• Andrew Cutting


Henry James’s fiction is full of death. It drives the plot, colours the mood, and heightens the climaxes of his novels and tales. Among the cast of James’s characters are suicidal artists, murderous lovers, adventurous heiresses, romantic consumptives, fallen soldiers, intrusive biographers, and faithful keepers of the flame. Death comes violently by poison, drowning, gunshot, fall, and execution, peacefully at home, or as a gothic spectacle. James gives us some of the most famous hauntings in literature, and by the end of his long career has explored again and again the relationships between the living and the dead. Jamesian death is varied and complex. It is not a passenger, contributing nothing of interest to his novels and tales — how could it be, as if separate from everything else that makes James one of the most critically contested of writers? Death informs James’s narrative structures and strategies, his characteristic subjects and styles, and thereby invites the full range of critical approaches that have made James studies such a rich field.


Final Page Literary Realism Late Style Physical Death North American Literature 
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  1. 1.
    The major studies are Martha Banta, Henry James and the Occult: The Great Extension (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972)Google Scholar
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  4. 2.
    Deriving in large part from Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge, 1994).Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    Examples of this line of thought are John Auchard, Silence in Henry James: The Heritage of Symbolism and Decadence (London: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986)Google Scholar
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  8. 4.
    Henry James, Notes of a Son and Brother (London: Macmillan, 1914), pp. 422–79Google Scholar
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  11. 5.
    Elisabeth Bronfen, Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992), p. 369.Google Scholar
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    Garrett Stewart, Death Sentences: Styles of Dying in British Fiction (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), p. 4.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 4; Stewart is citing Leon Edel, Henry James: The Master, 1901–1916 (London: Hart-Davis, 1972), p. 546.Google Scholar
  15. 9.
    Shoshana Felman, ‘Turning the Screw of Interpretation,’ Yale French Studies 55–6 (1977), 128.Google Scholar
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  17. Peter G. Biedler, Ghosts, Demons, and Henry James: The Turn of the Screw at the Turn of the Century (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989), pp. 198–219Google Scholar
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    Henry James, ‘The Turn of the Screw’ in Complete Stories 1892–1898 (New York: Library of America, 1996), p. 740.Google Scholar
  22. 12.
    Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel (New York: Criterion, 1960).Google Scholar
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    ‘Is There a Life after Death?’ in The James Family, by F. O. Matthiessen (New York: Knopf, 1948), p. 605.Google Scholar
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    This interpretation of ‘still life’ comes from Robert Smith, Derrida and Autobiography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    N. A. Blain explores this point in ‘Ideas of “Life” and their Moral Force in the Novels of Henry James’ (unpublished dissertation. University of Strathclyde, 1981). Conversely, James’s ghostly tales suggest that perhaps nobody ever reaches absolute ‘death’ either.Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Jonathan Dollimore, Death, Desire and Loss in Western Culture (London: Penguin, 1998).Google Scholar
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    Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, 2 vols, trans. E. F. J. Payne (New York: Dover, 1966), vol. 1, pp. 398–402Google Scholar
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    Studies of James and philosophy include Richard A. Hocks, Henry James and Pragmatista Thought: A Study in the Relationship between the Philosophy of William James and the Literary Art of Henry James (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1974)Google Scholar
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    William Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads, 1802 in Lyrical Ballads, and Other Poems, 1797–1800, ed. James Butler and Karen Green (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), pp. 741–60Google Scholar
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  36. 23.
    Ross Posnock, The Trial of Curiosity: Henry James, William James, and the Challenge of Modernity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 76–7Google Scholar
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  39. 24.
    Leon Edel, Henry James: The Treacherous Years 1895–1901 (London: Hart-Davis, 1969), p. 169.Google Scholar
  40. 25.
    Friedrich Kittler, Discourse Networks 1800/1900, trans. Michael Metteer with Chris Cullens (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990), pp. 356–7Google Scholar
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  42. Pamela Thurschwell, Literature, Technology and Magical Thinking, 1880–1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 87–114.Google Scholar
  43. 26.
    See Tom Standage, The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s Online Pioneers (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998).Google Scholar
  44. 27.
    Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, trans. Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 13.Google Scholar
  45. 29.
    Zygmunt Bauman, Mortality, Immortality and Other Life Strategies (Cambridge: Polity, 1992), p. 4.Google Scholar

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© Andrew Cutting 2005

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  • Andrew Cutting

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