ENGL379O - Special Topics in Literature; Different Planets: Europe and America in the Works of Henry James

This course will present the American imagination as startlingly different from that of Europe.  It understands that, as evolved in the United States, “freedom” was one of the strangest inventions on the face of the earth.  It recognizes that for much of the nineteenth century, freedom, today the mantra of the best life, was viewed with suspicion by  European and American writers.  Through the tales, novels, letters, and travel writings of Henry James, we will explore sometimes stifling yet often beautiful Old World tradition, and then juxtapose it against the exhilarating, often disruptive, sometimes destructive forces of New World liberty.  We will investigate Europe’s concern, presented most cogently by the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville, that American individualism may blur into selfishness and finish in loneliness and isolation.  James’s friend, H. G. Wells, defined “communities of will” and “communities of obedience.” That American/European split may, perhaps, help us better understand the present conflict between the liberal values of the West and the intensely traditional codes of the world of Islam.     Texts will include The American, The Portrait of a Lady, The Ambassadors, The Turn of the Screw, “Daisy Miller, “ “The Jolly Corner,” “The Beast in the Jungle,” and “The Real Thing,” as well as excerpts from James’s travel writings. (Except for the longer novels, all these texts are collected in The Portable Henry James).  Two papers (one shorter, one longer), a midterm, a final, and the possibility of one in-class presentation.