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Modern passions: Henry James, Edith Wharton and the decorative interior

Thornton, S.D.; (2011) Modern passions: Henry James, Edith Wharton and the decorative interior. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

This study examines the decorative interior in Henry James’s fiction: its representation, its function, its existence as a nascent cultural and economic phenomenon. It also explores Edith Wharton’s deployment of interiors within her writing, as a friend and contemporary of James with a professional interest in architecture and interior design. Other writers on aesthetics, design, or decorative art are also considered: William Morris and John Ruskin (Chapter One), Oscar Wilde (Chapter Two). A study of the decorative interior in James is inseparable from other wide-ranging cultural and philosophical questions. I discuss the growth of department stores and shopping, along with changing gender roles at the end of the nineteenth century with reference to The Bostonians and Summer in Chapter Three. I consider the representation of domesticity, and the house as a psychological and epistemological space in What Maisie Knew (Chapter Four). In Chapter Five I explore surfaces, both textual and decorative, in The House of Mirth and The Ambassadors, while in the final chapter I consider modernism and James’s absent interiors in “The Beast in the Jungle”, “The Great Good Place” and The American Scene. In this study I scrutinise both the decorative objects (sofas, carpets) and interior architectural structures (doors, staircases) which comprise James’s and Wharton’s fictional interiors. Bringing the work of spatial theorists (Bachelard, Lefebvre), anthropologists (Daniel Miller), and phenomenological thinkers (Merleau-Ponty), to bear on James’s and Wharton’s imagined spaces will I hope contribute to the ongoing critical consideration of materialism and materiality within James’s writing. Exploring the powerful connectivity between “things” and text exposes Jamesian objects as increasingly fragile, invisible and de-categorised. His fictional imperative towards interiority intensified over time, producing imagined spaces in which objects become ciphers for the incomplete, the marginal, and the deferred.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Modern passions: Henry James, Edith Wharton and the decorative interior
Language:English
Additional information:Permission for digitisation not received
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Language and Literature

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