Chapter

Introduction

Michèle Mendelssohn

in Henry James, Oscar Wilde and Aesthetic Culture

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print June 2007 | ISBN: 9780748623853
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748651634 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3366/edinburgh/9780748623853.003.0001
Introduction

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This book tells the story of Henry James's and Oscar Wilde's intricate, decades-long literary relationship and how it shaped transatlantic aesthetic relations. It shows that their relationship allegorises nineteenth-century American and British Aestheticism. It is a parable about two cultures in conflict that stridently externalised their concerns about one another and themselves while quietly internalising each others' values in print, exercising their ideas so that they could strengthen their respective cultures. Aestheticism refers to the literary and artistic movement that flourished in Britain and America between 1870 and 1900 and that advanced art for art's sake in opposition to the utilitarian doctrine of moral or practical usefulness. ‘Aesthetic culture’ indicates a catholic conception of Aestheticism. This book is framed by much larger questions of how Aestheticism was able to span differences as considerable as those between James and Wilde, America and Britain, authenticity and fakery, conventionality and eccentricity, morality and immorality. The ability to maintain these tensions makes transatlantic Aestheticism a bridge over troubled waters in every sense.

Keywords: Henry James; Oscar Wilde; Aestheticism; America; Britain; literary relationship; Aesthetic culture; morality; immorality; eccentricity

Chapter.  8013 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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