Henry James and the Art of Persistence-MLA Jan 7-10-2021
In James’s fiction and in his life, what sustains his faith and practice as an artist and a citizen? What role does community play in his lifelong prodigious productivity and engagement?
In Chapter 53 of The Portrait of a Lady, Isabel returns to Gardencourt, and the narrator reveals that “Deep in her soul—deeper than any appetite for renunciation—was the sense that life would be her business for a long time to come.” Although the readers do not know exactly how Isabel will “last to the end,” her creator believes that she now has the resources to do so, to survive and “someday be happy again.” Writing to his dear depressed friend Grace Norton in 1883, James encouraged her: “You will do all sorts of things yet,+ I will help you.” Did his belief in the power of art to “Convert! Convert! Convert!”, as Henry James Senior urged, inform the novelist’s persistence in the face of obstacles individual and collective? Did this understanding of possibilities of transformation change as his artistic practices did? How did the various communities in which he participated in real life and that he represented in his fiction engage with an individual confronting challenges to happiness or even threats to survival?
Papers are invited that explore both the life and works of James in relation to the Presidential theme of the 2021 MLA Convention: Persistence.
The MLA convention will be held in Toronto, Ontario, January 7-10, 2021.