Is "The Middle Years" by Henry James an modernist literary work?I find some modernist tendencies in "The Middle Years" such as interior monologue, stream of consciousness, fractured view of self,...

Is "The Middle Years" by Henry James an modernist literary work?

I find some modernist tendencies in "The Middle Years" such as interior monologue, stream of consciousness, fractured view of self, waking from illusion ... I know it's written before the modernism movement, but is this novel closely related to modernism?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Henry James began writing in the Victorian tradition of literature as illustrated by the melodrama The American (1877) (Anthony Domestico, yale.edu). He moved away from this form and settled into realism inspired by Honore de Balzac as shown by The Portrait of a Lady (1881) (Domestico). After having his plays fail miserably in his dramatic debut, James' work became more "opaque" (Domestico), meaning obscure and difficult to understand.

James was influenced by the critical realist epistemology (philosophical theory of knowing) that depends upon sensa that may not exist, and this epistemological view influenced James to change his approach to literary form (Domestico) following hisĀ  failure in drama. As a result, his narratives went from obscure (hard to understand) to "oblique" (evasive, indirect; from the Latin for "sidelong") as Golden Bowl (1904) illustrates (Domestico); his prose being like a "puzzle to be decoded rather than a mirror clearly and simply reflecting reality" (Domestico). [As an aside, this move to opaqueness and obliqueness may be what led H.G. Wells to characterize James' writing as an empty church with nothing on the alter but empty egg-shells, a bit of string and dead kittens.]

It is this process of movement toward obliqueness that led to his further developing realism into a "psychological realism that closely examined the complex workings of the mind" (Columbia Encyclopedia), certainly an opaque and oblique entity to examine. By the time James wrote Wings of the Dove (1902), his literary form had many elements that were later developed by modernist writers like Woolf, Joyce and Proust, such as stream of consciousness and interior monologue. "The Middle Years" (1893) was written during the period of time that propelled the changes noted above, during his abysmal debut in theatrical drama, which occurred from 1890 to 1895. It was in this time of self-doubt and self criticism, a time that was "central to James' late style" (Domestico), that the formal (i.e., relating to form) and stylistic elements that later established him as a forerunner of modernism began to emerge.

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