The Energy of Fear in Henry James

Document Type

Book Chapter


English (Scripps)

Publication Date



American Literature | Literature in English, North America


Henry James is for many reasons an oddity among great writers. Proust, Tolstoy, Faulkner all had their touch of tonic iniquity and produced high and delicate art. The odd example of James is not that he could be high and delicate, which came naturally to him, but that he could be vulgar with so little personal acquaintance with vulgarity. It's true that his treatment of subjects was nothing if not refined, but this scrimshaw craftsmanship should not prevent us from recognizing the coarse beast that provided the material. Thus, James's later books are filled with mercenary motives, salacious intrigues, and violent, vindictive images. How are we to reconcile all this with the innocuous character of Henry James?

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© 1974 Kennikat Press

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