By Elizabeth Allen
A whole size examine of James' use of the "American lady" heroine in his novels, from Daisy Miller via Isabel Archer to Milly Theale and Maggie Verver.
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Additional info for A Woman’s Place in the Novels of Henry James
He watches, observes, sees and buys, and he is doing so in order to obtain some sign of his material success, some means whereby he will be interpreted and represented to the world. Newman is more appropriate as a rich American than as an innocent one, but even so 46 A Woman's Place in the Novels qf Henry James the signification of his wealth remains at a literal level. The moral questions raised by wealth- the power, freedom, responsibility and potential for transcendence of the material that it brings- are not explored in the way that they are elsewhere in the rich girls who, through their indirect relationship to the sources of wealth, both represent it and present the illusion inherent in apparently going beyond its worldly base.
In fact,J ames acknowledged later that the weakness of the book lay in the fact that the Bellegardes would not have rejected Newman's money-whatever they thought of America and commerce- and the only likelihood of their ditching him would have been in the appearance of a more valuable suitor. The tension between Newman and the Bellegardes, played out initially as a comedy of manners, and later as rather unconvincing melodrama, is essentially a reciprocal one. The Bellegardes do not seek to absorb or acquire Americanness in Newman, merely to resist its potential to acquire from them- the object of acquisition being feminine and fundamentally exchangeable as sign rather than as fixed value.
The rejection of pre-defined forms, the emphasis on the potential for every individual to attain knowledge independently, together with the moral seriousness of the philosophy, made such beliefs attractive to women seeking sanction to develop beyond the self-abnegation ofmore 'social' Christianity. The intellectual links with democratic ideals, expansionism and belief in a meritocracy 40 harmonised the use of the American girl as a sign of both national and moral individualism. In his book The New England Girl, P.