Health, Happiness, Henry James
The 2016 Henry James Review forum issue (37.3) on “Illness, age, and death” brought into sharp focus, as Susan M. Griffin wrote in her introduction to the issue, that “Illness, age, and death preoccupy Henry James from the beginning to the end of his writing life” (205). At the same time, the prevalence of illness, age, and death shows that health and happiness held an important place in James’s life as well. His father’s theology framed human existence as “naturally bound to the pursuit of happiness,” as he wrote in Society the Redeemed Form of Man (207). Henry James’s physical ailments motivated him to seek healthy living habits, from horseback riding and spa treatments, to walking and bicycling, to Fletcherizing, for example. His desire for a healthy economic and personal social life shaped his long residence in England. He rationalized his bachelorhood to his mother by implying that despite one friend’s insistence that he “should be ‘so much happier’ if [he] would only marry” (Oct 31, 1880 to MWJ), his happiness would be maintained more readily by avoiding it. He recalled in the opening of A Small Boy and Others that the process of writing the book “meant that aspects [of his past] began to multiply and images to swarm, so far at least as they showed, to appreciation, as true terms and happy values” (2).
In James’s fiction, characters who meet unhealthy and unhappy ends often do so with the intention of achieving happiness and/or health. Roderick Hudson’s end is both unhappy and unhealthy. But “[t]rue happiness” is a consistent subject of the novel, and James introduced it in the first chapter. Likewise, when James leaves Isabel Archer at the conclusion of The Portrait of a Lady she is neither happy nor healthy. But her approach to achieving health and happiness--as well as her need to help others achieve them--is important in understanding her character. Isabel tells her cousin, Ralph Touchett, “that’s what I came to Europe for, to be as happy as possible” (NYE 1: 57). James shows explicitly Hyacinth Robinson’s quest for “happiness” at Medley (NYE 2: 13, 62). Strether and Mme de Vionnet discuss the course of their lives in terms of “happiness” during their meeting just following the Cheval Blanc episode, as The Ambassadors begins to wind down (NYE 2: 282-83).
The Henry James Review invites essays between 1,000 and 12,500 words on any aspect of “Health, Happiness, Henry James.” Contributors might choose to engage the topic, for example, through James biography; characterization; use of “health,” “happiness,” and related terms (e.g., “healthy” and “happy”) as elements of style in fiction, autobiography, travel writing, and/or critical essays; as aspects of Jamesian storytelling and/or story-space, etc.
Contributions should be produced according to current MLA style. Please identify your manuscript as a “Health, Happiness, Henry James” Forum submission. Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org by March 1, 2022.