The Book

All James’s writings, whether his novels and tales or his criticism, revolve round the two key words of ‘taste’ and ‘vulgarity’. In 1903, in an essay on Émile Zola, he stated more firmly than ever before how essential he regarded the possession of Taste, “deserving here if ever the old-fashioned honour of a capital”, in a writer:
“There is simply no limit, in fine, to the misfortune of being tasteless; it does not merely disfigure the surface and the fringe of your performance -- it eats back into the very heart and enfeebles the sources of life. When you have no taste you have no discretion, which is the conscience of taste, and when you have no discretion you perpetrate books like Rome...”

The Taste of Henry James

by  Arnett Barbara - Melchiori Giorgio

La critica letteraria  pp. 282 Dim.: 687 kb. downloads: 1635
The authors, who share a perverse fondness for the writings of Henry James, have tried to identify the leading themes and principles governing his craft as a writer and have pinpointed Taste as the basic criterion with which James approached both literature and life. Taste is the main thread that links together the different aspects of James's work explored in the book. After considering his use of the term in connection with the figurative arts as well as literature, three chapters deal mainly with the early stories, where James develops his technique of literary transposition (at times subtly ironical) of well-known works by a painter like Manet or poets like Tennyson or Browning. In the central chapter, The Princess Casamassima is seen as an example of James's inner conflict between his aesthetic principles and his attitude toward social and political problems. The major phase of James's work is faced essentially in the section devoted to 'questions of style', where the principle of Taste is explored through the evolution of a single fictional character in different stories and novels and in connection with other literary categories such as Mannerism and Symbolism. Finally James's ambiguous attitude towards the work of Pierre Loti illustrates the way in which he applied the rule of taste to criticism of his fellow writers.
Note: We are happy to offer the result of many years of dialogue free of charge to scholars and students but request only that all quotations for whatever purpose should be acknowledged.
Barbara Arnett is Professor of Modern and Contemporary English Literature in the Università RomaTre. She has published many essays on the literature of the nineteenth century and three books: Browning's Poetry of Reticence (1968), Terrorism in the Late Victorian Novel (1985), Grant Allen: The Downward Path Which Leads to Fiction (2000)
Giorgio Melchiori , CBE, FBA, is Emeritus Professor of English Literature, Università RomaTre. His major publications include The Tightrope Walkers (1956), The Whole Mystery of Art (on W.B.Yeats, 1960), Shakespeare's Dramatic Meditations (1976), Shakespeare: Genesi e struttura delle opere (1994), Joyce: Il mestiere dello scrittore (1994), and editions of plays by Shakespeare and other dramatists for Revels Plays, Cambridge and Arden Shakespeare; he is responsible for a bilingual nine-volume edition of the Complete Plays of Shakespeare for the Italian publisher Mondadori.
Also available on the reissue of Verso i Funamboli (2004)
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