This course is dedicated to the shorter fiction of the American Henry James (1843-1916). Each week we will read and discuss one short story or novella. James’s shorter fiction ranges from the realistic to the satirical to the supernatural. We will begin with his early novella of manners, Daisy Miller, about a free-spirited young American woman on her first visit to Europe who runs afoul of the adopted etiquette of her expatriate compatriots, before turning to his artist tales and ghost stories. James’s stories frequently offer an outsider’s view of high society—a world James himself knew well as a frequent dinner and weekend guest but did not himself belong to. His protagonists are governesses, writers, and artists employed or patronized by the rich but not fully at home among them. His settings are largely British and European: London, Paris, Geneva, Venice, and the country estates of the English aristocracy. Class, gender and sexuality are among his more prominent themes. (He was a closeted gay man, and his orientation plays a subtle but discernible role in his work.) James is often credited with raising fiction to the level of high art. He belongs to the tradition of Jane Austen and George Eliot, but his formal and stylistic innovations laid the groundwork for modernists such as James Joyce, William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. He is a sophisticated and challenging writer, and students should be prepared for the breadth of his cultural references; his frequent use of foreign words and phrases; and especially the astonishing complexity of his late style.
This will be a discussion class, and students will prepare for discussion by contributing to weekly forums on the reading. Other requirements will include two five-page essays and a final exam.