it, and this is the reason