The Continental Literary Climate of Henry James

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      James arrived on the literary scene in the latter half of the 19th century. At that tints in Europe, there was a broad movement shaping the form of the novel under the influence of French and Russian novelists. There were new and various mutations of the form of novel - French realism and naturalism, the Russian, the English Victorian, and the pure aestheticism. Flaubert was an important figure in this field of naturalism James admired Flaubert for his superb technique of unified artistic effect, stylistic achievement and sensuous awareness. There was no line of demarcation between art and propaganda in Russia at that time. Naturally enough, the Russian novel was mere propaganda, though the fiction of Dostoevski offers a completely different picture. James did not like the Russian novel because of its all-inclusive mixture of life, and its formlessness. Turgenev had great influence on Henry James. Both as a writer and as a man-Turgenev was greatly admired by James.

      In the English literary climate the novel was not ensconced on the seat of a respectable literary form. English novelists too, could not claim to be as good artists as the French novelists could. A preacher’s and a reformer’s note always entangled the novel. The English life too in those times was encumbered by an unusually elaborate apparatus of prohibitions, provinciality and parochialism. Such was the cultural milieu and the English literature often reflected warped experience and an excessive concern with nonaesthetic material.

      The American novel in 1870's was concerned chiefly story-telling and adventure. James Fennimore Cooper (1798-1851) was a popular writer of such novels. The lure of adventure in the South Seas culminated in Melville's masterpiece, Moby Dick (1851) which if it capitalized on the new exploration, also responded to Nathaniel Hawthorne's (1804:1864) haunted examination of Puritan New England. Horatio Alger too had carried the public with him in 1860's and 1870's through his some one hundred and thirty dreadful novels, joins him to the world he knew and rendered in his art. James had a grasping imagination which, he once said, was necessary to meet the challenge presented to the American artist by American civilization. James accepted the challenge and created his distinctly modern art which is founded on the combination of commitment and devotion as an artist.

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