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Frontispieces and other ruins: the visual and textual culture of Henry James's New York Edition

Stougaard-Nielsen, J; (2007) Frontispieces and other ruins: the visual and textual culture of Henry James's New York Edition. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UNSPECIFIED.

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The PhD dissertation, Frontispieces and other Ruins, is an investigation into the material nature of books with a collected edition as primary object of study. In the case of a collected edition, the physical and material form, the book’s graphic design, and the sheer voluminosity of the work are significant aspects of its expression. Through material layers the book imparts a certain “image” of its author, its texts, its mode of production, and its relation to the reader, the marketplace, and the culture of books. This study will explore the ways in which Henry James’s collected edition, popularly known as the New York Edition (1907–1909), through its visual and textual expressiveness, mediates its texts, their author, and the visual and textual culture into which the edition was published. Some of the striking aspects of the edition are the revised novels and tales, the prefaces, its twenty-four frontispiece photographs, and the different bindings in which it was published. The dissertation explores primarily these features belonging to the fringes of the edition. Though preoccupied with the borders of the literary work this study asks in which ways these frame or discipline the reading of the literary texts. Conversely, this study asks in which ways the literary texts direct the reader’s attention to a certain way of seeing and interpreting the features of the edition’s design. In this way, the dissertation is an attempt to read the edition as a material text in which contextual, paratextual, and textual layers are found to mirror and condition each other, to read the edition as a material and visual text, which embodies and mediates James’s ambiguous act of self-presentation, his complex reconsideration of his literary experience over time as a personal and artistic testament. When looking at the graphic design of books we are dealing with the visual dimension of the literary work of art – something which has often been neglected in literary studies. Therefore, this study situates the edition not only within its textual culture but also within the visual culture of late nineteenth and the early twentieth century. In particular, the photographic frontispieces and the edition’s graphic design cannot be properly appreciated without a look at the visual culture in which the edition appeared. As Richard Altick has noted, the nineteenth century witnessed a textual culture in which “reading and beholding coalesced.” In order to fulfill its promise of reading across the visual and textual borders of the book to the cultural and social and to “the texts themselves,” this study employs an interdisciplinary approach using methods and theories from art history, visual culture, media and technology studies, gender studies, book history, and literary theory. The main theoretical inspiration derives from recent developments within book history and textual criticism. Especially the works of D. F. McKenzie, Jerome McGann, Gérard Genette, and Roger Chartier have informed this study: works that have been central in reconfiguring not only their own disciplines but also the more general field of literary criticism. McGann, for instance, has sketched what he calls a “materialist hermeneutics” in which he differentiates between a literary work’s linguistic and bibliographical codes. A related study of such bibliographic codes is found in Genette’s definition of the paratext. Paratexts are the liminal devices that control how a reader perceives the text, such as the front and back covers, jacket blurbs, indexes, footnotes, and tables of content. Together, these reconfigurations of the object of study for literary criticism towards an interest in what D. C. Greetham has called “the bookishness of the book” inform the present study’s interest in the cultural and textual condition of the book, its texts, and its visual/verbal paratexts. The first chapter of the dissertation situates Henry James’s frontispiece portrait within a tradition of representing the author in the literary work and looks at the function and design of author-portraits within the history of the book. The author-portrait is a device that confers authority, cultural value, and canonicity on a literary work and its author. It allows the reader to imagine the author’s “physical” presence in the book. James’s portrait belongs to this tradition but it also “turns away” from it. It is here discussed in relation to an aesthetics of absorption as formulated by Michael Fried and W. J. T. Mitchell. The chapter proceeds to discuss the representation of the author’s face as presenting a mode of reading interiors and substances from their surface appearances. Such a hermeneutics and aesthetics of the face is compared to a twentieth-century tradition of considering the face as a central figure in the construction of art and identity. Here the study discusses works by Georg Simmel, Levinas, Deleuze and Guattari. Chapter Two explores the coincidence of sculpture, photography, and an aesthetics of the face in the edition’s material text. The chapter discusses the mediation of the face (through photography and sculpture) in relation to the first novel Roderick Hudson, James’s letters to the sculptor Hendrik Andersen, and his biography of the sculptor William Wetmore Story. The chapter next turns to the discourses of physiognomy and phrenology in James’s work and in late-nineteenth century visual culture. Physiognomic description and discourse in works such as The Ambassadors, The American, and The Sacred Fount suggest that James’s “hermeneutics” is not related to a traditional conception of physiognomy. It is instead related to a “way of seeing” or looking at faces and surfaces, which is extended to include the “physiognomy” of the book. Finally this chapter considers the preface to Roderick Hudson. Here James suggests a “system of observation” to be used in his archival or “archaeological” research into his past works. The archival concerns and the authorial profile James presents in the paratexts of the first volume are finally compared to late-nineteenth century “technologies of identity” and Derrida’s notion of an “archive fever.” Interlude One discusses James’s concern with private letters most forcefully expressed in his decision to burn a large number of his private documents in 1909. He also presents his concern with protecting the private text from public scrutiny in many of his tales from literary life and in his reviews of publications of letters. Although James was an advocate of the right to privacy, he shows that the decision to cover or reveal “the private” are authoritative practices which are complicit in establishing the “Figure” of the author and its presence in the literary work. Chapter Three discusses the physical format of books and the book as a particular commodity and fetishized object. In an attempt to situate the archival effort of James’s collected edition, its visual design, and the culture of books into which it was published the chapter discusses the figure of the library in The Portrait of a Lady and James’s own private library. These are compared to Walter Benjamin’s self-portrait as a collector of books. Together these archives and their archivists show a coincidence of concerns with ownership and books as expressions of their owners’ identities. The chapter proceeds to discuss collectors in James’s novels, such as in The Spoils of Poynton. The private libraries in and outside James’s edition testify to the book’s cultural iconicity and a desire for the book as a collector’s item and fetish in the 328 nineteenth century. This desire is reflected in the graphic design of books and in a virtual craze for decorative bindings driven partly by the belief that the furnishings of books expressed and incorporated their producers and their owners. With the mechanization of book production, the book became a specific kind of consumable decorative object promoting social improvement and individual taste. The chapter next turns to the specific format and marketplace of the collected edition. James’s edition is held up against major publications in the tradition. It is finally suggested that James not only attempted to cash in on the edition as a fashionable commodity. Through the visual design and the prefaces, he devised ways of reading and seeing that were meant to counter a culture of “inattentiveness” and “distraction.” Interlude Two offers a digression to two disciplinary measures James adopted at the turn of the century involving the body and the production of literary discourse: Horace Fletcher’s chewing regime and typewriting. These are seen as parallels to the disciplinary measures James’s employed in the re-construction and management of his literary corpus. Chapter Four returns to the figure of the author mediated through the frontispiece and relates the photographic mediation to James’s conception of the author in “the house of fiction” metaphor in the preface to The Portrait of a Lady, and to his final presentation of his experience with encountering his past authorial self in the last preface to The Golden Bowl. This chapter claims that James perceived the encounter with his own author-figure as profoundly mediated through architectural figures and in the medium of photography. James considered the photographic medium in terms of autobiography to which the many photographs of himself from youth to old age testify. The chapter ends with a consideration of James’s perception of his past works and his authorship through the figure of the silhouette in the preface to the last volume, which he presents as a figure capturing the distance between the revising and the original author. The silhouette and its ancient relationship with the origin of drawing as shadow-writing concludes this study with Derrida’s conception of its relation to the self-portrait and the ruin.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Frontispieces and other ruins: the visual and textual culture of Henry James's New York Edition
Event: Aarhus University
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > SELCS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/122177
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