This essay focuses on James’s women characters as simultaneously coded in personal (i.e., individual, psychological, dramatic) and impersonal (i.e., historically given, ideologically inflected, and socially shared) terms. By examining some crucial characters from James’s major works—from Daisy Miller and Isabel Archer to Kate Croy and Maggie Verver—as well as from lesser known stories, and by highlighting relevant aspects of their characterization and role in the plot, the essay attempts to show the complex way James constructs his female characters as both individualized, psychologically credible agents of free will, in an updated version of the “character-effect” typical of the realistic tradition, and objects and vehicles of a sophisticated deconstructive strategy bearing on the set of ideological strictures that socially construct them as women. These limit their agency, pre-define their existential paths, and foreclose their desire for freedom, simultaneously constricting the author’s own range of narrative possibilities. The interplay between James’s mastery and controlled transgression of novelistic codes as regards characterization, on the one hand, and his keen perception of the overbearing operation of ideology in social life, on the other, thus produces a nuanced and ambiguous situation, where agency vies with passive objectification, and the struggle between freedom and control becomes enacted at all levels of James’s texts: as an issue in the characters’ lives; as a mode of operation pertaining to the society being represented; and as an issue of narratological and rhetorical freedom and control, played out in the dynamics of textuality.

Nothing Personal: women characters, gender ideology, and literary representation

IZZO, Donatella
2008

Abstract

This essay focuses on James’s women characters as simultaneously coded in personal (i.e., individual, psychological, dramatic) and impersonal (i.e., historically given, ideologically inflected, and socially shared) terms. By examining some crucial characters from James’s major works—from Daisy Miller and Isabel Archer to Kate Croy and Maggie Verver—as well as from lesser known stories, and by highlighting relevant aspects of their characterization and role in the plot, the essay attempts to show the complex way James constructs his female characters as both individualized, psychologically credible agents of free will, in an updated version of the “character-effect” typical of the realistic tradition, and objects and vehicles of a sophisticated deconstructive strategy bearing on the set of ideological strictures that socially construct them as women. These limit their agency, pre-define their existential paths, and foreclose their desire for freedom, simultaneously constricting the author’s own range of narrative possibilities. The interplay between James’s mastery and controlled transgression of novelistic codes as regards characterization, on the one hand, and his keen perception of the overbearing operation of ideology in social life, on the other, thus produces a nuanced and ambiguous situation, where agency vies with passive objectification, and the struggle between freedom and control becomes enacted at all levels of James’s texts: as an issue in the characters’ lives; as a mode of operation pertaining to the society being represented; and as an issue of narratological and rhetorical freedom and control, played out in the dynamics of textuality.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11574/40181
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