Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

9. Social

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Activities: Author Activities

Henry James - Teaching Tips

Back Back to Henry James Activities
  • Ask your students to write a short paraphrase of "what happens" in "The Jolly Corner" or "The Beast in the Jungle." When they are finished, discuss their summaries as a class. Because these stories are so complex--and focus so narrowly on their psychologically troubled main characters--students will have very different ideas about what should be considered the "action" of the story. You can use this project to make the point that "reality" is highly subjective in a James story. Readers will interpret the characters' psychological experiences differently, just as two characters in the same story will interpret the events differently.

  • With its ironic examination of the relationship between representations and reality, "The Real Thing" can serve as an excellent jumping-off point for a discussion of realism as an artistic movement. The story serves as a kind of fable about the artistic production of realistic representation. The reader, along with the artist in the story, comes to realize that it is precisely because the Monarchs represent British aristocratic values that they fail as models of the type. Artistic inspiration seems to depend on artificiality and pretense (figured by the lower-class models) and is hampered by the stifling presence of the "real thing." (To help your students understand the relationship between narrative and visual realism, you might have them examine some of the late-nineteenth-century realist paintings featured in the archive, such as John Singer Sargent's The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit or Simplon Pass: The Tease.) Ask your students to think about the implications of James's fable about the making of realistic art. What is the relationship between the artist and reality? What seems to be the goal of the "realist" art object? What is the relationship between the artist in the story and Henry James, the writer?

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