Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In August, 1904, a portly American with large, piercing eyes and a wide, sensitive mouth set sail from Southampton, England, for his first visit to the United States since 1883. Not the least of his baggage was his reputation as an esteemed novelist, short-story writer, literary critic, travel essayist, and playwright whose works were not selling well. He was Henry James, and his intention, aside from seeing friends and relatives, was to observe and record changes in his native land. The result were travel essays published serially in 1905 and 1906, then revised, added to, and published as a 465-page book, titled The American Scene, in 1907.

Although he was sixty-one years of age when he stepped ashore in New Jersey, James possessed undiminished energy. In the next six months, he traveled through several New England states (including New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island) and New York, stayed in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Richmond, stopped in North Carolina and Charleston, South Carolina, and went on to Florida. Then, after resting up back north, James took a seven-week tour of the Midwest and Far West—St. Louis, Chicago, then California, Oregon, Washington, and Chicago again. Late in April of 1905, he began revisiting old and sampling new areas in the Northeast, from Baltimore to Maine. Early in July he sailed for Liverpool.

Everywhere James went in the United States, sights were new to him, regardless of whether he had seen the areas before. He had never been south of Washington, D.C., or west of New York State in his earlier years. Friends and relatives with whom he stayed along the way included his philosopher-brother William James, the novelist Edith Wharton, the historian Henry Adams, the novelist Owen Wister and his socialite mother, Sarah Butler Wister, the critic-novelist William Dean Howells, and the art professor Charles Eliot Norton. At...

(The entire section is 787 words.)

The American Scene Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Auden, W. H. Introduction to The American Scene, 1946.

Buitenhuis, Peter. The Grasping Imagination: The American Writings of Henry James, 1970.

Edel, Leon. Introduction to The American Scene, 1968.

Furth, David L. The Visionary Betrayed: Aesthetic Discontinuity in Henry James’s “The American Scene,” 1979.

Geismar, Maxwell. Henry James and the Jacobites, 1963.

Howe, Irving. Introduction to The American Scene, 1967.

Morris, Wright. The Territory Ahead, 1957.

Przybylowicz, Donna. Desire and Repression: The Dialectic of Self and Other in the Late Works of Henry James, 1986.

Seltzer, Mark. Henry James and the Art of Power, 1984.

Zabel, Morton Dauwen. Introduction to The Art of Travel, 1958.