Reading The Master

PortraitFor the academic year 2016/2017, book club The Purloined Letter will read the work of Henry James a.k.a. The Master. We will have five meetings, each examining one particular theme or approach regarding James’ literary output. All are welcome, in particular volunteers for preparing discussion questions and chairing a meeting!

Meeting #1: Friday, 30 September 2016, 5.30 p.m. till 7 p.m., room HG-12A44

We start with James’ best-loved heroine, Isabel Archer of The Portrait of a Lady. In addition, we read Gorra’s biography of sorts that chronicles James’ writing process of Portrait. Discussion leader: dr. Roel van den Oever.

  • James, Henry. The Portrait of a Lady. 1881. Novel.
  • Gorra, Michael. Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece. 2012. Biography.
  • The Portrait of a Lady. Directed by Jane Campion, 1996. Film.

Meeting #2: Thursday, 1 December 2016, 5.30 p.m. till 7 p.m., room HG-12A44

One of James’ literary innovations is the exploration of an adult world through the (misperceiving) eyes of a young child (What Maisie Knew) and a teenager (The Awkward Age). Discussion leader: Anne Verhoef.

  • James, Henry. What Maisie Knew. 1897. Novel.
  • James, Henry. The Awkward Age. 1899. Novel.
  • What Maisie Knew. Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, 2012. Film.

Meeting #3: Thursday, 26 January 2017, 5.30 p.m. till 7 p.m., room HG-12A44

In what is possibly the most famous instance of literary interpretation, Felman shows how James mocks his readers’ desire to solve the riddles he creates, to master(!) the meaning of his text. Discussion leader: Peter Nagel.

  • James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. 1898. Novella.
  • Felman, Shoshana. “Turning the Screw of Interpretation.” Yale French Studies, vol. 55-56, 1977, pp. 94-207. Criticism.

Meeting #4: Friday, 31 March 2017, 5.30 p.m. till 7 p.m., room HG-12A44

Most narrative theory assumes that the process of reading is driven by the desire for closure. But James has created “stories” in which nothing much happens, in which narrative development is minimized or even withheld. Hanson argues that this calls for a new theorization of the reading process, one that takes not desire but asexuality as its starting point. Discussion leader: Amber Witsenburg.

  • James, Henry. The Sacred Fount. 1901. Novel.
  • James, Henry. The Beast in the Jungle. 1903. Novella.
  • Hanson, Elizabeth Hanna. “Toward an Asexual Narrative Structure.” Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives, edited by Karli June Cerankowski and Megan Milks, Routledge, 2014, pp. 344-74. Criticism.

Meeting #5: Friday, 26 May 2017, 5.30 p.m. till 7 p.m., room HG-12A44

James has an extraordinarily rich literary afterlife, with numerous authors spinning fiction based on his life and work. We discuss two instances of this practice of inventive rewriting, one closely following James (Tóibín), the other more freely interpreting The Master’s source material (Hollinghurst). Discussion leader: dr. Roel van den Oever.

  • Tóibín, Colm. The Master. 2004. Novel.
  • Hollinghurst, Alan. The Line of Beauty. 2004. Novel.
  • The Line of Beauty. Directed by Saul Dibb, 2006. TV series.