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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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•  Using the Video
•  Authors
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•  Activities
- Overview Questions
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Activities: Author Activities

Henry James - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: Why do Winterbourne's aunt, Mrs. Walker, and the rest of polite society in Europe shun Daisy Miller? What exactly do they find so shocking about her? How does she challenge conventional social codes?

  2. Comprehension: According to James, what qualities characterize successful fiction? What kind of manifesto for fiction writing does he lay out in "The Art of Fiction"?

  3. Context: Like Edith Wharton, Henry James frequently wrote about Americans traveling and living in Europe. What characteristics mark a typical "American" character for James? How does he see Americans as different from Europeans? How does his analysis of the contrast between Americans and Europeans compare to Wharton's?

  4. Context: In "The Jolly Corner," Spencer Brydon is in the process of overseeing the conversion of one of his properties into "a tall mass of flats," while maintaining the other as an intact, but empty, mansion. What do these two types of housing structures represent to Brydon? Why does the realization that he has a "capacity for business and a sense for construction" create such harrowing anxieties for him? What is his relationship to the large family mansion on the "jolly corner"?

  5. Context: James was once driven through the Lower East Side where he saw the crowded tenements and bustling commercial stalls of the Jewish section. He reported that he was disgusted by a sense of "a great swarming." How might knowledge of James's reaction to the tenements inform our understanding of "The Jolly Corner"? How do you think immigrants living in overcrowded tenements would react to Brydon's story of his frightening encounter with his empty mansion? For help in forming your response, see the material featured in the Lower East Side context in this unit.

  6. Exploration: In 1879, James wrote the first critical-biographical book about Nathaniel Hawthorne's literary career. Why do you think James was so interested in Hawthorne? What values and interests do they share? How are they different from one another?

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