The Concept of Culture in the Novels of Henry James

Culture is a difficult term to pin down because of its different usages in different contexts. Broadly speaking, it can be used in three different ways exemplified in the works by Matthew Arnold, Edward Tylor, and Franz Boas, who elucidated clearly the concept and exerted great influences on later c...

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Bibliographic Details
Main Author: Wang, Xiaohui
Contributors: Birkle, Carmen (Prof. Dr.) (Thesis advisor)
Format: Dissertation
Language:English
Published: Philipps-Universität Marburg 2018
Anglistik und Amerikanistik
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Summary:Culture is a difficult term to pin down because of its different usages in different contexts. Broadly speaking, it can be used in three different ways exemplified in the works by Matthew Arnold, Edward Tylor, and Franz Boas, who elucidated clearly the concept and exerted great influences on later critics. This study of the concept of culture is mainly in the field of literature; therefore, it mostly follows the Arnoldian tradition, though not without relating to the concept of culture employed in other disciplines from time to time. The dissertation traces how Henry James explored, developed, and perfected the concept of culture in the historical contexts of Europe and America, in which he lived and worked, and how the concept is projected into his works. Chapter One gives a brief survey of different definitions and usages of the term culture, examines the historical and cultural contexts of Europe and America in which James lived and worked, highlights the uniqueness of James’s transatlantic perspective of approaching cultures, and explores James’s attitude toward European and American cultures and his cultural ideal. The following chapters discuss different aspects of his international novels from the earlier to the later period of his career: the cultural differences and conflicts between democratic America and Bourbon France in The American (1877); the strikingly different manners of two groups of people represented by traveling Americans and American expatriates respectively in Daisy Miller (1879); the relationship between individual and society, place, culture and character, liberty and duty in The Portrait of a Lady (1881); and many main issues recurrent in James’s international novels, such as wealth, freedom, experience, aesthetics, and morality in The Ambassadors (1903). Some letters exchanged between James and his family and friends, his autobiography, and critical essays are also used in the discussion so that a more complete understanding of James’s concept of culture can be achieved. In his early career, James had in mind an ideal vision of cultural harmony and synthesis of American and European virtues; later he realized that one culture cannot be totally merged with another completely because it is not so easy for people from one culture to appreciate another culture properly. He pointed out the difficulty of fusion or integration; nevertheless, he also saw the possibility of mutual understanding and complementarity. Therefore, he continued to hold the cosmopolitan sentiment and tried to bridge the worlds on both sides of the Atlantic. This study aims to contribute to a better understanding of James’s concept of culture, thus also to help shed some light on how to reduce cultural conflicts, the harmonious coexistence of different cultures, and to improve cross-cultural communication in the world.
Physical Description:217 Pages
DOI:https://doi.org/10.17192/z2018.0241